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« on: February 18, 2008, 10:00 »
Why I Will Never Use Creative Commons Images

When I talk about stock images, one of the questions I'm often asked is "why not just use Creative Commons images?" After all, it's a very attractive concept. There are a lot of great photographers out there taking a lot of great photographs, and hey, with the right Creative Commons license, they're free! Free! Who doesn't want free?

Well, I'm all for free. I love free. Very few people on the planet, in fact, are cheaper than I am. I am so cheap that even when I have money to spend, I will check Freecycle, Craigslist, second hand hand shops and thrift stores before I buy new. But I will not use Creative Commons for images.

The reason I do not use Creative Commons images is that the licensing is broken - completely, totally, inexorably broken - in all of its implementations around images.

Flickr, for example, provides members with a way to select a default Creative Commons license for all photos they upload. The license photographers choose most often to allow their images to be used by other people is, by far, the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license.

In theory, this is a great and clear licensing agreement that basically says "You can use my work for non-commercial purposes if you credit me." If you actually look at the license terms, however, things get a lot more murky:

Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

I understand that I cannot, for example, sell prints of someone else's Creative Commons image, which is fair enough. And I understand that I can't use it on MegaConglomorate Inc's home page, wrap it around their product packaging, or print it in their corporate brochure. All of that is part and parcel of common understanding for the term "commercial."

But what if I want to use an image on MegaConglomorate Inc's blog in a post? They are commercial, but the blog is not. Is that commercial use?

Or what if I want to put these images on my personal blog, and I run ads there - either from individual companies or through the ubiquitous Google Ad Sense. After all, I am making money, even if it's pennies a day. Is that commercial?

My husband says no. I say yes. Nobody knows.

Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

Almost everyone who uses Creative Commons puts this requirement in their license. Virtually nobody, however, actually specifies the manner in which they would like to be attributed. Believe me, I have looked. I have tracked down photographer's home pages via their flickr streams on many occasions, and on exactly none of them have I ever found a Creative Commons guideline or attribution statement. Ever.

Which rather begs the question: if no manner of attribution is specified, is attribution still required? And if it is still required, what constitutes sufficient attribution when none is defined? A flickr name? A real name? A link? A URL?

Nobody knows. Creative Commons itself doesn't tell me, although they are helpful enough to let me know that in addition to crediting (or not) the original creator, I also have to provide the URL of the Creative Commons license the image is licensed under.

You are free to to Remix — to adapt the work.

Sometimes the freedom to create what's call a derivative work is included in the license, and sometimes it isn't. When it isn't, it's a pain because guess what? Derivative work isn't defined.  Is cropping "adaptive?" Can I put text over it? Can I turn a colour image into a black and white image, or colour in a single rose in a black and white image?

Nobody knows.

Far more worrying, however, is when the rights to create a derivative work are granted. Under the Creative Commons license agreement, the "moral rights" of the original creator are retained. This means that if the creator doesn't like the way in which I have "re-mixed" his or her work, they can demand that I remove it. And if the creator considers my derivation to be derogatory, he or she can take legal action against me.

These are just some of the numerous Creative Commons headaches I really do not want.

I choose, instead, to pay for licensed images from stock image sites. While purchasing stock images isn't without potential issues, particularly around copyright, I've decided that the relationship is a lot cleaner and the annoyances are a lot fewer.

I do not have to credit the creator, nor do I have to send traffic from my site to any other in order to use an image. I can do anything I like to the images I purchase, including using them in ways the photographer may find patently offensive. I can use them for commercial, non-commercial, and questionably commercial projects, sites and clients without worrying that I'm breaking an agreement. And if I want to put them on a product that will be sold, there's a system in place that allows me to do that clearly and immediately with zero confusion.

Is it more expensive than free? Sure. But I get what I pay for.



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