The Non-Commercial Non License

This is something of a follow on post from my previous piece, The Marketplace. It’s a follow on of sorts to another post on Viva Veracruz. I was going to title the post ‘The Milwaukee Art Museum Stole My Photo Of The Milwaukee Art Museum’. But, whilst factually correct, it’s a bit of a mouthful for a post title. Besides, this post asks more questions than it provides answers. The topic at hand, is the use/theft (delete according to your wishes) of one’s photos.

Kim pointed out that the photo above of the Milwaukee Art Museum is all over the web. I took it back in the summer of 2005, and have only a small image of it left, at just 640px wide. The original was lost in a hard drive failure later that year. I started backing everything up to Flickr shortly afterwards. A good move – I’ve had catastrophic hard drive failures since then.

The photo is indeed all over the web. I used to use TinEye to search for errant photo use. These days, Google does just as good a job, with greater ease. Right click on an image in Chrome, and the option to search for the image on Google is there. It found nearly 400 pages where the photo had been used. Am I bothered? Not at all. I’m delighted. I put the photo up on the net to be seen in the first place.

I also assume that any photo I upload on to the net will be used. Many, I’m sure won’t, but plenty are. But theft on the internet is the default setting. You can argue whether that’s wrong till you’re blue in the face. But it will still be the default setting long after you’ve run out of breath. I apply a copyright setting with this in mind. I use Creative Commons ‘Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. What does that mean?


So, basically, do what you will with it. So long as you’re not using it for commercial purposes. But this raises a few questions. What exactly is the definition of Non Commerical? It turns out (perhaps not unsurprisingly) that there is no water tight definition. There’s an interesting comment in this Quora piece, as well as worthwhile reading here and here. Do they clear it all up satisfactorily for you? No, I thought not.

But still, if you’re upset that someone has stolen your photo, you can do something about it. Is it worth the time, cost and trouble. I doubt it. What I do is just look through how my photos have been used. Just for interest. Most of the time, in my case, the use is fair under the terms of the CC license I use. Or would be, if they bothered to credit me. A lot of them don’t. This is important for one basic reason. By not crediting me, they increase the risk of the work being picked up as an ‘orphan work’ and used with royalties paid to someone other than me.

Tsk. These are mostly naughty bloggers. It’s also fair to say that a lot of the bloggers who’ve used my image didn’t even get it from the original source. They’re ‘stealing’ a ‘stolen’ photo. Although, come to think of it, with so many copies of that photo on the web, I have only my word to say I am the original photographer. Although I can point out that no one will be able to produce that photo with proof showing it was uploaded to the internet earlier than my image.

There are some really blatant uses of my image on sites which have solely a commercial purpose. This site here, for example, has a shrunken version of the image for the purposes of selling limousine rides. Horrific web design, by the way. Very 1990s. I wouldn’t rent a spoon from something so sloppy. But my favourite commercial use is from this Groupon advert. The Milwaukee Art Museum ran an offer for discounted membership, and used my image to promote it. I wasn’t kidding, at the beginning of the post. The Milwaukee Art Museum  really did steal my photo of the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Ironically, to sell it to them I would have needed a commercial release consent from them. But the bottom line seems to be this. The Non Commercial part of the CC license is a bit of a non license. Some publishers will do the decent thing and contact you and offer a payment. Most won’t. The default remains. If you put your photos in the public domain, then theft is a likely outcome. So just relax, share and enjoy the fact that other people enjoy your photography.







11 thoughts on “The Non-Commercial Non License

  1. John Calypso says:

    It is a great photo.

    I am OK with the thieving up to the point of someone else taking the credit – no credits – OK, but wrong credits seems just too much.

    I also am totally against using my server(s) bandwidth – steal my photo, but PLEASE put it on your own server.


    • Other people claiming credit for shots they have purloined is blatant theft. Selling them is worse still by far.

      I know you’ve mentioned hotlinking in the past. It’s not something I’ve ever been concerned about because my main blog and Flickr photos are hosted by WordPress and Yahoo respectively. I’m not paying for the bandwidth.

      But this blog is hosted by yours truly. I will have to look into this. If I run this blog for a few years, then the photo gallery will become pretty large and offer rich pickings for the photo thieves of the world. I have a few ideas, which I’ll report back. Ie, a post.


  2. Steve Cotton says:

    Gary, I do not seem to be able to find the search option for my photographs in Chrome. When I right click on one of my images, I get the same options I see in Internet Explorer. Perhaps, I have missed a setting.


  3. Kim G says:

    Since you are interested in monetizing your blog, why not put an invisible watermark on your photos and monetize them instead? It’d save your readers from dubious Dubai hotel posts.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we have no intention of visiting Dubai, no matter how plush.


    • The invisible traceable watermarks cost a bomb. But even then, there’s the time consuming business of writing to the offenders only to see if they voluntarily pay up. If they don’t, do I hire a US lawyer, where most of the offenders are? I’m not sure I’ve got the time and patience to go in search of scant reward.

      Any Dubai post I publish is going to be of a dubious nature and one I’d like to save readers from. I’m committed to publishing one more ad from that company. Then there will be a lull. The reward from the ads are, sadly, more profitable than those from my photos.

      To give it context – about a third of my total monthly income in September, including day job, will be from blog ads.It’s hard to say no…


      • Kim G says:

        I don’t blame you for monitizing. And I’m just pulling your chain when I comment on the obviously monetized posts. Heck, if I had your readership, I’d be tempted to monitize too.



        • I don’t have half the readership I had in Mexico. Not even a third. I think the Google Pagerank is good enough for most advertisers, and that hasn’t fallen so dramatically.

          I suspect on days you publish, your page views probably out do mine. I do pick up a lot of traffic from search engines leading people to old posts though. That’s the benefit of having more than 2,000 posts up on a blog, I guess.


  4. Pingback: Viva Mexico! | The Mexile

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