Let's Talk About CC

OK, Yahoo did it: After launching Wall Art, they will finally sell prints from CC-licenced photos of their Flickr users.

The internet is embarrassed.

But why? Actually, the “commercial” flag of those CC-universe was exactly invented for this what it claims to be invented for: “commercial usage”.

It sounds a bit like the argumentation in the religious wars between BSD and GPL style.

In the software world the GPL permits every kind of usage of software as long as you share the code and your adaptions “alike”. Web based software changed the game a bit. When you use and modify GPL’ed software to offer a service or a platform, you technically don’t distribute software. You use only it’s output. And, you’re not required to share your modifications as long as you build upon software subject to GPLv2. The GPL kind of guys do not think that this is a good thing and the community came up with the AGPL and the GPLv3 to solve that issue.

Basically, the idea behind this kind of thinking is: “Take my work, do whatever you want with it, but be a good community member”, which translates to: “I do not want you to earn money with my work as long as you do not give something back”.

Back to the Commons: You can’t treat photos, music, videos etc. like software. There is no “source code”. So Creative Commons was invented to bring the open source spirit to artwork.

You can modularily add restrictions to your creative work (Share-Alike and Non-Commercial). Interestingly, most commercial stock photo vendors have put an additional distinction in place: Editoral usage.

This is something CC licences are currently missing. The Flickr users who feel offended by Yahoos decision to sell prints of their photos, presumably think that they allowed people to use their photos to illustrate articles, websites or ads with their photos. So they expected the licensee to “add value” to their photos. They did not think about the possibility that someone comes, takes their work and sell it without a context.

Sure there is a different feeling if you see your photo “embedded” in a great article or seeing someone who only takes your work and sell it to someone else.

CC licences does not make that distinction. But it could: If the NonCommercial restriction would get an EditoralOnly companion.


Yahoo sells CC licenced photos withou NonCommercial restrictions and do comply with the licence terms that way, but some people feel offended by this move. It is interesting to see the implications of that licence on a large scale (i.e. user base), so that it might be a solution to add an EditoralOnly restrictions to the CC world. A restriction like that is already used by commercial stock photo vendors.