Never say never. Never say never multiple times. Never blog about saying never. Never. Ever.

On December 19, 2006 I blogged about putting a CC-BY license on my flickr photos. Then on September 7, 2010, I had reason to try on CC-BY-NC. From feedback, I flipped to CC-BY-SA and a week later I was back to CC-BY, with these fatal words:

And this is the LAST time I will switch my flickr license.

Until today.

I casually looked at a link Brett Gaylor tweeted:

The Mozilla Maker party suggested uploading something to flickr with a CC0 license. Well, why not? I decided contribute to this by changing the license on an album I keep in flickr of my favorite photos.

But then I am thinking… why not put all my photos in the public domain? Why not do the most friction free license? The main difference, as I can see is that I am not licensing with an expectation of attribution. Frankly, even with a CC-BY license, often people do not attribute (those catfishers using my photos for their fake profiles NEVER give me credit).

To me, the way we explain, teach about public domain aka CC0 is technically correct but sets the bar very low.

Usually when people explain Public Domain / CC0 is like:

You can re-use it without having to give attribution.

CC0 license pixabay photo by Rossanddave

CC0 license pixabay photo by by Rossanddave

This is minimum compliance. And is compliance the spirit of a commons of sharing? Is that the best we can do? Comply? Aiming for a “C” grade. Average. Meet the minimum. Congrats on that. Go for mediocrity. Yay.

I gave up in trying to be an attribution cop.

So when we do this in practice, when we comply and skip giving attribution for media reused, what does this signal to our readers? What are they learning about sharing, by seeing great pictures in your blog posts, presentations, learning materials that give no credit?

They are learning, that like the common folklore goes, any media you can find in a Google search is free to grab and use. They are not learning about the circle of gratitude to flow back to someone who shared their work.

My strategy is do more than just comply. I try to attribute everything, even if I do not have to. I use many images from Pixabay which are all licensed CC0. And I give credit.

When I use my own images, I don’t have to get permission, right? Well I still attribute my own media. Boy am I silly.

Because being part of sharing commons is not about following rules; it is setting an example for others.

You are also cutting people off from access to “more”. Let’s say I love an image you used, I like the style. What if I want to see more from the same artist, photographer? Without a credit / link, your image looks nice, but is a dead pathway on the web.

Then there is this idea of value of digital content.

I’m talking about this other myth people carry around:



How can I make a living if I give everything away?

I know someone will send me an example of how something of theirs was re-used by an evil greedy company of profit. But statistically?

I don’t advocate giving everything you own / do away. First of all, it would take a lot of work πŸ˜‰ But the idea of something than can be copied infinitely as having economic value is a bit of a contradiction. So I have shared 50,000 photos in flickr, because (a) it’s easy to do and (b) I have no interest or even idea how I can make money from them. I do not take/share photographs to make money from the photos; I do it because I love photography.

So if someone can make a boat load of money from any of my photos, I encourage them to do so. I congratulate them. I cannot consider it stealing or a loss if I never intend / desire to make money from my photos.

I also give away my computer code here and methods of programming. I get hired to provide them as a service, despite the fact people can use my stuff for free. You make a living from providing services, consulting, ideas, not from digital stuff. If I was a pro photographer, I would hope to make money from the service, not the products. I would get more clients if they can find examples of my work in the world.

I know people will not agree. That’s good. I like to be told I am wrong. It helps me learn (hence all the previous flip flops in my flickr licensing) I do not expect people to follow my way.

Okay, so I went to my flickr settings today, and set my license on all future photos to be CC0 licensed. I’m gone ZERO. They do have a feature to re-license all existing photos. I tried that:

Yes! I am sure flickr, Flip me to CC0. Thanks!

Yes! I am sure flickr, Flip me to CC0. Thanks!

But alas…


I asked for help…

Doing this in batches is going to take a long time.

It can be hard to do a right thing.

But I never will stop trying πŸ˜‰

Alas, when you ask @FLickrHelp for Help, they just keep repeating:

and repeating

and repeating

Sometimes you have to be all caps blunt

I think they got it…


I better not change my mind again.

UPDATE: October 15, 2016

I thought flickr changed all my photos to CC0. Sadly, on reviewing my archive, it has not happened.

Please, flickr?

Top / Featured Image: My photo of a bunch of zeroes. Because I am yet to get all my flickr photos flipped to CC0, I am doing them manually. This flickr photo by me shared under a Creative Commons (CC0) license

If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for CogDog The Blog
An early 90s builder of web stuff 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. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. “being part of sharing commons is not about following rules; it is setting an example for others.” This is a gem. Thanks for setting the example.

  2. “It can be hard to do a right thing.” Yes. I credit stuff too – also because the link may take people on a serendipitous trail. Maybe. Also it’s polite. Don’t credit myself though, never thought of that.

  3. lolz i had exactly the same error message when CC0 first came out years ago but I was too lazy πŸ™‚ to follow up. I’ll tweet @flickrhelp to change my 175,000 flickr photos! Thanks for the excellent blog post

  4. One thing I’ve been thinking about along these lines of attribution and value is whether those completely disappear with CC0. The photos you shoot and the code you write is made in the context of a community that appreciates it regularly. I see your images and posts through email updates and have used your Flickr attribution helper too. So through accretion I feel I know “cogdog” work. It’s an imperfect understanding but it’s not without some grounding.

    I’m pretty sure you’ve had people from communities that know your work and see it out in the “wild” let you know about it. And I’m wondering if this explicit choice to CC0 will take away any twinge when seeing your work used without attribution. And will being understood by your immediate group which sees and appreciates your work as yours be even more satisfying.

    1. Plenty of people use CC-BY media without attributing, so there’s not guarantee that more will do it with that as a license. My reaction is about the same. Sometimes I bark, sometimes I shrug.

      I hope to make a point that CC0 allows people to use w/o attribution as a minimum criteria of reuse — that the way most people explain it is “Take the media and you can skip attribution”. The act of attribution in my book should not hinge on a license, but should be an expression of gratitude.

      My counter is also that by publishing under my own name establishes a timeline of creativity. More and more people seem to know how to reverse image search (that is how I hear from catfish victims who fall for fake profiles of people using my photos, and those dirt balls never attribute πŸ˜‰

      But thanks, it does give me a bit of thought. I really, really, really like the idea of CC-BY, one of the most permissive and just a small ask of attribution.

  5. I gave up caring about copyright for my photos years ago. I mean, I care. but I don’t CARE-care. People who are going to steal them will steal them anyway. People who will give attribution will attribute anyway. I’m not a lawyer. I figure I’ve spent far too many hours fretting about the minutia of copyright licenses and clauses and and and. (and people will say BUT D’ARCY YOU HAVE TO CARE BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT! and maybe they’re right but there it is.) I use my own photos on my blog and don’t put an attribution statement for them, the same way I don’t provide separate attribution for every paragraph I write there.

    That photo of younger-and-fatter-D’Arcy with Harry sure brought me back to the Northern Voice days (as did seeing Roland in the comment thread!)

    1. hello d’arcy i’m still here πŸ™‚ on my blog at and on and i think i finally set all my 180K public photos to CC0 with the flickr support team’s help!

  6. Again, thank you Alan for bringing this discussion back (again). As D’Arcy says above, I often tire of worrying about this so much for my own context but then I go all crazy thinking that I need to model good behaviour for my children, my students, my colleagues and everyone that pays attention to little-old-me.

    This topic comes up often as an “aside” when I give talks and people notice my attributions (usually with the “flickr cc attribution helper” helping me out (thanks for that too Alan). Making this visible helps spread the word that a sharing culture is possible. The commons is not completely broken, people do still care.

  7. My concern isn’t that people will make money off my work. My concern is that they’ll pull a Getty by taking the work, putting it in their library, and then use takedown notices to block anyone else from using it.

  8. That would be nasty. Bad Getty.

    My date stamped postings to flickr provide an antecedent. Now if someone does not do their leg work.

    But agreed, this is shady. It has happened?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *