Addicted to novelty since 2001

The Practicalities of Flickr and Creative Commons

Duane emailed with an interesting piece on stolen photos, attribution and the practicalities of Flickr and Creative Commons licensing:

While I usually try to use my own photographs, I have on occasion found suitable Flickr photos taken by others and used those. For anyone who has tried to do that, you will know that many photos nowadays on Flickr have no license associated with them, and instead show “All Rights Reserved”, which obviously means that those photos cannot be used in any capacity.

Is that obvious? There are millions of photos on Flickr that are listed as ‘All Rights Reserved’ but also feature the ‘Blog This’ button. Here’s a randomly selected example. Aren’t those two ideas contradictory?

I wondered about how this applied to my own site, and arrived at this somewhat Machiavellian conclusion. If someone has a ‘Blog This’ button on their photo, that’s tacit permission to use it on my blog. I always link back to the original photo, and try to pick CC photos, but frankly I pick the best photo, regardless of license. I’ve only ever had one complaint, and that’s when I forgot to link back. Maybe I should also include a text reference back in the ever-growing metadata at the end of each post?

Am I just being self-serving, or is that a fair interpretation?

Duane also calls up Mike Linksvayer, Vice President of Creative Commons, and asks him a few questions about usage and attribution. It’s a short interview, and worth listening to.

UPDATE: Ironically, the photo I just added to this post is (by the very talented Thomas Hawk) has a CC license, but no “Blog This” button.

UPDATE #2: I searched around the Flickr forums, and there seems to be a great deal of confusion about the ‘Blog This’ versus ‘All Rights Reserved’ issue. I’m none the wiser, but will endeavour to stick with CC-licensed photos to avoid the issue.

28 Responses to “The Practicalities of Flickr and Creative Commons”

  1. Boris Mann

    And also, you don’t attribute photos. In this case, you did, by doing the update saying “photo by Thomas Hawke”.

    Flickr requires a link back, but CC requires attribution. You would actually need to put “photo by John Doe”. I used a “real name” — a Flickr username would suffice as well.

    The text under attribution states:
    “Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).”

    Which I hadn’t read before, and which suggests the rules would be different per photo. I, personally, would want to (at least) see “Photo by Boris Mann”, and at best, the same phrase linked to my website.

    Posting a photo without attributing is like quoting a blog post / newspaper article / etc. without referencing the author’s name (note I didn’t say link). It’s about respect.

  2. Duane Storey

    Hey Boris,

    In that interview, they make it sound like linking back is enough to satisfy attribution for something like Flickr, unless of course you specify directly that you want more than that.

    And you’re right, perhaps All Rights Reserved isn’t entirely obvious.

  3. darren

    To quote Duane, who’s paraphrasing the CC VP:

    “To summarize, attribution, in the context of Flickr, requires at the bare minimum a link back to the original photo.”

    You indicate in the first paragraph that “I don’t attribute”. That’s a dubious claim, because one could make a strong case that linking back is, in fact, an attribution. The CC VP seems to support that line of thinking.

    Subsequently, you cite CC’s description of attribution as being established by the creators themselves. If that’s the case, how are we going to decide on a definition for ‘attribution’?

    In any case, I bristle most at your accusation that I don’t respect people who’s work (both text and photos) that I link to but may not explicitly name in full. That’s simply not true.

  4. Duane Storey

    To be hoenst though, I expected more than linking back during that discussion. As somehow who has put about $5000 into photography this year alone, while a link is nice, I would rather have “Photo by Duane Storey,” or a link to the photography section on blog instead of flickr. Maybe someday you’ll be able to specify what you want on Flickr in a way that makes it easy to find. What would be nice is cut and paste code beside each photo, similar to the youtube EMBED code, that ultimately has the attribution you want.

  5. Boris Mann

    If that’s the case, how are we going to decide on a definition for ‘attribution’?

    Yep, it’s a tough one. I imagine if I asked, you’d mention me by name.

    Flickr *requires* link back as part of their TOS. Nothing to do with attribution.

    I knew my wording would make you bristle. It was meant to stimulate debate on what attribution is. says “The act of attributing, especially the act of establishing a particular person as the creator of a work of art.”

    Attribution, to my mind, is a *visible* display of acknowledgment — in either name or link form (i.e. you spell out the link as in

  6. darren

    When I go look at a big work of art, say Brian Jungen’s People’s Flag, the attribution isn’t particularly ‘visible’. I have to locate the little attributive sign in 3-D space (the flag’s hung in the middle of a room), walk up to it, squint and read it.

    The curators have made an aesthetic decision on attribution, in the context of the exhibit. Maybe Jungen’s representative has specified how he’s to be credited, maybe not.

    In short, attribution is about context, both in terms of the creator’s desires and the re-users medium.

    I’ve chosen (without any guidance or thinking about it very much, frankly) a mode of attribution which I think is satisfactory. You’re specifying a different mode of attribution which I have mixed feelings about.

    Sure, I could figure out how to add a custom field in WordPress so that there’s a ‘Photo by Fooby Foo” in the metadata. That’s a pain, but I’d do it, particularly if a creator complained.

    On the other hand, I don’t want to, as you described, have to fully cite the publication name and author name every time I link to a blog or website. What’s wrong with “I was reading in the Vancouver Sun that…” or “I read on Boing Boing that” (assuming those names get links)?

    It applies in both cases, but in the second case in particular, your requirement impacts the aesthetic choices I make while writing.

  7. darren

    I have no idea what that weird character is in the second to last paragraph. I’m even using an external keyboard, so I can’t blame Hungary.

  8. Cheryl

    The two items are not contradictory.

    You are merely required to contact the artist who will very likely give you permission (a licence) to use it once on your blog.

    And the artist will tell you which words of attribution the artist requires of you.

    Everyone is in too much of a hurry; make time to contact the artist.

  9. darren

    Cheryl: :

    * As I understand it, the whole point of Creative Commons is to avoid the process of manually contacting the creator (I’m hesitant to use the term ‘artist’ in this context). Maybe somebody can verify this?

    * I do occasionally contact or notify creators when I use their photo, as per their CC license, for a commercial or largish project (not just a blog post). They reply a little more than half the time, and their reply often isn’t timely.

    So, I guess if I had to contact a Flickr user for each post (I’m trying to use a photo with every post these days), it would screw up my posting frequency and rate. Posts that I wanted to publish today would have to wait, and I really enjoy the real-time, somewhat improvisational mode of writing I use here.

    As a result, I’d simply not use other people’s photos. The result of that would be a less interesting site, and less exposure for the Flickr user (something I assume they desire, particularly those who have applied CC licenses).

  10. Duane Storey

    Yeah, I think contacting the owner of the photo is a bit of a hassle, but should someone want to put “Photo by John Doe” under the photo, I don’t think it takes very much time to click “Profile” in flickr and see what their real name is. That’s the policy I have on my blog, and while it’s above and beyond the mere hyperlink that Mike thinks is reasonable, as a photographer, it’s what I would want to see done with my photos ultimately. And for the few extra seconds it adds to the process, I think it gives a far better impression.

  11. darren

    Duane: Now that I’m trying to include a photo to every post, I think I will add a photo credit to the metadata at the end of each post. I’d prefer not to put the credit directly under the photo, because it’d mess up my already messy design.

  12. Evan Young

    I try to use use CC licenced items in my blog posts as well. I’ve goofed only once so far with this photo I was sure that I found it using a CC search on Flickr but just about as soon as I’d posted it the owner pinged me and mentioned that he’d have liked to have been asked! I appologized and offered to take it down but he nicely granted me permission to continue to have it up. I had credited him so I wasn’t trying to hide it but what amazes me is how FAST he tracked it back…sheeshh

  13. Duane Storey

    You can use technorati to find photos that other people use. For example, here’s a link to mine. That’s probably how they found it so quick. However in my case, the person had saved them from Flickr, renamed them and put them on their own website, so had I not accidentally stumbled across them, I would have never been the wiser (maybe that was their intent?)

  14. Joe Clark

    There are always capacities under which copyrighted works can be used. For Canadians, look at fair dealing; for Americans, look at fair use.

    And Darren, stop acting like everybody else’s work is feedstock to illustrate your damned blog, and like people have to respond according to your publishing schedule.

  15. darren

    Joe: Feedstock? Really? Like my blog is a big dairy cow?

    I’m only a little familiar with fair dealing law in Canada. I reviewed the entry on Wikipedia and read some Michael Geist pieces, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t apply here. From a government website, fair dealing is “use or reproduction of a work for private study, research, criticism, review or news reporting”.

    As I’ve demonstrated, I’ve thought about appropriate use of images, and about how attribution works. And I’m using those works fairly, according to Creative Commons.

    Do you have anything constructive to add?

  16. Ian King

    Boris points out a really annoying wart in CC’s attribution requirements — that the requirements may be different from author to author. One may be happy with a linkback; someone else wants a caption and watermark, and another photog wants to you link back using some garish Flash-addled button. Aside from the possible visual chaos, it’s a pain in the ass keeping track of who wants what. (Why, it’s almost as bad as having to ask permission or set up some sort of a relationship with the artist or author!)

    I’m happy with text along the lines of “Ian King photo” or “photo by Ian King” (or however it’s written in the document’s main language), either in the caption or photo credits. I would also like this sort of attribution to be sufficient for any CC-licensed work.

    Why? It’s simple, doesn’t mess with design, has worked well for decades, and can be adapted to most any medium. Attribution is clear and doesn’t require readers to click through or mouse over. More importantly, it’s robust. If someone makes a screenshot, screencast, printout or print edition, poof! There goes your linkback. If that link was your only means of attribution, you’ve probably violated the terms under which you acquired the work. Text attribution is a lot more likely to be preserved when the medium changes.

    Finally, the idea that a Flickr photo with a ‘blog this’ button gives you permission to copy doesn’t work for me. It’s like saying “but Your Honour, the chump left the car window wide open, exposing the stereo…”

  17. darren

    Ian: Thanks for your thoughts. On your last point, are you saying that ‘All Rights Reserved’ trumps the ‘Blog This’ button, and that I should stick exclusively with CC-licensed photos?

  18. Ian King

    Darren: I’m almost certain that ‘all rights reserved’ trumps ‘blog this’; the rights extended to authors and artists (at least under the Berne Convention) are pretty pervasive. While placing both next to a photo is incoherent and confusing, you’re *much* better off using CC-licensed photos; that’s what I’d use were I in your position.

    A (blog|share) this function works better for text that’s ‘all rights reserved’ as quoting the odd salient bit usually qualifies as fair dealing. (AIUI, any attempt by publishers to restrict your use to less than what falls under fair dealing would not hold up in court. That said, IANAL. YMMV. HTH. WTF. MEGO. XYZZY.)

    One thing I didn’t mention before: when I attribute a photo, I’d rather credit to the photog’s real name or the name under which they publish (the equivalent of a pen name). Flickr user names are an ugly fallback — if you have a preferred name that you’d like to be credited as, make it known!

  19. darren

    Agreed on the wiser-to-use-CC-licensed photos. However, it is baffling why Flickr provides this contradiction. Judging by the forum threads I read, it results in confusion and tears regularly.

    I’m not sure how ‘fair dealing’ applies to photography, and to my situation. I’m not using ‘the odd salient bit’, unless you want to call a thumbnail a fraction of the photo? And, most of the time, I’m not using it for any of ‘private study, research, criticism, review or news reporting’.

  20. Ian King

    You’ll have to find people more knowledgeable than I when it comes to fair dealing in photos. My own practical experience involves a lot of fair dealing in text and acquiring wide rights to photos; from that it follows that I don’t know much about fair dealing in photos. My guess is that it’s a lot harder to argue fair dealing when you’re just trying to add colour and illustration to an article, but it’s a guess.

  21. Kate Trgovac

    Great discussion! I’ve wondered about some of these issues when using Flickr photos. I always look for CC photos (whether for use on my blog or use in a presentation). I tend to do “Photo Credit: “name of photo” by FlickrHandle and link to the photo page.

    I agree with Ian, if you want to be known under your real-name, then use your real-name. Otherwise, your Flickr handle is public and functions as a pseudonym and that’s what gets linked.

    I’ve only ever been contacted by a photographer once and that was to say “thanks for blogging my photo” which was cool. I used to change photo names, but am now just lazy and upload as is.

    For use in presentations I still struggle a bit with attribution, or where to put it. I tend to make a list of photo credits at the end with links to them. But I have seen a couple of presentations recently where the attribution is on each slide. I find this cumbersome and annoying. As long as it’s clear which photo came from where – would it really matter?

    Thanks for all the thoughtfulness! And I’m glad to know that my confusion over CC vs Blog This is no longer a solitary one!

  22. Duane Storey

    Mike (from CC) pointed out that attribution really depends on the medium, and in video, the credit roll might be a good place to do attributions in that medium. With that in mind, I think having attributions for the photos at the end of a presentation is sufficient as long as it’s clear which photo each attribution relates to.

    In terms of using a real name of a flickr name, I think people should really take the time to look for a real name in the profile page, and if it exists, to use that. Otherwise, I guess the flickr nickname is all you can go with.

  23. darren

    Agreed on the presentations. I pretty much exclusively use CC-licensed photos in my presentations, and credit them at the end on the ‘thanks and here are my contact details’ slide.

  24. Andy K

    I’ve watched the discussion go back and forth on this one and want to jump in now.

    More and more recently, I have noticed a definite lack of attributions on blogs, Some people (to be clear, NOT Darren) quote other websites (especially Wikipedia) without quotation marks, and even though they link to the article, someone without the time to click-through will be left with the impression the blog author wrote the text, regardless of the author’s best intentions (or not). How hard is it to add the text “Here is what Wikipedia says:”?

    Darren’s lack of textual picture attribution is the very close to the same situation. If I can’t tell from reading alone that the idea, the text, or the picture isn’t yours, I feel I have been misled to some degree. It might be linked, but do have to hover my mouse over everything to see whose it is? Since the pictures in question are just decoration, I don’t feel it’s a big issue in this case–then again, they aren’t my pictures.

    Blogs still have the aura of personality and integrity, but this kind of behavior will destroy that. In the quest for content and daily posts, bloggers are increasingly relying on others to do the work. Not to mention that it might be construed that CC “non-commercial” content is violated on a blog that has ads and/or the blogger’s own business solicitations. After all, the new commerce is page-hits and unique visitors.

    Finally, and this might be my real point, the need to illustrate every article is misguided. This article for example, has a dark picture of a city at night, which has absolutely nothing to do with the topic. I think even if you had the CC logo or something relevant, it would add nothing to the article. The small photos are distracting since they do catch the eye, then I have to decipher them, then mentally try to link them to the article. When the connection is unclear or non-existent, I’m confused for a second.

    The tendancy in print media, especially magazines, to illustrate every article has led to some of the worst art and graphics I have ever seen. In your case Darren, the color photos disrupt your page layout and color scheme. If the photo doesn’t illustrate something or provide more meaning, and it takes away from the design, what good is it?

  25. darren

    Andy: Thanks for your thoughts. With regards to the illustrating images, it’s something I’m trying out. Without getting into an aesthetic debate, I obviously think they make the site look more interesting and attractive (in this photo, incidentally, I was going for an illustration of ‘commons’).

    If other people don’t like them, or I grow weary of the extra bit of work of finding them, you’ll probably see less of them.

  26. Blogging and Respect - the duane storey

    […] areas associated with the non-commercial parts of the CC licenses. A few days after I wrote it, Darren Barefoot chimed in with some of his thoughts — there is a really good comment thread over there, so go check it […]

  27. Creative Complicated? | K's Weblog

    […] some sources in the blogosphere, mainly ones linked from local blogs here in the lower mainland.  One posting on Darren Barefoot’s blog contained a very insightful comment thread and is worth a read to get a few different perspectives […]

Comments are closed.