In Brief

Photographers Irked as Flickr Profits from Creative Commons Images

Flickr's "curated collection" wall art site (screenshot by the author)
Flickr’s “curated collection” wall art site (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

Yahoo’s recent move to sell prints of photos users have put on Flickr has sparked a backlash from many photographers who object to the company’s policy of taking all the profits from sales of images uploaded under the Creative Commons “commercial attribution” license. Whereas revenue from sales of all other prints purchased through the Flickr Wall Art site are split between the artist whose work is licensed (the artist receives 51%) and Yahoo (which takes the remaining 49%). The web giant — which bought Flickr in 2005 — receives 100% of the revenue from sales of certain Creative Commons images.

“When I accepted the Creative Commons license, I understood that my images could be used for things like showing up in articles or other works where they could be showed to public,” Portuguese photographer Nelson Lourenço told the Wall Street Journal. But he said that the company’s move to start “selling my work and getting the full money out of it came as a surprise.”

The problem stems from Flickr’s current range of Creative Commons licensing options. Under the “commercial attribution” license, smaller companies can use the artists’ works for free, but Yahoo keeps all the profits from Flickr Wall Art sales of the images. If users apply a non-commercial license to their photos, they receive 51% of revenue from sales, but companies interested in using their images cannot.

On his blog, photographer Jeffrey Zeldman — a Flickr member since 2004 — voiced his discontent with the Yahoo policy. He wrote:

As a photographer, I now have to choose whether to prevent people from using my photos, or prevent Yahoo from selling them. I can’t have both.

I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want that usage to be unencumbered. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some of the publications and businesses that use my photos make no money at all. Others make a little something. I don’t care either way. That’s why I chose a Commercial Attribution license. The license makes my work available to all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. Fine with me.

But Yahoo selling the stuff? Cheesy, desperate, and not at all fine with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account, and am happy to do so. That’s how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.

While Flickr’s current policies are forcing some photographers to choose the lesser of two evils, they are not doing anything illegal. As Corynne McSherry, the intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal, “it doesn’t appear that Flickr is doing anything wrong.”

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