Flickr, Getty and the greater good

Flickr and Getty Images, the stock photography giant, are launching a new scheme which enables people to market some of their Flickr photos as stock photography through Getty. I’ve no idea how new it is — the selection of some of my photos as candidates is the first I’ve heard of it — but it’s not launched properly yet (the help says “early next year” which I’m guessing means 2009).

There are lots of interesting things about this arrangement: The struggling stock photography industry attempting to make money from sources that threaten it; The co-opting of net-enabled amateur photographers into the established method of monetising photographs; The development of activities people used to do just for fun, as hobbies, into semi-professional pastimes. All that kind of thing.

Photos chosen by Getty Images

But what immediately struck me was the incompatibility of Creative Commons licenses with the new scheme. If you have a photo accepted for the Flickr/Getty library and it’s CC-licensed it will automatically be changed to “All Rights Reserved”.

This is understandable for CC licenses that allow for free commercial use — Getty will struggle to sell a photo that is also free for any use. But it’s a great shame that I can’t have a photo licensed as free to use on a non-commercial basis and have it for sale on Getty.

I posted this comment in the (private) Getty Images Contributors group:

This is a great idea, and it seems very nicely executed so far.

But my feedback would be that it’s a shame photos can’t still be licensed as Creative Commons. I’d be happy to take part and allow my photos to be up for sale so long as they can still be used for free on a non-commercial basis, as they are at the moment.

I don’t take photos to make money out of them and I’m just pleased whenever anyone wants to use them, whether they pay or not. I realise that for others photography is a full or part-time business and this conflict won’t be an issue for them.

But it’s a shame there’s no flexibility — allow a photo to be featured on Getty, purchasable by those who are able to pay for commercial use, but still CC licensed for free use by non-commercial concerns. From my point of view that’s not a conflict.

I completely understand why Getty, as a commercial entity, wants to limit the rights to use these images and that’s fair enough — it’s your business. I just thought I’d explain why it’s more important for me to keep my images Creative Commons licensed, rather than put them Getty, and therefore why [I] won’t be taking part.

No, doubt Getty aren’t too distraught about my lack of participation, but I thought it worth bringing up. Someone from Getty responded, and I won’t quote them in full given it’s a private group, but the gist was: Non-commercial use is ambiguous and the more exclusive we make the photos, the more we and you can make from them.

From Getty’s point of view, the point of view of a company whose purpose is to make as much cash as possible, this is perfectly reasonable. But in terms of the greater good, making the world a better place, this is a shame.

I love the CC licenses, a standard way of saying “Sure, I don’t mind if you use this, so long as you credit me and you’re not wealthy” (to verbalise one variant). I’ve had lots of my photos used like this, plus a couple used by companies that paid me to do so.

The Flickr-adoring part of me wants the Getty arrangement to be a success. But it also worries that if Getty is successful they will pull many of the most interesting photos from the pool of Creative Commons images.

For people who already aim to sell their photography, and who often use “All Rights Reserved” licenses anyway, this is no doubt a good thing — an easy to use method of selling their work.

But those of us who take photos and share them on Flickr because we enjoy doing so, because it makes the world a more colourful and interesting place, maybe we should stop before we try to “make AS MUCH MONEY AS PO$$IBLE” and think about who it will benefit. If it will only benefit me and Getty Images at the expense of a more fun and creative world, then it’s not a good deal.

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Thursday 15 January 2009, 4:05pm

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  • 5:13pm: @gilest That and the Royal Mail. I despair. Can we start a new party? One I might want to vote for? Seems like the only way.
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