The Flickr That Lights a Firestorm

My good high school buddy Winchell Chung shares Dazed story “Flickr is about to sell off your Creative Commons photos (And no, you won’t see a single penny from it)” today on Google+. Now there’s a clickable headline, eh? Zing Tsjeng’s article is an aggregated synopsis of good reporting done by the Wall Street Journal (naughty, naughty, do you’re own work, Zing). Herein, I reference the November 24th piece, “Fight Over Yahoo’s Use of Flickr Photos” with dek “Yahoo Starts Selling Canvas Prints From Free Pictures Uploaded to the Internet Sharing Site”.

Gist of the news is this: Flickr plans to sell photos with Creative Commons Commercial license—50,000,000 from a staggering 300,000,000 CC pics on the site . Yikes. My photos are licensed CC non-commercial, so I shouldn’t give a frak about the plans of Yahoo (Flickr’s owner). But I don’t trust the license will be observed, and there is no easy way for me to confirm this. 

Bernardo Hernandez, Flickr veep, says there’s nothing to worry about:

You can change your account settings at any time. You can change the license type at the photo level, on a batch of photos, and at the account level. If you still want to license your work freely as part of Creative Commons, but don’t want anyone, including Flickr, to use your work commercially, you can select one of the non-commercial licenses (such as CC-BY-NC) or All Rights Reserved, and your images won’t be eligible for printing by anyone but you.

The recommendation to “change the license type” is horrible advice and violates the spirit of Creative Commons and the mechanism by which clear rights are granted. According to the organization:

CC licenses are not revocable. Once something has been published under a CC license, licensees may continue using it according to the license terms for the duration of applicable copyright and similar rights. As a licensor, you may stop distributing under the CC license at any time, but anyone who has access to a copy of the material may continue to redistribute it under the CC license terms. While you cannot revoke the license, CC licenses do provide a mechanism for licensors to ask that others using their material remove the attribution information. You should think carefully before choosing a Creative Commons license.

Additionally, to FAQ question “Can I change the license terms or conditions?” Creative Common answers:

Yes—but if you change the terms and conditions of any Creative Commons license, you must no longer call, label, or describe the license as a ‘Creative Commons’ or ‘CC’ license, nor can you use the Creative Commons logos, buttons, or other trademarks in connection with the modified license or your materials. Keep in mind that altering terms and conditions is distinct from waiving existing conditions or granting additional permissions than those in the licenses. Licensors may always do so, and many choose to do so using the CC+ protocol to readily signal the waiver or additional permission on the CC license deed…

Modifying licenses creates friction that confuses users and undermines the key benefits of public, standardized licenses. Central to our licenses is the grant of a standard set of permissions in advance, without requiring users to ask for permission or seek clarification before using the work. This encourages sharing and facilitates reuse, since everyone knows what to expect and the burden of negotiating permissions on a case by case basis is eliminated.

Technically then, short of removing the photos from Flickr, you grant Yahoo usage rights even if changing the license to All Rights Reserved and enter a nasty grey area if modifying CC terms.

But I also read in Bernardo’s statement flippant disregard for or misunderstanding about the spirit of Creative Commons: Establishing clear, unambiguous usage rights. Telling photographers to just change them is fraked up.

The Journal quotes 500px cofounder Evgeny Tchebotarev, who in any comment can make competitive gains, as stating the legality of the action around the license “doesn’t make it moral from our standpoint”. He sums up my sentiments about a service I pay to use and from which I expect sensible consideration. Selling photos users license for free use is no consideration at all.

Something else: Yahoo’s CEO came from Google, which whole business model is profiting from content that someone else produces. For free. In that regard Facebook is similar. You give it away, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Company capitalizes off your free sharing. My question: Flickr’s initial plans are for “wall art collections”, but where does it end?

I want to make my photos available CC non-commercial, not All Rights Reserved, which is the option if I don’t trust Yahoo. Even then…

Because of Yahoo’s plans, I will consider removing all photos from my Flickr before the December 6 renewal. I already had been thinking about revitalizing my SmugMug or even trying 500px. Much depends on the export/import process to either service.

As you can see from the screenshot, I started using Flickr 9 years ago—eight of them as a paid Pro user. This isn’t the first time I considered saying adios. Four years ago, I almost quit over the Getty Images Request to License program, in which my photos did not participate. Another licensing scheme, Curated Connections, kicked off in July 2014.

For Flickr competitors, there is opportunity here rarely seen, so I must ask: Why didn’t you spend the holiday weekend—big Black Friday and holy Cyber Monday—courting Flickr users heavily invested in the site and looking for easy escape?

Or did you?