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Creative Commons- They Don’t Have to Ask, But When They Do, It Tells

If there was a Most Valuable Player award for advancing open content, I would certainly give it to Creative Commons. Remove CC from history, say it never happened, and I wonder if we’d have the awareness of enabling sharing content. I dont want to argue that point, it is a long winded way of saying it is a Good Thing. A damned Good Thing.

This relates to an experience I had today the leads maybe to more questions. For quite some time, I have posted my photos to flickr with the simplest CC license, By-Attribution. That’s all I want; I don’t care what you do with my photos, commercial not, how you further license them, whatever. I don’t post them to gain anything, i post them because I like them. If you do, great.

So today, as has happened a few times in the past, someone emails me via flickr asking permission to use one of my photos, actually for an exhibit at one of the San Francisco science museums. My usual thought is something like- Don’t they get Creative Commons? They can use it w/o asking permission, that’s the beauty.

And the electrician said let there be light...
Creative Commons License photo credit: Phillip

And that’s where the little light bulb (really little, about 0.0005 watt) went off– if they did not ask, then I would never know my photo was being used. And that tells me a lot.

First the left side of the brain starts firing, thinking about ways re-use of photos my trigger trackbacks, or maybe there are ways of generating CC attribution text (RDF?) that would contain sometihng to track its placement, or maybe some centralized directory… And then a voice (am I hearing voices?) goes, “That is too complicated! Add any more steps to the process for the user of CC content, and the re-use goes way down”. It must be simple, time to shave the Occam style.

While it would be nice to know that my picture was used in some art installation or commercial for meat food products, any expectation to automate notification is doomed, and really I will find out by accident, or not at all.

And then another click. My CC license of attribution is a basic minimum. That’s all you really have to do to re-use my photos. But how much do you aspire to do the just minimum? Is that it?

Creative Commons License photo credit: minimum

So rather then knee-jerking a “don’t they understand CC” when someone asks permission, I am now appreciative because I have an old fashioned trackback. And this changes things when I use someone else’s CC imagery– sure, I can slap my attribution in and be done, but maybe I ought to do more than minimum and sometimes contact the image creator and let them know where their photo, song, etc has been put to re-use.

As I write this, it seems like Blogging the Obvious, but it was just a subtle shift in my attitude today. Attribution is great, notification is better, an honorary level of respect and appreciation above the minimum (and that you may enjoy someday receiving).

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I have had the similar knee-jerk reaction as well, and I agree with your idea of notification being better … “an honorary level of respect and appreciation above the minimum.” This is a beautiful piece evident daily within this culture of sharing.

  2. I completely agree. I have discovered that it’s fun for me to let people know when I have reused their work. It’s also nice when they respond and I can tell that they are excited to have their work being reused.

  3. I’ve had the same moral conundrum.

    On the rare occasions I post a blog it can take me anything up to an hour to find just the CC right image on flickr (I’m a perfectionist – one of the reasons blogging is such an effort for me). Every time I ask myself if I should let the creator know, and then I think: “Nah, what if they don’t like it? I might have to take it down after all that effort, and I’ll have to find another one.” But so what?

    Today you’ve made me think what it would be like if someone used my stuff and didn’t let me know about it – you’ve put me into the shoes of the other – and now I realise I would prefer to be notified. Now I won’t be able to use someone else’s material again without letting them know. It’s the right thing to do.

    Cogdog – “Moral compass of the blogging world.” :-)

  4. Sean- as far as the CC granter perhaps not liking it I don’t see where they can make you take it down. If someone provides media with a CC license and you honor it, they cannot make you remove it.

    They may kick up a fuss, but I think you are making way too many assumptions. I bet 99.9% of the people would die of joy that someone wants to use their image.

    BTW I am liking lately compfight for finding pictures — and if you run your own WordPress, PhotoDropper Plugin rocks! It allows you to search on tags write in the WP interface, and it inserts the images right there with the attribution written for you (the 2 in this post were done this way)

    I am not in any suggesting you need to contact every person you may use a CC image from- I never do it for blog posts. But if I was doing a major special project, I likely would. It’s just a nice courtesy, and in a way, you are paying it forward, because I bet you will foster a new connection that you would have never had before.

    But woah dude, if you are depending on me for a moral compass, you are doomed to be lost or to founder on the shores of depravity. Puhhlease…. Now go out and sack a village or plunder some booty.

  5. Alan – I know they can’t make me take it down, but I think I would feel obliged to anyway. Why have bad juju on my blog? I’d rather include an image that the creator would be happy to have there.

    Obviously if an image is CC-BY the creator would be happy to have it used. It wasn’t so much an assumption as a fear of that 1%.

    The PhotoDropper Plugin looks great – I was wondering how the attributions captions got in there (worked it out from source though). Another reason to put in the work to host my own WP blog.

    Don’t worry… plenty of village-sacking and booty-plundering will continue. :-)

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