The Flickr Wall Art storefront (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Flickr Wall Art storefront (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

In response to photographers’ criticisms, Flickr has stopped selling photos uploaded by users under the Creative Commons “commercial attribution” license through its Flickr Wall Art site. The site and its parent company, Yahoo, were criticized for keeping all of the profits from sales of images uploaded with that license, while revenue from sales of works uploaded under non-commercial attribution licenses are split, with 51% going to the artist and 49% to the company.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve received a lot of feedback from the community and beyond — while some expressed their excitement about the new photography marketplace and the value it would bring, many felt that including Creative Commons-licensed work in this service wasn’t within the spirit of the Commons and our sharing community,” Flickr’s vice president, Bernardo Hernandez, explained in a blog post. “We hear and understand your concerns, and we always want to ensure that we’re acting within the spirit with which the community has contributed. Given the varied reactions, as a first step, we’ve decided to remove the pool of Creative Commons-licensed images from Flickr Wall Art, effective immediately. We’ll also be refunding all sales of Creative Commons-licensed images made to date through this service.”

In spite of this snafu, Flickr remains more transparent with regards to usage rights than most image-sharing sites. According to the first item in the “Rights” subsection of Instagram’s “Terms of Use” agreement, for instance, the site “does not claim ownership of any Content that you post on or through the Service. Instead, you hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service, subject to the Service’s Privacy Policy.”

The language used by Facebook in its “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” is similar:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.

In its “Terms of Service” document, Tumblr explains the ways it might use content uploaded by users like so:

When you upload your creations to Tumblr, you’re giving us permission to make them available in all the ways you would expect us to (for example, via your blog, RSS, the Tumblr Dashboard, etc.). We never want to do anything with your work that surprises you.

Evidently Flickr’s decision to sell Creative Commons-licensed works, though technically legal, came as a unpleasant surprise to its users.

h/t TechCrunch

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...