Last September, I changed the licensing of my Flickr stream to release all content under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license. It seemed like the right thing to do to let non-commercial entities enjoy my work as long as they provided me with credit.
Unfortunately the spirit of my licensing intentions doesn’t always jive with the ambiguity of the Creative Commons licenses. What exactly is commercial use? Selling a T-shirt or print of the photo is obviously commercial… but what about a blog that uses the photo and also runs advertisements? What exactly is attribution? Crediting the photographer by real name? Online username? No explicit credit but linking the photo to a Flickr page? I know in my mind what my answers would be to these questions, but the license doesn’t answer the questions.
Enforcing a Creative Commons license often leads to the role of being an educator, and then quibbling over details. Last week, I encountered three different situations where someone was using a photo of mine (released under Creative Commons) in what I understood to be a violation of the license agreement. I posted an update on Twitter after encountering the third one, which led to a couple people making pleas that I should simply work with the offenders to educate them about what the license really means.
Writing an email that explains the license along with the specific issues for a violation probably takes 20-30 minutes. Responses and followup can eat up more time. Doing three of those in a week is simply time that I don’t have.
I’m no longer releasing my personal work under Creative Commons*. I’ll continue to grant no-fee usage rights in some cases, but they’ll be on an explicit and as-requested basis. I support the spirit of the Creative Commons license but unfortunately the details are vague. I hope that in the future there will be a more explicit license that can easily be applied to my work on places such as Flickr that will allow more more fine-grained control and less confusion.
* Of course, if one of my clients requests Creative Commons licensing for their photos, that can be included as part of the contract.