Assume a deleted sentence above references not being employed in a certain legal position. You know the line.

What mean ye license?

late Middle English: via Old French from Latin licentia ‘freedom, licentiousness’ (in medieval Latin ‘authority, permission’), from licere ‘be lawful or permitted’.

Is it freedom or is it lawful? This is where we get down to the very micro meaning level of wording. Yet… adhering to full permission, leaves out a more moral question… should one?

Now that I have completely befuddled you, oh reader I may know or know not, we are I am talking this:

I already had this discussion via an email group with my photo friend and colleague Devon:

Yahoo now SELLING CC images as wall art but no word if they’re honoring CC non-commercial. Flickr is harder and harder to love but for someone like me with almost 60k photos archived there, I am stuck.

and in the post Mariana links to Flickr is about to sell off your Creative Commons photos

Are you one of the millions of people signed up to Flickr? It’s time to switch your license settings. The Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site has just announced that it will start selling prints of some 50 million Creative Commons-licensed images, but the photographers involved won’t see any of the profits. Nope. Not a single penny.

Over 300 million Flickr images come under the Creative Commons license, which allows people to reuse and repurpose these images for free under certain conditions. Photographers can say, for example, if they’re only happy with non-commercial usage or specify what kind of credit they want to receive.

But the vast majority of licensed images are up for grabs commercially – which means that Flickr is perfectly within its rights to start flogging them off.

And this is going to echo all around the tubes as people get irate. But please do the math. There are more 300 million creative commons licensed photos in flickr, of them 58 million are open (by the very words of said licensed people chose) for Yahoo to sell $49 posters.

That’s less than 20%– vast majority?

Do not put me in front of the line to defend Yahoo, but in my small canine brained interpretatin Yahoo is doing nothing outside the bounds of Creative Commons.

To me friend Devon, I mentioned that the 50 million figure is most like the 58 million photos licensed Creative Commons by Attribution. That means that some 242 million are off the table for Yahoo to use.

My response to him

I only have 40,000 [flickr photos] and lose no sleep over someone “making money” from my photos. More power to ’em. I take photos for love of photography not to make $15 selling a digital photo. I hope someone gets rich stealing and selling my photos. Good luck with that.

The thing is when people choose a creative commons license, what many think is something like is:

I am sharing my stuff just with little folks like me, and that’s okay. But no mean company should steal my stuff.

Yet, when you choose to share via a By Attribution license, you are not ruling out it’s commercial use.

Attribution means:

You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give you credit.

This also means sell, they only have to give attribution.

When you choose By Attribution it means you are okay with someone selling your photo for $49, if there’s a sticker of credit on the back.

Know your licenses.

It’s pretty easy to choose another license; you can go Non-Commercial; I myself go with By Attribution Share Alike, which is not something (I like to believe). Changing your license is pretty complicated. It’s one click. And it’s one more click to change every photo you own.


I do not know why people choose different licenses. Even as it is clearly explained, I bet people kind of take it like a theoretical physics multiple choice exam, or a local election board ballot, and more or less randomly choose. Like, I say, I do not know.

The Dazed article Mariana linked to does get to the message (hey put your tl;dr up front, eh, it’s hip)

In short: just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Flickr might be legally allowed to profit off its users’ creativity, but it might just blow up in their faces. So if you’ve got images on Flickr, now’s the time to check your licenses.

So yes, legally Yahoo can sell posters for $49 with your photo and not give you a cut of that pie. Would you ever sell that photo? How many digital photos have you sold? I’m at 0. Is it “stealing” to use images as legally described, for a monetary loss you would likely never see? I don’t believe in spending potential money I do not have.

But expect people to blare and tweet and retweet all the one liners about Evil Yahoo Stealing My Photos to Make Money. Stop that, you gave them license to do so. Take responsibility, willya?

Yet the larger question, and a philosophical one stemming from a dog’s ability to do certain things — just because legally and licensely Yahoo can do this, are the monetary gains worth the bad will towards its confused public? Licenses give lawful permission. But doing so has an ethical price.

That’s a question they must have tossed around the board room.

If you want a more sound article, read the Wall Street Journal’s Fight Over Yahoo’s Use of Flickr Photos

And look! My buddy Devon is quoted in that Wall Street Journal article:

I know Devon! He's a great photographer.

I know Devon! He’s a great photographer.

This year, the company began placing ads in photo slideshows to visitors not logged in to the site. Devon Adams, a high-school photography teacher in Gilbert, Ariz., called the ads a “jarring” intrusion into the site. Mr. Adams is one of the users upset with Yahoo for selling his Creative Commons-licensed works.

But Mr. Adams has uploaded 58,000 photos to Flickr, so feels stuck. “I’m so heavily invested in Flickr; it’s not that I can just go somewhere else,” he said.

Yahoo cannot legally sell my photo giving them one finger as a wall poster (unless they can rig around Share Alike, which seems physically impossible from a physical object)

But in that photo, is something I try to stick to, Curly’s Law.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

For photography my one thing is the enjoyment of photography. It’s not making money from photography.

Your one thing may be different.

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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. Yep, I agree completely. I’ve tried to make sense of my choice of CC-BY to myself and others by saying that if I felt I wanted to take the time and make the effort to try to sell my stuff, then maybe I’d restrict others from doing so. But I don’t have the time and don’t want to make that effort, and I don’t make things for the sake of making money. So if others can do so, heck, why not? They have to put the effort into doing so I’m not willing to. But I realize many people get upset by the idea that someone ELSE might be making money from what they made, even if they don’t care to do so themselves.

    But I’m wondering about share alike: doesn’t that still allow others to make money by selling something licensed as SA? they have to give it a license that has SA in it as well, which means others can use it so long as they share alike, but that doesn’t mean they can’t charge for the item. Sure, the item is available for use for free so why should anyone pay (but that’s true for CC-BY too), but if they do something different to it like make it into a poster, then people might be willing to pay. And I’m not sure that SA has to stop this activity? Really, this is just a question about licenses, which I STILL don’t feel like I have a full grasp on, even after thinking and writing about them quite a bit.

    1. But I realize many people get upset by the idea that someone ELSE might be making money from what they made, even if they don’t care to do so themselves.

      I get the same sense talking to people. Let’s say I create my own whotos, and share them on the Whickr site under a creative commons license. There is one particular whoto that no matter how I tried I would never be able to sell. I will never be able to make a cent from them. But Whito Company has many more more resources for sale of whotos, and has managed to sell 2 copies of my whoto. The money they have made is money I would never have seen no matter how hard I tried to sell my whotos. How have I lost anything? (I ask the philosopher).

      But I’m wondering about share alike: doesn’t that still allow others to make money by selling something licensed as SA? they have to give it a license that has SA in it as well, which means others can use it so long as they share alike, but that doesn’t mean they can’t charge for the item.

      Here’s how I understand it. I freely share a digital photo under a SA license, asking no renumeration, which means you can do anything with it as long as I get credit, make copies, make derivative works use in software, etc. Yahoo turns my photo into a poster. That means they have to share the poster in the same manner I shared my digital photo, they have to give away the rights for anyone else to make a copy, a derivative of that poster only by agreeing to share it the same way (and provide attribution). Who would sell anything (or who would buy anything) that someone else can copy for free?

      I am likely getting this wrong. But SA is the flavor of CC license that Wikimedia Commons deploys which suggests to me it bears the full force of open license characteristics.

      And I don’t have a full grasp of it all either, which is interesting– if we as academics in this area cannot make full sense of it who the heck can?

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I share your ethos on photography as well as your choice of license. I do realize that images in the creative commons are found through tagging, which I don’t need for my system and don’t bother to do, so maybe my perfect photo of my cat is safe from marauding yayhoos.

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