Photo Sharing

Just in case you’ve never noticed, I have quite an addiction to photography. My Nikon 8700 is just coming up to its 10,000th photo, and I have a fair few albums on Flickr now. The thing with digital photography and the internet though, is that everyone (usually) can see your photos, and may use them. With or wihout your permission. And every now and then I get an email or message or otherwise get involved in a forum discussion about Creative Commons Rights and photo theft.

Creative Commons are a set of rights you can choose from and determine what people can or can’t do with your photos. Some give permission for non commercial use. Other say whether someone can or can’t alter downloaded copies of your photos. Whether they can be distributed or shared and more. Some people get really upset when they find other people have stolen their photos and uploaded them elsewhere. Me? I couldn’t give a monkeys! I’d prefer them to link back to my photo on Flickr, but even if they don’t I wouldn’t get too upset. Why? Here is the latest letter I received and my reply…


Hi Gary, I noticed last night that your pics on flickr are all licensed under Creative Commons, and under one of the more permissive ones. I don’t think this is the default on flickr, so I think you must have made a decision to do this at some point. This is interesting, and I’m curious about your thinking on this.

I am aware of Creative Commons, Copyleft, and GPL licensing (from my Linux hobby), though I’m now more curious than ever to learn more. I totally respect your photography and your thinking, so if you have time, please let me know why you picked the license you did. I think it will help me.


I think I did change the CC license, but such a long time ago, I can’t remember for sure! But there is a reason for my very generous licensing. Firstly, I think some people get a bit too consumed by their passion for money. If someone wants to sell their photography, they’d best become a professional – take a degree, buy the very expensive equipment that goes with being a pro and quit their day job to take it up full time. Otherwise, and this applies to me and 99.9% of all Flickr owners…they are not going to make enough money from selling one or two photos (maybe, if they are lucky!) every couple of years for it to be worthwhile.

I’ve had a couple of people disagree with me on this, holding up the fact that quite a few of their photos over the years have been stolen from places like Flickr and used elsewhere. I try and point out that the fact they were ‘stolen’ in the first place should tell them these aren’t the sort of people who would pay for photos!! People who do buy photos are likely to contact you anyway, whatever the licensing terms are. Of course, there can be geuinely warranted reasons to limit the sharing of photos. If someone’s photo collection is almost entirely made up of family snaps then they might well have a different opinion to me. But then, who buys family snaps? And photo thieves aren’t going to pay much attention to which license is being used before they steal it anyway!

There’s just too much of a tendency for people these days to say “this is mine, get off!” and jealously guard things that in reality have little or no monetary value. I’ve heard of people valuing their photos in the hundreds of dollars. Dreamland. Most stock photos go for just a few dollars. $25 is good. $100 or $200 if the photo is really, really special. Which it might be, if you took that degree course and spent thousands on the equipment!

Secondly, selling photos legally quite often isn’t as easy at it sounds. If there is a privately owned building or a person in it, then model releases have to be obtained for the photo to be sold. How much fun hunting around Mexico City for a random person you once photographed? How much fun does it add to your hobby to get model releases every time you take a photo…just in case? Not much I imagine!

Lastly and most importantly…I photograph for fun. It’s a hobby. Getting comments on my photos is great. Seeing people use them elsewhere is even more of a compliment. I have a couple of photos that are used on Wikipedia, and last year a photo I took of the Milwaukee Art Museum got published in a book, a copy of which was sent to me for free in lieu of any payment. My choice of licensing helped all of that come about, and the satisfaction of seeing people sharing and using my photos is worth much more to me than a few dollars. My licensing gets me added exposure, visits to my blog and a sense of satisfaction. What more does anyone want from a hobby?


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