The Digital Photography School site has posted an article on “An Introduction to Creative Commons Licensing for Your Photographs” and whilst its a useful resource and I respect the work the Creative Commons organisation is doing, I have problems with marking any of my images in this way.

From both personal experience and that of my friends there seems to be a general belief that if an image is licensed with Creative Commons then anyone can use it pretty much however they want. Unfortunately this is not how the license works and at a minimum you are often required to provide a credit and link back to the image owner. Creative Commons is also frequently used to allow hobby bloggers, etc to use the image but to restrict commercial use. However again there have been cases where images have been used for monetary or commercial projects under the mistaken belief that Creative Commons allowed this.

As mentioned, I think Creative Commons is a good idea (in principle) however the organisation behind it needs to do a lot more promotion and publicity to educate people on the ground about how it works. In addition, its not clear what you would do if your license was violated. The Creative Commons team itself cannot provide legal advice or support. Finally, even the creator of Creative Commons – Lawrence Lessig – when asked whether using an image marked “Non-commercial” on a blog that contains, for example, Google Ads would be a violation responded “I don’t know”. This is due to the fact that many of these cases have not yet been tested in a court of law.

If you’re really worried about people stealing your work, then don’t put it online! However if you do, certainly for now, I would recommend using an “all rights reserved” note at least until Creative Commons is better understood and better tested.


  • Gary 2010 Jan 15 / 10:08

    Interesting article and one I can whole heartedly agree with unfortunately..

  • Jon D 2010 Jan 15 / 11:18

    The other issue of course, is how do you revoke that CC licence once it’s issued. If someone has taken and used your work, and you later change it to be All Rights Reserved, what happens then…

  • nickpotter 2010 Jan 15 / 11:26

    Jon – that’s a good point. If you make your photos “All Rights Reserved” you can always issue exceptions if someone asks and you feel it is appropriate. But if you’ve already released it under CC its very difficult to lock it down again.

  • Jon Eland 2010 Jan 15 / 11:34

    It’s very difficult to step back from any form of open licencing – you’d struggle to issue an image to a royalty-free library and then withdraw it (unless no ‘use’ (eg: download) has ever occurred.

    The other thing I’d say is – CC is well drafted legal documentation; most good publishers understand it. I doubt ‘All Rights Reserved’ will actually stop those who don’t follow the law. (I may, of course, be wrong!)

  • Tricky 2010 Jan 15 / 11:36

    I was planning on blogging about my experiences with this soon too, with pretty much the same point of view.

    The aside i would make tho is that licensing under creative commons is a very good way of getting “seen” and building up your profile in the early stages, you just have to live with some people ripping you off (which can make you a little money if you politely threaten them with legal action if you find them ;-). I’ve licensed a number of photos that people have found via creative commons, the downside is they’ll generally email you angling for free usage, and you have to haggle with them to get them to pay – a bit of a hassle (and when you’re starting out in photography, coming up with how to price things is a terrifying concept as there’s little advice – im only *just* getting used to how to deal with it)

    It’s worth pointing out that by /not/ making a photo creative commons, that still doesn’t fix the problem – people who don’t care will still nick your photo from flickr regardless of it being creative commons or not :-/

    For the moment i’ve left all my older photos as creative commons, and all the stuff i’ve shot in the last 6 months or so are all All Rights Reserved, I’m undecided as to whether i’ll pull my back catalogue or not at the moment – after all, it’s all a numbers game – the more people who see your work, the more chance of licensing stuff and getting commissions.

    (for an example of why many of us gave up on creative commons, check out this blog post (i’m one of the photographers they’re talking about, and you can see my comment further down trying to get through to them – really, I don’t need this kind of hassle for doing something benevolent, hence everything now is full All Rights Reserved):

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