Flickr comes under fire for selling Creative Commons photos as wall prints | Flickr

Flickr’s latest business model – the sale of wall prints of more than 50 million images taken by its community of photographers – has sparked a debate around Creative Commons licensing.

The Yahoo-owned site will retain all revenue from the sale of impressions based on photos shared on Flickr using a Creative Commons “commercial attribution” license, which permits commercial use. However, he shares 51% of the revenue from member direct-licensed print sales with these photographers.

Why is this controversial? Not because it’s illegal. Flickr’s Bernardo Hernandez told the Wall Street Journal that the licenses “are designed for the exact use case we’re adopting through our wall art product,” while the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director of intellectual property, Corynne McSherry, confirmed that “it doesn’t look like Flickr is doing anything wrong”.

Flickr previously published a separate blog post on November 26 about the new feature. “We believe that it is possible to create a healthy and profitable market for photography with the ownership of intellectual property as the fundamental principle of this market,” the company explained.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed 14 affected photographers and found a division in their opinions: eight did not object to their Creative Commons photos being sold without getting a cut in earnings, while six objected.

The controversy stems from the fact that to prevent their photos from being sold as wall art prints, photographers must use a different non-commercial Creative Commons license, even if they agree to small businesses using their work.

“As a photographer, I now have to choose whether to stop people from using my photos or stop Yahoo from selling them. I can’t have both,” veteran web designer and author Jeffrey Zeldman wrote on his blog.

“I want people to use my photos. That’s why I take them. I want this use to be free. That’s why I chose a Creative Commons license. Some publications and companies that use my photos do not report anything at all. Others do a little something. I don’t care anyway. That’s why I chose a commercial attribution license. The license makes my work available for all publications and products, whether commercial or non-commercial. That suits me.

But Yahoo is selling the thing? corny, desperate, and totally disagree with me. I pay for a Flickr Pro account and am happy to do so. This is how Yahoo is supposed to make money from my hobby.

Flickr has a long-established community of amateur and professional photographers, some of whom have used it as a platform to jump from the former to the latter group.

The danger for the company is that the new wall art store may damage its relationship with these photographers, at a time when there is competition from sites like 500px.

“It’s hard to imagine revenue from the sale of impressions will cover the cost of lost traffic,” said Stewart Butterfield, who co-founded Flickr with Caterina Fake before selling it to Yahoo in March 2005. Both left the company in 2008.

Flickr stagnated over the next few years in the face of competition from services such as Facebook and Instagram, but was revamped under Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer in May 2013.

“We hope you’ll agree that we’ve made tremendous progress in making Flickr great again,” she wrote at the time. Although his new wall art store is perfectly legal, if more creators view it as distinctly UN-great, Yahoo may need to rethink its approach.

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Elaine F. Brim