Creative Commons Licensing Doesn’t Equal “Free”

We hear a lot about Creative Commons licensing these days, and even more “photo via Flickr” without any notation of license. Photo thieves won’t be slowed down by much of anything shy of a ton of lawyers but there are a lot of good people accidentally using photos without permission because of the widespread Creative Commons and Flickr confusion.

Quick facts about Creative Commons

  1. There is more than one type of Creative Commons license
  2. Commercial means you intend to make money from the use of the photo, it doesn’t care where you publish it
  3. Most photos on Flickr are “all rights reserved” and NOT under Creative Commons
  4. Just saying “Creative Commons” is not enough

Sooo, what does that mean?

For starters, you have to make sure WHICH Creative Commons license (if any) is in effect on the photo you want to use (whether you find it on Flickr or elsewhere). Flickr posts the copyright information on all photo pages. Take the time to read it.

Next, understand what the license means. Attribution is pretty much wide open but you HAVE to note the photographer (and do so in the manner the photographer requests if he/she notes special requests with the photo/license). There are SEVEN Creative Commons licenses and nearly half of them forbid commercial usage. See them all HERE.

Find out what “non-commercial” really means. News articles, how-to sites like, Livestrong, and dozens of others are commercial according to Creative Commons (regardless of what certain ones of those named seem to think of themselves). What the entity labels itself does not count, the offered LEGAL CONTRACT LICENSE is what counts. Creative Commons holds that it is commercial if it is in “any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.” Guess what? That means Google ads (that YOU receive income from – not ads on a free blog that the blog host may place without your input) on your personal blog too!

Finally, just saying “Creative Commons” or the photographer’s name is not enough. You have to “For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best way to do this is with a link to this web page.” Creative Commons also provides license badges that you can place on photos you use along with the photographer’s name in order to make it very clear how the photo is licensed. “Creative Commons” by itself is useless. Commons License Marking Example, Photo by vharjadiicenses/by/3.0/

Creative Commons License Marking Example, Photo by vharjadi

So take the extra five minutes to do it right! The photographer was generous enough to allow you to use his/her hard work without asking for payment. The LEAST you could do is have the manners to follow the offered license and photographer wishes.


Warning below this line there be monsters…err, ads from WordPress


5 thoughts on “Creative Commons Licensing Doesn’t Equal “Free”

  1. Hi Liz, Thanks for this! I am one of the admins for the Birmingham Audubon page. Because of the gorgeous Osprey photo from Pell City that you posted, I shared your FB page on the Bham Audubon page last week. I did not even check with you but it linked to your FB page. I am very sorry about this, do I need to check with you in the future before these types of shares?

    I personally follow a lot of nature/birding photography pages and sharing is a normal practice, but I can double check with you first. Thanks so much, this is a very important issue to photographers. Liz

    • Don’t worry about it Liz! Sharing on FB is quite different. A share on FB still retains the original photographer information and is expected on FB. It is more of a visual link to the original page. Now, the ones that download the photo and then post it directly to a page without any link back is a whole ‘nother story. 🙂

      Keep up a great FB page!

  2. Pingback: So I’m thinking… |

  3. Pingback: Where to Find Free Photos for a Blog - Hubadub

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s