Flickr’s Fatal Flaw

10/02/2009 at 19:13 | Posted in Critique, Design | Leave a comment
Hawaiian sunset by Powerdinky

Hawaiian sunset by Powerdinky

A few weeks back, I was working on an events calendar for a local magazine when I found myself looking for images a few columns I had to fill. Since many of the events were musical acts, I turned to Flickr to see what I could find. As usual, even the most obscure groups had a number of fantastic photos taken during live performances. Brilliant stage light splashed across the musicians, horns gave bright flares all against a deep black background. Perfection. I noticed the first few I looked at were marked “All Right Reserved.” So, I just searched for the bands within “The Commons,” the search modifier that only looks for images with a Creative Commons license. Nothing.

So, I went down the list of other bands. The general search uncovered more gems, while again a search for anything with a Creative Commons license yielded a goose egg. The more searching I did, the more frustrated I became realizing that the wealth of creative resources in Flickr was needlessly bound by copyright.

The default.

Lets get this out of the way: I believe in copyright. I believe people should have the right to control any and all works of their own creation for a limited amount of time. Once you’ve had a chance to make a buck from that book, or song, or painting of a unicorn, that work should transfer into the public domain (the question of when would fill a number of future blog posts.) There, it will serve to inspire future writers, musicians, and fantasy horse enthusiasts. However, for the majority of people, this “All Rights Reserved” copyright that is granted by Flickr is simply useless. How many people really want to make a buck off that poorly composed photo of a Hawaiian sunset that looks like every other sunset? The Creative Commons license is a powerful tool for the creative world. It gives us the power to maintain some control and ownership of our work while also giving other creatives the opportunity to expand on it, derive new ideas from it, and be inspired by it.

It is a shame that Flickr, a vast and wonderfully indexed storehouse of culture and idesa is crippled by the fact that so much of it is essentially off limits. This is where a simple change could result in helping to crack open this wealth of inspiration.

Making it happen.

First, any new non-pro account would default to Creative Commons, giving the user a run down of what a CC license is, what it means to them, and the benefits of using it. Along with that is a fairly worded, clearly accessible option to maintain full copyright (All Rights Reserved.) This again would serve to build upon the Commons and inform a wider audience about CC. Additionally, all pro accounts would default to All Rights Reserved. Yes, really. Simply put, the majority of users holding pro accounts are doing so because they have an interest in showcasing their work and gaining exposure for it, making it more likely that they are either professionals or would want to have that protection. That said, these users should also get the quick lesson in Creative Commons licensing and have the option to have a CC license as their default.

While I’m sure there are many legal reasons Flickr is structured the way it is, I feel it is in the best interest of their community and the creative community at large to promote and build the Commons. This is just a simple idea that has enormous potential to make a powerful impact.

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