Flickr Now Officially Supports Public Domain Dedications

from the very-nice-to-see dept

As we had noted in our story about Elon Musk declaring all SpaceX photos public domain, Flickr (where most of those photos were hosted) did not allow an official public domain dedication. And while it offered Creative Commons licenses, the CC0 public domain dedication was not among the options. Flickr is not the only site like that — many sites that offer CC licensing don’t include a CC0 option. Last week, there was an interesting piece by Jessamyn West exploring why it was that Flickr chose not to offer a public domain option. She found an old forum post by Flickr founder (and now Slack founder/CEO) Stewart Butterfield, where he explained the reasoning as such:

The reasons we don?t have a PD option: (i) Unlike CC licenses, you can?t take PD back???once it is done, it is done. I spec?d out a three stage confirmation (including typing out that you understand what it means) but this was seemed like too much and we didn?t want the support hassle. People are free to use the description field to specify their PD desires. (ii) There are liabilities that we don?t want to take on if we allow people to claim something is public domain without actual checking the chain of title???if they don?t own it in the first place, we can get in trouble. (This is also true of CC images, but at least that can be changed after the fact and there is less of a chance of the image just ?escaping? in the wild.)

Of course, those reasons really don’t make that much sense in reality. You can’t really take back CC licenses either. The very first thing that Creative Commons tells potential licensors is that the licenses are not revocable. Once you grant a CC license, it stays that way.

Thankfully, the Yahoo folks who are currently running Flickr realized that this was an opportunity — and have now announced that it has added both “public domain” listings and a CC0 dedication as options when uploading images:

We?ve been proud to support Creative Commons licenses since 2004, and we?ve become an important repository of U.S. Government works and historic images from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums around the world (check out The Flickr Commons for examples).

But we?ve heard from our community that we?re missing two important designations: Public Domain and Creative Commons 0 (CC0). Many members of our community want to be able to upload images that are no longer protected by copyright and correctly tag them as being in the Public Domain, or they want to release their copyright entirely under CC0.

So, starting today we?re happy to support these two new options. One of the first accounts on Flickr to change its designation was SpaceX, which has uploaded more than a hundred gorgeous images of its launches. These extraordinary photos are now available for others to freely use, enhance, and promulgate without restriction under copyright law.

This is a great move — and we’re thrilled to see Flickr take such a stand (even if it should have happened years ago). Hopefully other platforms will follow suit.

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Companies: flickr, spacex, yahoo

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Comments on “Flickr Now Officially Supports Public Domain Dedications”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Unlike CC licenses, you can’t take PD back — once it is done, it is done.
You can’t really take back CC licenses either.

You can for example relicense your CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, or CC-BY-SA-NC work to someone else under a different (even commercial) license.
Public domain means you technically relinquish EVERY RIGHT to that work.
That’s not a bad thing per se, but I wonder how this will go down in the court…

Will a simple public declaration on flickr hold its ground in front of a judge when (inevitably) someone gets rich off some recent CC0 images and the creator sues ?

I frankly find that embedding something like CC0 / WTFPL in EXIF (images) or ID3 (music) is a much safer legal option, for both the user and the creator, as the license travels with the file.

Also “Public Domain” is a very hazy term (different copyright lengths around the world) and potentially dangerous to users.

Just leave CC0 and/or WTFPL as licenses, since they are binding worldwide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

As a clarification an author’s CC-BY, CC-BY-SA, or CC-BY-SA-NC CANNOT be retracted for a work. They will ALWAYS remain an option for that work, BUT if the user doesn’t want to/is forced not to provide attribution OR the user wants to use the work commercially, they can contact the author for a different license.

I’ve also seen users post images under CC-BY and ask that they MUST be contacted for use. I’d generally advise to either avoid or specifically license such material as it carries an inherent risk of a (pointless) lawsuit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Public Domain doesn’t have quite the same definition in every country.

A lot of artists who give out works “into the public domain” do so under the unwritten rule “but only the poor/destitute may use it commercially”.

Obviously they have no standing in court if Big Media LCC uses their CC0 image in a magazine, but many will try to sue anyway.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“A lot of artists who give out works “into the public domain” do so under the unwritten rule “but only the poor/destitute may use it commercially”.”

That’s just the artist not understanding what “public domain” means. If something is in the public domain, there can be no restrictions on its use because the artist has no rights to the work that everyone else doesn’t have. That’s the definition of “public domain”.

Anything released under a CC license is not public domain. It is licensed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Library Law Blog

Peter Hirtle, of the Library Law Blog, sums up the issue better than anybody else. Read the whole article.

July 24, 2014

What the University of Arkansas controversy can teach us about archival permission practices

(By Peter Hirtle)

…Consulting with researchers about their publication plans puts the repository in the unenviable position of having to assess whether any individual researcher’s use is fair. The consultation (and any required publication fees) increases the likelihood that any reproductions the repository may make for a researcher exposes it to damages for secondary liability (both contributory and vicarious).


The Library of Congress inserts the statement in their copyright notice that they are not responsible for the use of a work. However, if you collect data on the recipient of a copy of a work, then you ARE responsible for the use of a work.

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