Why I’m No Longer Using Creative Commons on Flickr

Creative Commons (CC) is one of the great things about the Internet. It allows people to license their creative content for others to use. You can place restrictions on that use, such as determining whether your content is available for commercial use or not. There's a case study on the Creative Commons web site about how Flickr with over 200 million image available under a CC license. I was one of those users sharing under Creative Commons for a long time, but I turned it off last week.

According to the case study, there were over four billion photos shared on Flick by mid-2009. That tells us that most of those photos aren't available under Creative Commons. To be fair, most of them probably aren't suitable for sharing with someone else. Flickr is a social site and many people use it to share their own snapshots, memories and personal photos with friends. They don't intend for others to use their photos. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Creative Commons: What's in it for you?

Creative CommonsThose who do share under Creative Commons on Flickr have different reasons. Some are just altruistic. They want to share and don't care what you do with their photos. Others are looking for exposure. In fact, you probably get more traffic to your Flickr stream by opening up your photos to Creative Commons. That's understandable, since plenty of people search Flickr for free, usable images.

Those searchers could be bloggers without a budget. What I've found is that a number of them are running a business and think that anything with a Creative Commons license is free to use. I keep seeing that myth shared on Internet Marketing forums from time to time. They think that Creative Commons = free, never stopping to consider that there are different types of CC licenses.

It's not just some folks trying to make money from Internet Marketing who want your images for free. Among the contacts I've received for people who wanted to use my image with no compensation:

  • United States Congress to use for the cover of the New Member Orientation for the 113th Congress
  • A major travel web site
  • A facial¬†cream manufacturer
  • A Canadian engineering company
  • A media organization (even people who produce content don't want to pay for it)
  • A few travel magazines
  • A large Photoshop user group

I granted a couple of those requests because I thought they were reasonable. Most of these, and other requests, ended up without a satisfactory deal.

Let's Make a Deal

I have different expectations for the usage of my photos. If you're a blogger who needs a photo to go with an article, no problem. Use my image. All I want is credit for the photo and a link back to this blog. That seems reasonable to me.

If you have a commercial product to support where you're making money, then you ought to have a budget to go with it. A reasonable budget. When you hear that someone wants exclusive rights to your photo in perpetuity, then you need to come to the table with your wallet. If you need something, but it doesn't have to be exclusive and it's for a short-run, then the price goes down – perhaps even to barter if you have something else that I value. I've done that a few times and it's worked out well for both parties.

Wanting something for nothing just isn't a win-win, though. That's where Flickr's implementation of Creative Commons has given me a few fits.

The Problem with Flickr's Photo Sharing

When you enable Creative Commons and photo sharing on Flickr, anyone can get your photo and use it on their site – regardless of their purpose. You, as a Flickr user, do not get any right to refuse that share. In fact, you get absolutely no notice at all from Flickr that someone used the service to embed your photo on their site. In a minority of cases, I've actually been offended by some of the sites that were using my images. That's particularly so if they're using them in ways I didn't expect. Without going into details, I decided to remove a photo of a cute kid because of the community that was using it via Flickr's sharing tools. I just didn't want to be associated with them in any way.

It's bad enough that you have no control or notice from Flickr, but there's another part that irked me. My CC license calls for credit and a link back to this site – not to Flickr. Those folks at Flickr were very wise to adopt Creative Commons in conjunction with their sharing tools. It provides Flickr with millions of back links to their site. Although it mentions my user ID (wbeem) on the site sharing my photo, there is no mechanism to provide a link back to my blog – or to even give me credit by my full name.

Do you know how many visits I get to this site from Flickr? I got two visits from Flickr on Monday and none on Tuesday evening as I write this post. Pinterest, on the other hand, is a great resource for traffic. I actually get a link back to my site from the photos I share on Pinterest. Despite having nearly 2,000 photos on Flickr with over a million views – it's doing practically nothing for my traffic or useful business.

There are a few exceptions. I've had successful licenses from Flickr, and there are photographers I know who do much better business from that site than I do. You could safely say they're working it better than I am, or perhaps they have more marketable photos. In any case, the traffic I get from Creative Commons sharing on Flickr is of no benefit to me at all.

I Haven't Quit Creative Commons

You can believe what I said at the beginning of this post. Creative Commons is one of the great things about the Internet. My images are still available via Creative Commons license for non-commercial use. Specifically, I use this license:

Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC

My complaint isn't with Creative Commons – it's with Flickr. Since I can't get a proper attribution and link from Flickr's sharing tool, I recently implemented my own embedding tool here on the site. You're welcome to use it, or grab the image and provide your own credit and back link to my site from your non-commercial web site.

I'm not going to stop sharing on Flickr, but I am changing the way I use that social media site. Do you care how Flickr gives attribution and links to your photos? Please let me know in the comments.

Creative Commons - Animal Kingdom Lodge at Christmas

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  • DisneyCruiseLineBlog January 9, 2013   Reply →


    I’ve had a similar issue with Flickr in that I’ve been paying for a pro account and all the traffic goes to them when an image of mine is shared/used elsewhere. Essentially, I am paying them and in turn they are making money off my work via ads (for non-pro accounts or non users). I looked at my site referrals for the last 6 months and guess what there were just under 200 visits (25% were new visitors) referred from Flickr. I would understand this a bit more if I were not paying for a pro account. At the end of the day it is their playground, if I do not like the rules I can leave. However, I’m paying for a “service” and the rules do not change for paying members.

    Even with the free 3-months Flickr gifted everyone last month I think once my subscription runs out I will not renew. Thanks for giving me another reason not to renew.

    • William Beem January 15, 2013   Reply →

      I let my Flickr account lapse for nearly a year, but recently renewed. The reason is because I like the sharing code that Flickr provides to embed my photos on a site or forum. As you can tell from this post, I’d rather have that back link coming here than building up Flickr’s SEO.

      The plugin I found works for allowing me to embed HTML easily, but it doesn’t support the forum short codes. Once I find a way to do that from this site, Goodbye Flickr.

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