Whether you are a seasoned pro or a budding amateur, uploading photos to Flicker might just place you smack dab in the middle of a legal minefield. Here are some tips for your consideration, some things to think about before sending your creation off to the masses.

Flickr offers a buffet of licensing options for individual or batch photos which can include what it defines as:  “attribution”, “noncommercial uses”, “derivative uses”, etc. But what do all those options mean with respect to what rights you relinquish (in English, give up) and those which you may want to retain (should be “all”). Flickr has partnered with Creative Commons, a non-profit organization (this does not mean that it is photographer friendly, indeed it is quite the opposite) to offer “premade licenses” to “give” photographers like you a way to give nameless, faceless third parties (a/k/a potential clients) advanced permission to use your work in limited ways with little or no input from, or money to, you.  Take a look here for an explanation of the licensing process and types of licenses offered here.

Here is an example of some of the jargon you will find in any given “Legal Code” version of a Creative Commons license. “Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below.”

What all of this really means is that uploading your image under any of the licensing options permits any user to use the image under the terms of the license, forever, provided they do not breach the terms of the license. In a word, these licenses are “non-revocable.” Stop and think, why would you permit this?

You might be thinking that,“ Well I can just go in later and change the licensing option on Flickr and make everything go away even after I made my submission.” You would be wrong. Once issued, a Creative Commons license will not be revoked unless the user breaches the terms of the license. (“…Licensor reserves the right to release the Work under different license terms or to stop distributing the Work at any time; provided, however that any such election will not serve to withdraw this License (or any other license that has been, or is required to be, granted under the terms of this License)…”  In plain English, you are likely stuck.

You must also be wary that Flickr does not really track the changes in the license, so if you do change to a more restrictive option, proving someone used your image under a less restrictive license may prove to be darn near impossible or just as bad, not worth the effort. Of course, you can stop distributing your image on Creative Commons (CC) and Flickr to prevent others from obtaining a license to use the image, but this will not remove the license of those who have already obtained use of the photos you created.

One saving grace of sites like Flickr and its interplay with CC is a user-friendly License Chooser to help you figure out which license is appropriate for you. They even offer links to videos and comics for those who really need help understanding, and have an active user community blog to answer questions. Having read dozens of pages meant to “help” you, we can only imagine at this point, “how do I just upload my photos in peace.” So here it is – be aware of the adage that sharing is caring, sharing on social networking sites like Flickr means you are sharing forever.  Perhaps we are just being cynical but we are of the opinion that A)  the “user friendly videos” are employed to seduce contributors into believing that  Flickr and CC are “photographer friendly and that you’re in control of your image and B) photographers should get paid for their efforts. What a concept. So beware of a Trojan Horse bearing gifts.

Ed & Jack with assistance from Hanoch Sheps of Edward C. Greenberg, LLC