Like many librarians I often turn to Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr for use in my presentations and blog posts. Flickr makes it incredibly easy to search for photos with a Creative Commons license. Unfortunately it also makes it ridiculously easy for users to change the license on all their photos at any time with the click of a button. There is no way to prove the license at the time of use. I have been slowly weaning myself away from Flickr photos instead taking my own or sometimes paying for them. Although I have never heard of what happened to me this weekend happening to anyone else I think I’m going to push harder with that move.
On Saturday I received this message through my Facebook fan page. I am removing identifying info from the message as the purpose of this post is to be informative not inspire a witch hunt.
The photo of the man holding an iPhone you are using at [redacted] is not authorized for your use. It is a copyrighted photo by me and I am requesting that it be removed. Thank you for your attention to this matter. My orignal photo is here: [redacted]
I was a bit taken aback by this for several reasons. First, I only use CC licenses photos. Second, the sender does not indicate that he changed his license but rather implies I violated his current one which is strict copyright. Third, unfortunately though I know I only use CC photos I have no way to prove that it was CC when I used it. Flickr keeps no record and I can’t imagine how I could possibly keep records myself. Fourth, the slideshow in question is over 3 years old.
So I responded:
thank you for letting me know you’ve changed the Creative Commons license permissions for your photo. This is an incredibly popular and important presentation for librarians is there any chance you would be willing to let me keep it in old presentations archived around the web? Of course I won’t use it going forward.
To which he responded:
My previous Creative Commons licensing did not include commercial use of
the photo. It would appear that your site is commercial in nature. Although
this presentation does appear to be made available for no charge.
As long as the slide show is free I am ok with my photo being used.
Ok, at least here he is admitting he did change his license. However this response also confused me because I would never consider this blog commercial. I don’t even have ads, though I have considered them. The donate button doesn’t even bring in enough to cover the cost of hosting the site.
You know I’ve never had anyone say that my site is commercial in nature. I am a librarian and write the blog for free. I don’t even have ads I have a donate button which I assure you does not even cover the cost of hosting the site every year.
The slide show in which I used your photo is freely available on Slideshare and YouTube at no cost to anyone who wants to view.
Again thank you for letting me know you changed your license and thank you for permission to continue using the photo.
I haven’t heard back so I’m considering the matter settled. I am however concerned about this type behavior.
I’m not entirely sure what happened here. I think perhaps the default setting on Flickr is a Creative Commons license. I respect the right of anyone to change their license at any time. I am not sure they can apply that change retroactively though. I am confused by his efforts to track down a three year old slideshow. I am confused why he chose to contact me through my Facebook page rather than my email which is listed on the site. I am confused about the perception that this site is commercial. Since he freely discovered the slideshow and video is is pretty clear that the slideshow is available for free, so I’m confused about that bit as well.
I think people may not understand what they are agreeing to when they upload photos to Flickr. I may start just searching for photos licensed to use commercially in presentations (although I still do not think my presentations qualify as commercial use). It was suggested on Facebook when I posted about this there that I claim fair use. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with that option. While I don’t want to be bullied neither do I want explicitly ignore the wishes of the photographer. And I certainly can’t afford a lawyer.
Flickr and the Creative Commons license are a wonderful combination just as long as both parties fully understand what they are getting into. Maybe this is just a fluke. Has anything like this happened to anyone else?
Edited 3:40 Central Time January 27, 2012
Well this may clear up some confusion. Apparently he thinks Slideshare.net is MY website. See correspondence below.
Your site is commercial because you offer a “pro” version for a fee. How is that NOT commercial? Not to say “commercial” = “profitable” but if you charge money for your services, that’s commercial and puts you in violation of creative commons licensing which prohibits commercial use. You may offer free slideshows, but this is in support of the commercial enterprise.
At first I was like – Pro version? What the heck? Then I started looking around my site and finally remembered that slideshare does offer a pro version. Ah ah! He thinks that I am somehow affliated with Slideshare. Oh my. My response
I think you are confused. Slideshare.net is not my website I am not affiliated with it in any way other than as a user. Slideshare it is a service that allows people to upload their slideshows for free. (yes they have a pro version but I don’t pay for it so I don’t know what that entails.) Think of Slideshare as YouTube for presentations. It allows users to upload and share, for free, their presentations. I am one such person. I am a user of Slideshare just like I am a user of Facebook. Just like you. I am not affiliated with Slideshare in any way. Just like I am not affiliated with Facebook in anyway yet use the site and service.
Hope that helps clear up the confusion.
Thank you again
Hopefully this helps him understand Slideshare. Though perhaps I should have used Flickr as the comparison as he uses it and it also offers a Pro version.