Creative Commons Nonsense

As I told you already, I recently joined Flickr and have been pretty active since then. One of the reasons was to find out what, exactly, Flickr is, and what it can be used for.

That much is clear: Flickr is a fantastic, truly unique environment to present your own work and to see the work of others. Certainly, there is a lot of crap on Flickr, but the sheer amount of excellent shots, i.e. photos that are well crafted and brilliantly executed, has blown me away. And the Flickr community is usually quite helpful and relaxed. If you look for specific advice concerning photography, chances are high that you will find an answer there. So – if you are a photographer and have not looked at Flickr, please give it a try. It’s free and will probably help you becoming a better photographer.

But I also found a spreading nonsense on Flickr: the attribution of the Creative Commons Licence to photos. Flickr allows you to assign certain licences to your photos. I use “© all rights reserved” because it’s my work, and I want to control how it is being used. Full stop. It costs time and money to take a photograph, and I am not giving that away for free. In fact, by displaying images on Flickr, I am already giving images away to a certain extend. But I do not care if a teenager in Murphy, Idaho, likes my photos so much that she prints a copy to cover a crack in the wall. But I do care, whether a newspaper with 100,000s of daily copies uses my work to earn money.

Just one example, an excellent photo titled “Road to Sydney”.

Road to Sydney
Joseph Younis/flickr – some rights reserved

This photo by Joseph Younis is available free of charge. Yes, that’s true: it costs nothing. Now, Joseph is a friendly guy and provides the high-res file to the Flickr community, so I could grab the original file (3888 x 2592 pixel) and create the smaller version above. I could have published it in a newspaper. For free. No cost. Joseph requires just an “attribution” for his work, i.e. I have to mention his name. OK, I have done that. And now? Nothing. If I were a newspaper, I could place ads around the photo and give a good, healthy laugh at Joseph, before I get back to counting the money.

Personally, I feel that this Creative Commons Nonsense should stop. Giving stuff away for free de-values your work and the efforts that have been put into the creation of the work. It hurts the global market in return for nothing (well, for just a by-line). It may affect your market and your ability to sell photographs for a living, even if you are working on another continent. Have you got a nice photo similar to Joe’s shot? Then forget about selling that photo. The Creative Commons Licence attached to Joe’s work has made it worthless.

So, when uploading photos, please please please make sure that you assign the “© all rights reserved” licence to your photos. Never assign anything else than that, ever! Professional photographers around the world will thank you for this. :-)

Creative Commons (official site)

4 Responses to “Creative Commons Nonsense”

  1. Adam says:

    Have you purchased a copyright for your photos? I don’t think simply putting “© all rights reserved” means anything unless you have a legitamite copyright established. How you do that, I don’t really know, I’m not a professional photog.

  2. admin says:

    Adam, thank you for your comment. International copyright laws protect your image from the second the work has been created. It does not need to be “purchased” or registered. You may register your work in addition with the US Copyright Office. This is recommended for works where you can not easily prove that you are the original author (e.g. screenplays). With photography you as photographer typically hold the high-resolution original, be it a negative, a slide, or a digital file. So it’s easy to prove that you were the creator of a work.

  3. Fernando says:

    A couple of problems with the post and comments. First, the economic analysis implicit in “Have you got a nice photo similar to Joe’s shot? Then forget about selling that photo. The Creative Commons Licence attached to Joe’s work has made it worthless” is not necessarily correct because if you have a photo similar the only way to compete with Joe’s would be selling it cheaper and that would “devalue” Joe’s photo…so the nonsense is the flawed analysis of a quite complex issue as intellectual property rights economics. Furthermore, who gave you the “natural right” to profit from a picture where you depict buildings, lights and even brands that were designed and are owned by others?…so, you have the right to profit as much as Joe has the right to give them for free…
    The copyright analysis is almost right, but it has two problems: to get the protection you don’t even need the (c) mark, but in the US the right is unenforceable unless registered (you have the right, but a court will not award you damages until you register it and if your suit starts before the registration the amount of damages is limited)…

  4. admin says:

    Fernando:
    First, I think there is a value in most photographs, especially when a photograph looks good and is crafted well (i.e. superior technical and artistical quality). Now, when someone gives such a work away for free by assigning a Creative Commons licence, in an ideal market I can not sell a similar image by charging less (as you suggest), because the work is already available FOR FREE. How can anyone charge less than nothing? That’s why I think that giving away a valuable photo for free devalues the work itself and other similar shots.
    Second, I do not deny Joe’s right to give a photograph away for free. I just say that it is utterly stupid for anyone to do so, and that it hurts his own ability to sell images as well as other photographers around the world.