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Flickr Taking Heat from CC Photographers for Selling Their Work as Wall Art Without Compensation

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Flickr — a site that sometimes seems like the punching bag of the photo community — is again taking heat from photographers, this time over their recent announcement that people can select from millions of Creative Commons-licensed photographs to buy as wall art.

The photos are being sold for profit, but none of that profit will go to the photographers who took the shots, and some of these photographers are speaking up about what they see as an injustice.

The issue was first brought to light in an article in The Wall Street Journal (Note: Paywall), in which everybody from amateur photographers to Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield criticize the site for doing something that will hurt the brand even if it does increase profits.

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It’s important to note, as photographer and frequent Flickr supporter Thomas Hawk does in this blog post on the subject, that Flickr isn’t doing anything illegal. CC photos that are licensed “Non-Commercial” are not being sold… period.

Furthermore, Flickr is offering a very generous cut to photographers from the Flickr Marketplace (not Creative Commons) that agreed to sell their work: 51% of the revenue to be exact.

The issue, it seems, is that people who licensed their photos CC with no restrictions are now much more aware of their images being used for someone else’s profit… but isn’t this something they should have been prepared for? As Hawk puts it:

If you are going to license your photos Creative Commons with no restriction, then you ought to be prepared for this type of use. If it’s not Flickr selling them, anyone else can, legally. If you are uncomfortable with this idea, then you should not use Creative Commons without any sort of restriction.

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Of course, the fact that what they’re doing isn’t in any way illegal doesn’t mean it’s a smart business move. Butterfield, who left Flickr in 2008, called the move “a little shortsighted” because of the potential (and now maybe not-so-potential) harm this will do to the brand.

We’ve not seen an official response from Flickr or Yahoo! just yet, but we’re curious to see where they go from here. Will they pull the CC photos and begin asking permission/sharing revenue like they do with the Flickr Marketplace images? Or will they simply remind people that they can always change the CC license to CCNC if they don’t want to participate.

What’s your take? How do you think Flickr should respond? And do you think this is an overreaction by the Flickr community, or a legitimate complaint?


Image credits: 1/30 If a shark came back as a dog by PhotKing and Blue Marble by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

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