Creative Commons? Photographers – just say no.

Two blogs I read fairly regularly are Dan Heller‘s Photo Business blog and PDNPulse from Photo District News (PDN), and there are related recent posts on the two of them.

When last I looked there were three features on Dan Heller’s site dealing with the problems of Creative Commons Licences for photographs, but by the time you read this, there may well be more! The first in the series was posted on Jan 3, 2008, and you’ll find the others on the left sidebar.

If you are someone who puts images on the web – especially on photo-sharing sites such as Flickr, I suggest you take a careful read.

Creative Commons Licence come in 6 varieties on the UK Creative Commons site, with a slightly different presentation on the US site – which covers over 40 countries – including England and Scotland and various languages.

As Heller points out, because of the vast number of images contributed to sites such as Flickr, Creative Commons (CC) licences actually are the dominant form of photographic licencing, at least numerically. Flickr does give you the choice of ‘None’ as well as the six CC licences – and it is the one I choose for all of my pictures there – but I think most Flickr users go for one of the CC licences.

Heller certainly makes a lot of interesting points and should give all photographers something to think about. Some of the arguments he makes depends on US copyright law – rather different to the UK and other countries that followed the Berne convention as it retains a copyright registration system (although unregistered images are still copyright.) Registration enables the copyright holder to claim punitive damages rather than more normal usage fees. The US also has a rather different and generally looser interpretation of ‘fair use.’

As Heller also points out, many people see the CC licences as an alternative to copyright, but in fact they are not, but are simply licences for the use of work that do not actually affect your copyright.

I decided a year or so back that CC licences didn’t make sense for me, although I have an fairly liberal policy of granting no-cost use of my work to funds-free non-commercial organisations – with a few exceptions. For me copyright is first an issue of control over the use of my work, and secondly a strong sense of not wanting to get ripped off by guys who can afford to pay. And yes, it would be nice to make a living!

Heller comes to the conclusion that CC licences have no part in the world of photography, by which I understand he means the commercial use of photography. They simply don’t give the end-user of the picture the protection. He sees this as good news for professional photographers, as it increases the need for commercial users of photographs to get images from agencies and photographers who can be trusted to provide less risky licences for their images.

PDNPulse today links to a Washington Post article (it may require you to fill in a free subscription form) which gives some interesting examples of images used without permission, as well as some of the rather feeble excuses that companies give for their actions.

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