There are dozens of online photo-sharing platforms. When using such photo-sharing venues, photographers should take care not to make the same mistake as Art Drauglis, who posted a photo to his online account through the photo-sharing site Flickr, and then discovered that it had been published on the cover of someone else’s book. Mr. Drauglis made his photo available through a Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 license, which permitted reproduction of his photo, even for commercial purposes.

You might be surprised to find out how much online content is licensed through the “Creative Commons” licensing regime. According to recent estimates, adoption of Creative Commons (CC) has expanded from 140 million licensed works in 2006, to over 1 billion today, including hundreds of millions of images and videos.

In the decision in Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group LLC (U.S. District Court D.C., cv-14-1043, Aug. 18, 2015), the federal court acknowledged that, under the terms of the CC BY-SA 2.0 license, the photo was licensed for commercial use, so long as proper attribution was given according to the technical requirements in the license. The court found that Kappa Map Group complied with the attribution requirements by listing the essential information on the back cover. The publisher’s use of the photo did not exceed the scope of the CC license; the copyright claim was dismissed.

There are several flavours of CC license:

  • The Attribution License (known as CC BY)
  • The Attribution-ShareAlike License (CC BY-SA)
  • The Attribution-NoDerivs License (CC BY-ND)
  • The Attribution-NonCommercial License (CC BY-NC)
  • The Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License (CC BY-NC-SA)
  • The Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License (CC BY-NC-ND)
  • Lastly, a so-called Public Domain (CC0) designation permits the owner of a work to make it available with “No Rights Reserved”, essentially waiving all copyright claims.

Looks confusing? Even within these categories, there are variations and iterations. For example, there is a version 1.0, all the way up to version 4.0 of each license. The licenses are also translated into multiple languages.

Remember: “available on the internet” is not the same as “free for the taking”. Get advice on the use of content which is made available under any Creative Commons license.

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