Flickr Issues Apology, Removes Creative Commons Photos From Marketplace; But Is It Too Little Too Late?

Dec 18, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Flickr Issues Apology, Removes Creative Commons Photos From Marketplace; But Is It Too Little Too Late?

Dec 18, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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"Photographing the Photographer" Photo by: Thibault Martin-Lagardette
“Photographing the Photographer” Photo by: Thibault Martin-Lagardette

In an announcement made today on Flickr, their Vice President Bernardo Hernandez, has issued an official apology letter to it’s users after launching their Wall Art Marketplace program which allowed other Flickr users to purchase prints of photos in the Creative Commons photo pool, with all proceeds going to Flickr. Though Flickr was not actually doing anything illegal, many photographers were caught off guard by the move and most found it to be morally appalling. Hernandez’s letter starts out:

We’re sorry we let some of you down.

About a month ago, we introduced Flickr Wall Art to allow our members to order printed photos on wood or canvas. Over the past few weeks, we’ve received a lot of feedback from the community and beyond — while some expressed their excitement about the new photography marketplace and the value it would bring, many felt that including Creative Commons-licensed work in this service wasn’t within the spirit of the Commons and our sharing community.

We hear and understand your concerns, and we always want to ensure that we’re acting within the spirit with which the community has contributed. Given the varied reactions, as a first step, we’ve decided to remove the pool of Creative Commons-licensed images from Flickr Wall Art, effective immediately. We’ll also be refunding all sales of Creative Commons-licensed images made to date through this service.”

As you may remember, we reported on the emergence of Flickr’s new Marketplace back in July when it was announced; however, the initial press releases from Flickr regarding the new feature focused on the opportunity for selected photographers to earn money through the service. The fact that Flickr would also be adding Creative Commons images to their online sales catalog was seemingly swept under the rug. In fact, there was no mention of the use of Creative Commons photos being used in the initial press release announcing Marketplace at all.

Reading the comments from the DIYP post in July, some were suspect of the program in the first place. A clear indicator that a lot of photographers have already abandoned hope that Flickr could regain the trust of the very individuals that helped build the photo sharing website into an empire. Though many professional photographers had already abandoned Flickr for a variety of other reasons, for many, the sneaky incorporation of the Creative Commons images into the Marketplace was the last straw. Since the release of the Creative Commons/Marketplace program, hoards of Flickr users have rushed to remove their images from Creative Commons, yet another indicator that folks are fed up with corporate antics. And we’re not just talking about professional photographers here. Everyone from pros to amateurs to the casual smartphone photo snapper have been removing their images.

Given the outrage that has been surrounding Flickr’s latest mistake, they almost had no choice but to remove the Creative Commons images from their Marketplace and issue an apology. My question to you is: Do you think Flickr can survive the Marketplace faux pas and gain back some of it’s momentum? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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32 responses to “Flickr Issues Apology, Removes Creative Commons Photos From Marketplace; But Is It Too Little Too Late?”

  1. Todd Klassy Avatar
    Todd Klassy

    I don’t understand why people are upset. Do they think Flickr is the first entity to profit from their ridiculous decision to place their images on Creative Commons? I guarantee the number of uses of their images pales into comparison to use of others over the years. Without Flickr no one would see their images, and frankly, it was Flickr who provided them the vehicle to declare their images available via Creative Commons. How do they think Flickr manages to pay for the likes of Bernardo Hernandez and the team that makes Flickr possible? If they were smart they would have copyrighted ALL of their images and then licensed them with whatever conditions they want to suitors who approach them for use. Want to give them away for free to a non-profit? Fine. But having them copyrighted is a far better vehicle for that use than Creative Commons. More proof the rose-colored Utopia that exists in the minds of many creatives is nothing more than a farce.

    1. Mitch Avatar

      You’re blind here Todd. If you want to make money off my work, at least ask me, or give me a cut. Don’t sit there and try to be greedy and take it all and expect me to get nothing from it. What incentive do I have to continue posting on Flickr. It’s already bad enough that almost all serious photographers have already bailed on Flickr for just about anywhere else.

      1. Cheesewiththatwhine Avatar

        But that’s the problem. YOU SET IT SO THAT THEY DON’T HAVE TO!

        All the photos they used were Creative Commons – Commercial, meaning any entity can use those photos for a commercial application.

        If you don’t want that done to your photos, don’t use that level of CC licensing! There are six different types of CC licensing, and three of them specifically state “Non Commercial”

        Just because you don’t understand how you’ve licensed your photos doesn’t mean Flickr should be getting a bad reputation from this.

      2. Todd Klassy Avatar
        Todd Klassy

        I don’t want to make money off of your work. I want YOU to be smart enough to make money on your own. That means removing your images from Creative Commons, doing the hard work of tagging them so the Internet sees then, and sell them for whatever it is you want. If you want to give them away to Flickr, fine. If you want to charge them $1 million. Fine. Some will buy, some will not. But leaving them on Creative Commons so the world can freely download them and presume to know what you intended when you made them freely available, and profiting from their use one way or another, is pure insanity. What Flickr did was perfectly legal. And you’re shocked that someone is profiting from the use of your images? That’s naive at best. What did you think you were signing up for when you added your images to Creative Commons???

      3. Karen Avatar

        Besides what others said (if you have in issue with it, why didn’t you pick a non-commercial license?), try looking at it from the other way:

        What if I just want to have a nice print to hang on my wall? The first thing I’d do is find a nice photo the license of which allows me to make a print. I’d be looking precisely for Creative Commons licensed ones. If Flickr offers to do the printing for me, all the better. It’s a nice service they offered, and I’m not happy that it’s going away.

    2. Mike Avatar

      Weather or not Flickr makes a profit is not my problem. Flickr stealing my images IS my problem.

      If they feel that they cannot make a profit as is, then they need to start charging more for professional accounts.

      1. Todd Klassy Avatar
        Todd Klassy

        They did NOT steal your images. You willingly gave them a key to your farm and handed them a legally binding contract permitting them to take eggs from your chickens and sell them at the corner grocery store. They are not at fault; you are. What is so hard to understand? Had you not allowed your images to be freely available via a Creative Commons Commercial license they would have never been able to sell your images. What’s more, there are countless other organizations, companies, and individuals online that have been doing that to your photographs for years but didn’t know it. Weather (sic) you are ignorant or not is not Flickr’s problem. It’s yours.

  2. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    I think the outrage was bullshit in the first place. It’s not too little nor too late when the apology was unnecessary. There, I said it.
    Flickr was using Creative Commons licensed photos that were strictly marked to commercial usage.
    This means anyone can use photos in commercial works, including Flickr but not exclusive to.
    The only people outraged by this move were those who manually set their photos to Creative Commons licenses without knowing (without reading) what it was first. Flickr automatically sets your uploaded photos (automatically or not) to private and an all rights reserved license.

    I bet most people complaining didn’t even bother to know what was really happening in the first place, don’t even own a Flickr account, or where just being assholes because they don’t like the service somehow. It’s fucking stupid to complain about something that’s your own fault.

    1. Karen Avatar

      Plus, the whole point of Creative Commons is that you don’t even have to do a lot of reading to understand precisely what the license means. It’s just a few bullet points. It’s not like they had to go through pages of legalese.

  3. Robin Avatar

    Probably not

  4. Joseph Gruber Avatar
    Joseph Gruber

    And still the Marketplace remains closed to all but their own selection of photographers.

  5. Rex Deaver Avatar
    Rex Deaver

    Creative Commons does not replace or subvert copyright. It is a license, specifying what uses you allow.

    You can quite easily specify a CC license that does not permit commercial usage. The terms of any CC license are dead simple, plain English. If you allow commercial use, as others have said, you don’t get to whinge when people use your work commercially.

    It really couldn’t be simpler, and only in a world full of people mind-numbingly ignorant of basic copyright law could such a tempest in a teapot have occurred. And blaming CC for their ignorance is at least 10 steps lower still on the idiot scale

  6. Adrian Short Avatar
    Adrian Short

    Too late to read the terms of the license you voluntarily chose? Hope not.

  7. LensLord Avatar

    I like Flickr. … And, I recommend people using Flickr. … But it would be very cool if they allowed sales by the individuals.

    1. Todd Klassy Avatar
      Todd Klassy

      Yes. Bravo. I have been preaching that to them for YEARS. And as they enter the stock photography market it would seem to make sense, and separate them from the other also-rans on the market. But it seems they are not going to do that, and will not. Which is stupid IMHO. Think of all the websites where users can set their own margin…Etsy, CafePress, RedBubble, etc. etc. etc. Unfortunately Flickr has become the QE2 and their competitors (i.e. Instagram, 500px, National Geographic Your Shot, EyeEm, etc.) the tiny, but well armed, Zodiacs swimming circles around them since Marissa took over. Each of those competitors launches a new feature about once every other week. Flickr’s last feature upgrade? The iPad app, which was months ago and LONG overdue. Just look how long it took them to respond to this latest crisis. It first hit the international press more than TWO WEEKS ago, and now they are just responding??? I still like Flickr, but I sincerely fear for their future.

    2. Allen Mowery Avatar
      Allen Mowery

      Enter sales pitch for the likes of SmugMug…

      1. LensLord Avatar

        Oh yes. … More than one way to skin a cat.

      2. Todd Klassy Avatar
        Todd Klassy

        SmugMug is not the answer for MANY reasons. Flickr is the vehicle necessary to democratize the stock photo industry.

        1. Allen Mowery Avatar
          Allen Mowery

          I was not genuinely advocating SmugMug (or others), just sarcastically pointing out that it would probably enter the conversation.

        2. Allen Mowery Avatar
          Allen Mowery

          I agree on SmugMug, but why do you believe that Flickr is the way to “democratize the stock photo industry?”

          1. Todd Klassy Avatar
            Todd Klassy

            I think the sheer volume of photos already in their library helps. Instagram is just a smart phone and tablet platform, which makes them ill suited for the job. And they are owned by Facebook and no one trusts Facebook. 500px could, but they are more aimed at the prosumer (and above) photographer and they lack the breadth Flickr has. SmugMug, Zenfolio, etc. are small potatoes. They appeal to professional photographers, but in order to truly democratize the photo industry you need volume. Flickr has the resources to democratize. They have the code. They have the numbers. What they lack, I fear, are the balls to to do it. Sadly they are a legacy Internet company that has under performed for many years and its board is more focused on profit and loss statements, EBITDA, and other Wall Street matrices.

          2. Allen Mowery Avatar
            Allen Mowery

            What is the democratization that you’re looking for or wanting to see? I’m not sure I follow… (Legit question, truly interested.)

          3. Todd Klassy Avatar
            Todd Klassy

            Remove the middle man. Allowing users to sell their images freely online. An eBay or Etsy for stock photography. Every user can set their own price, write their own licenses, sell prints (framed or otherwise) with a margin they specify, etc. And Flickr takes a 10% cut like eBay. No more microstock, unless the owner wants to sell it for next to nothing. One person can license an image for $1.00. Another can license an image for $1000.

          4. Allen Mowery Avatar
            Allen Mowery

            Oh, oh, oh…gotcha. That clears it up. :-)

            I completely agree with removing the middle man. There is a time and place for middle men, and that’s usually up to the point where they become useless ;-) Microstock isn’t a discussion I feel live delving into right now, but I find it irritating in general, both as a photographer and as someone who’s relied on it in other professional capacities. The one nice thing about it is that, when looking to purchase an image, you know that a single photo of X-dimensions for X-usage will cost $X. But, it’s watered-down and soulless (which is probably a direct result of photographers having to shoot 500 variations of the same scene in hopes of making a single sale for pennies on their time).

            There’s a variety of factors to consider on both sides of the game, but, in the end, I generally push for 1) if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it unless you can make it better, and 2) innovation, innovation, innovation (generally in that order). From what I see, the continued sustainability of the microstock racket is hanging by a thread, so innovation is probably the name of the game on this one.

  • Tiffany Mueller Avatar
    Tiffany Mueller

    For me personally, the problem isn’t that Flickr exercised their lawful right to sell photos marked for Commercial Use under the Creative Commons. Obviously, anyone is able to do that and it is the responsibility of the photographer to educate themselves on copyright and creative commons licensing. The issue I take is how sneaky Flickr was about putting them in the mix. A little heads might have been nice.

    The fact that they made no mention of the CC images being available for sale in the initial presser announcing the big plans Flickr had in store for this new Marketplace feature, in combination to the wording they used to finally announce the sale of CC images ( ), is a pretty obvious indication that they knew it wasn’t going to be a popular decision among users. For a company which desperately needs to be winning back the hearts of their once dedicated users, this was just a bad business call. Maybe a simple opt-out letter issued to Flickr users a week before they made the change could have prevented at least some amount of all the negative press the Marketplace has been getting.

    In no way am I saying what Flickr did was unlawful, IMHO it just seems so obvious that people were going to be pissed off about, so why do it?

  • Allen Mowery Avatar
    Allen Mowery

    I fail to see the issue. Flickr exercised their right to make a legal business move based on the assumed permissions granted by the original creators of any particular work. That’s fine. It’s also fine for users to complain…that’s perfectly legal, regardless of whether it looks like double-speak on paper. Flickr then decided to exercise their right and make changes again in order to keep their users happy…which is no different than a restaurant undoing recent menu changes in order to keep their customers happy.

    Should Flickr have posted billboards around the country notifying users exactly what those changes meant? Perhaps, out of courtesy. But, again, it comes back to the users’ inattentiveness. Flickr was not (to the best of my understanding) attempting to sell the RIGHTS to the images, they were simply selling a product (i.e. a piece of canvas decor) that happened to include a picture that a photographer expressly granted them (or anyone else) permission to use.

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

      I could not agree more. I think the issue is not with flickr but with the education of the photographic community.

      There is a lot of confusion around what are creative commons, what does each of the two letter acronyms mean (by, nc, sa and such) and what are the implications of putting (or not putting) an nc (non commercial) tag on the licence. not all creative commons are created equal, and that point, I am not sure is understood.

  • JasonD Avatar

    I don’t understand why anyone would be upset that flickr used the license as it was intended to be used. By default the license is All rights reserved so the user has to change it I could understand people being upset if it was creative commons by default.

  • yopyop Avatar

    I really feel that this article is heavily biased towards the users. Let’s not forget, it’s 100% the users’ fault. If you allow commercial use of your work don’t complain if your work is used commercially! Flickr remains an awesome free service (1TB for free!!) maybe we should give them some slack and let them do some money. It is our responsability to choose wisely our CC licenses if we use them.

  • ajfudge Avatar

    This is just a matter of users lacking education regarding CC licenses.

  • Karen Avatar

    This is very unfortunately.

    The whole point of Creative Commons is to have a set of very simple to understand licenses, which make it easy for anyone to license their creative work without surprises in the outcome. It can’t possibly get any simpler or less confusing than this.

    I don’t see how flickr could have done this any better. They were very open about what they were doing and the default for pictures is all rights reserved anyway.

    The whole thing reminds me of the microwaved cat lawsuit story …

  • Arthur_P_Dent Avatar

    This is why I don’t use Creative Commons. It’s an invitation to be ripped off. And the suckers who are trying to revoke their CC licenses don’t realize that license is forever for anyone who downloaded the image while it was licensed through CC.