Flickr users are wrong

creative-commons-flickrA lot of people are upset about Flickr’s plans to begin selling prints of user photos that are available under Creative Commons By-Attribution licenses.

Some people have told me that Flickr’s plans bother them because it changes their understanding of their relationship with the company. Companies are not people, and I will gently suggest that it is unwise to cultivate emotional relationships with them. Doing so invites disappointment or manipulation.

So let’s look at the other reasons that people are upset about this. I think that many peopleĀ are either behaving irrationally or do not understand what free culture licensing means.

  1. Flickr users are under no obligation to add a Creative Commons By-Attribution (CC-BY) license to their work. It is and has always been easy for users to retain complete control over distribution of their photos if they care to do so.
  2. Just as easily, Flickr users can select a CC-BY-NC license, which allows reuse of their work for noncommercial purposes.
  3. Right now, CC-BY images on Flickr are often used for various commercial purposes. There is nothing stopping anyone, anywhere, from selling a print of your CC-BY licensed work, nor from downloading your CC-BY licensed photo and making a print for themselves.
  4. Flickr’s sale of prints does not deprive photographers of their work or money. Users have the same ability to use their work that they always had. The vast majority would never have taken the steps necessary to profit from their work, so print sales do not deprive them of money. When a user really expects to sell prints, they should avoid Creative Commons licensing, which, as I’ve mentioned, is easily done.
  5. Flickr’s sale of prints provides benefits to other people. People who work for and own Flickr make money. The vendors producingĀ and delivering the prints make money. And people who buy prints get to enjoy works of art.
  6. Some people have earnestly-held beliefs about this last point amounting to a bad thing. But not very many (it’s a difficult trick to pull off without also rejecting most aspects of global civilization). Most people think these are good things.
  7. I suspect that many Flickr users agree that the things in point 5 are good. It’s just that they’d like to have control over when they happen. Maybe it’s okay for the local coffeeshop to use your photos on a flyer, but it’s not okay for Archer-Daniels-Midland to put them on a billboard. I suspect this is how a lot of people feel, because I used to feel this way, too. But if you insist on control, those good things in point 5 usually won’t happen, because it’s too hard to ask for permission every time you want to use a piece of culture. This is one of the main reasons why Creative Commons licensing was invented.

Open licensing is about giving up control so that other people can benefit. That’s all it will cost you: control. Having control feels nice. But you should ask yourself what it really gets you. And you should think about what others might gain if you were able to let go.

Think carefully and decide what you need. No one is going to make you tick that Creative Commons box. But when you do, it’s a promise.

One Response to “Flickr users are wrong”

  1. Creative Commons Confusion Continues to Confound Content Creators | The Scholarly Kitchen

    […] BY was specifically created to help drive reuse of creative works. As Tom Lee puts it, “Open licensing is about giving up control so that other people can benefit.” The […]

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