Photo Licensing and the Creative Commons
Category: Blog

This is something which has been bothering me for a while now and finding a bunch more of my photos being used improperly online this weekend pushed me to write this. I license almost all of my photos under a CC license (attribution-noncommercial-no derivative works 2.0 specifically) and I have been finding that virtually _no one_ follows what I believe to be the intent of that license. As a quick briefing, the license can be found here:

The areas which are most in question are the attribution and the non-commercial parts. I’ve come to accept my colleagues’ and peers’ opinions that non-commercial simply means they can’t sell my work. Personally, I think this should also mean you can’t put my photo on a page you are making money off of (aka advertising) either without my permission (which in most, but not all cases I would give automatically upon being asked), but apparently I am fairly alone in that belief. I guess it’s something I will just have to agree to disagree with.

On the other hand, attribution, is a bit of a different story. If you pay close attention and look, you will see some of my photos are used all over the Internet, from giants like Wired Magazine and CNET to mere annoyances to many like the Silicon Valley tabloid “Valleywag”. More often than not, I don’t even get a link back to the original photo, let alone a mention like “photo by: Jeremy Johnstone”. Now in the case of my Taylor Swift photos (from when she performed on campus), I could care less really since the majority of people who use those photos are teenage kids who don’t know any better (and besides, I took the photos to share them). It’s a whole different story when it comes to professional journalists and bloggers, who should know better, especially when they use my photos in negative posts about Yahoo! or it’s various employees. While I am not sure I would want my name next to something negative about Yahoo!, I also don’t want my photos being used without at least getting credit for the effort I put in.

For the record, the two forms of attribution which I approve of are:

1.) My name near the photo or specified at the end of the post/page in which it is used. Something along the lines of “photo by: Jeremy Johnstone”. If the photo is of something related to Yahoo!, then adding something like “(Yahoo!)” to the end of my name indicating my employer, is ideal but not required. The photo should also link back to the Flickr page if at all possible. If you are an over achiever and want to get on my good side, then make my name clickable and link back to my blog or to my main Flickr page (

2.) If you simply want to do the bare minimum and nothing else, then just make the photo link back to the Flickr page for that photo. If for some reason that is not possible, somewhere on your page where the photo is used, indicate the original source of the photo. I really don’t feel this meets what I would call attribution, but I am willing to compromise and say it does since it seems to be commonly accepted as such.

Some say that I should be happy that people want to use my photos and I am getting free publicity (when they actually link back to me that is), but it becomes a whole different situation when you are getting flak about photos you took being used in manners not intended (like one I took of a leader of a foreign country a while back). I brought this up on an internal photography mailing list at work a couple weeks ago and opinions were all over the map. So, is this something photographers around the world have just come to accept as a fact of life, or is this something we should unite and fight against? I’d love to hear your opinions (especially if you are a photographer too, amateur or professional), so please share!

Update (12/10/2007 3:24pm PST): It would appear that I am not alone on the non-commercial part either. Here’s a post by Denise Howell talking about one of the annoying offenders, Valleywag: Interesting to see others finding them doing it a lot too.

Update (12/16/2007 1:54am PST): It seems this topic is heating up in other circles. Check out more about the drama in the following links:
While I don’t completely agree with Lane’s heavy handed approach, I can also completely understand where she is coming from and realize sometimes you just really have to take a stand.


2 Responses to “Photo Licensing and the Creative Commons”

  1. felix says:

    Thanks for your post Jeremy. Licensing under Creative Commons affords you sturdy legal protections for your work (in relation to copying, the making of derivatives, and the making of money from your work) which if breached, can be pursued as you would a standard copyright claim.

    Under the CC licences, users of your work are required to afford you reasonable attribution, as noted in s4(b), by providing:
    (i) the name of the original author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied…;
    (ii) the title of the work if supplied;
    (iii) to the extent reasonably practicable, the URI, if any, that licensor specifies to be associated with the work…; and
    (iv) …in the case of an adaptation, a credit identifying the use of the work in the adaptation (e.g., “French translation of the Work by Original Author”)…

    Best practice is therefore to link back to the Flickr page by using an embedded image, although, in having the option of downloading files, the inclusion of a URL may be deemed to be reasonable.

    In terms of having your name on material you do not endorse, the CC licences allow you to request removal of the credit. See the restrictions set out in section 4a of the current licence,

    Certainly, you are not alone in considering (and unfortunately being aggrieved by) how people go on to use your CC-licensed images. In fact, it is important that photographers acknowledge the range of uses allowed by the particular licence they adopt; there’s been more than one occasion where creators have clearly licensed more broadly than they had wished to, and then turn to the organisation with accusations. This is a point of education which CC is seeking to pursue, as Lessig points out in the wake of the Virgin case, in his blog post at

    “As CEO of Creative Commons, I apologize for any trouble that confusion about our licenses might have created. We thought the meaning was clear. We work hard to make this as clear as we can. We will work harder.”

    To this end, the issue of noncommercial use will be considered in depth in early 2008 by the international CC community, which may prompt changes to licences and/or explanations of the term. As it currently stands, if the photos placed on a site with advertising are the key reason someone is drawn to the site, this is thought to constitute a commercial use. Take a look at the NC guidelines as they currently stand:

    Personally, I believe CC licences are essential to free culture. It is important that everyone is up-to-date with their operation though, so that we can share in an enlightened manner.

  2. [...] learning where my photos are being used (when they do the right thing and link back to me that is, discussed in a previous blog post) and what types of things people are looking for when they arrive on my [...]

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