Maybe you missed the kerfuffle. As kerfuffles should be missed. Unsplash dropped their use of CC0 on all those gorgeous photos on their site then Creative Commons fired back in response.

Found in giphy credited to some tumblr (linked on GIF) good luck ever finding the source of a GIF…

This is a classic example of what I was trying to argue / suggest about so much focus on the opposite end of Creative Commons.

Frankly I find the details and debates over licenses to be deeply uninteresting. Let me clear, that does not mean it’s not important, but I find it in the realm of observations of paint drying.

I’m more interested in the sharing than the licensing.

The thing is, Unsplash started out as a lark for just sharing high quality photos. And they decided, for all users, that all photos posted on their site would be public domain using CC0. I learned in my year of work on a Creative Commons project that technically CC0 is not a license but a declaration of putting a work into the public domain.

The big problem, according to Unsplash, is of these shady copy cat sites doing “mass image scraping and crawling with the purpose of replicating a similar or competing service”. What is the competition for sharing photos freely?


Don’t get me wrong, I know shady things like this go on. I have seen for months results showing up in Google Images search that are dead copy sites of Pixabay — they know about it. Yet Google does nothing to stop this. Why, the sites are using Google ads to make revenue.

And so, again, as I noted in my last post, people seem to seek some kind of protection in a license. Nevermind that if people find photos in some shady copy cat site, why are they not using their skills to perhaps find the real source of the image? Oh, they just want to grab and image and use it.

I am scratching my head about people uploading stuff to Unsplash, not understanding what CC0 means is that they are putting they works in the public domain, which means others can do anything with it, even exploitive. Even copycat.

But that’s license quibbling.

The problem with Unsplash IMHO is that they decide what license goes on your photos. Which means they can change it from CC0 to an Unsplash License to a Purple Frog License. It’s not your license it’s theirs.

If I put my photos on your site, I should either get to choose what license it goes under, or, it should always retain the license used at the time of sharing.

But that’s license quibbling.

The reality is the vast majority of people who are looking for photos on Unsplash do not give a rats nose hair about the license. What they are looking for is “free photos they can use and hey, they do not even have to attribute” that’s the usual explanation of public domain.

Which I loathe.

I have to say Unsplash is making some steps to communicate that “grab and go” of images is not the best way to go, so there are more nudges to attribute. When you download a photo, there is a friendly “Give Thanks” pop up.

Unsplash is putting attribution a bit more forward, this message appears after clicking the download link

There is a tweet of thanks link– that does not @mention the photographer but does mention @unsplash along with a link crufted with Unsplash tracking data

If I copy the “say thanks” stuff, I get:

Photo by Armando Ascorve Morales on Unsplash

The link in their box goes to Armando’s profile (with more tracking cruft in the URL), but not to this photo (I do follow CC’s suggestions of TASL for attribution). So if I wanted to find this photo in someone else’s attribution, I’d have to fish through Armando’s profile to find it.

All of this means more time spent on Unsplash’s site. Everything with their attribution is about Unsplash, and tracking data.

But look, they also have this nifty give credit embed code… holy cow look at this HTML, all hard coded styled to look like a pretty button, and again, every URL to Unsplash is full of stuff for them to collect information when clicked

All hidden inside a button, look at all that stuff.

Armando Ascorve Morales

Note the title tag “Download free do whatever you want high-resolution photos from Armando Ascorve Morales” (unless you are a copycat scraper).

So while Unsplash says nice things like:

Our aim has always been and still is that creativity should be open and those who contribute should be celebrated and respected.

Everything in their “say thanks” and “attribution” stuff is full of links crufted with utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=photographer-credit&utm_content=creditBadge — which is all about Unsplash and not as much about Armando.

This raises my eyebrow.

I love the photos I find in Unsplash. And I will always always attribute them. Not the way Unsplash tries to help. I will always link to the source and the photographer, and the license of present.

I won’t add your Unsplash tracking ?utm_medium stuff to my links.

That’s how I splash my attributions.

Featured image: Photo by Armando Ascorve Morales on Unsplash. I guess they have their own license now. Or try this little cut and paste attribution which looks pretty but does not link to that photo.

Armando Ascorve Morales

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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. How about if they mention what they’re collecting and allow the user to opt out?

    My thoughts
    I understand that many sites, like organizations in the physical world, want or need to collect data for whatever reason, but I have the right to know in advance so that I can decide whether I’m OK with it and want to go with the action/transaction anyway or not.

    1. I am intrigued on two fronts, why do they want to or need to? I found the recent report produced by Kahoot really interesting, not because what it says about devices and operating systems, but what it says about Kahoot. Why do they need to collect this data? To identify what they should be investing their R&D into? Really not sure.

      In the end, it is no better than Uber and their data mining IMO. Then again, I could be wrong ?????

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