Creative Commons is not “carte blanche”

recent Pew report states that 47% of Americans have looked themselves up on Google or some other search engine. I like to practice a more specific form of vanity search – I use a couple of blog search sites to see where my flickr photos have been used. All my photos are posted under a “by-nc” Creative Commons license which states that they can be reused for non-commercial purposes, provided that I’m giving credit for the image.

I’d like to point out that I’m not doing this vanity search to check up on people, I just really enjoy seeing how my photos are used. It’s fun to see my images of celebrities, New York landmarks, comedians, or even something as mundane as cherry blossoms adorning someone’s blog post. Generally the authors attribute the photos to my screenname and link back to the originals on my flickr account. Some people even get in touch with me and ask for permission beforehand, though that’s not required with the CC license. I don’t really even pay much attention if the site has Google ads, even though, strictly speaking, that qualifies it as “commercial” usage.

There’s still the occasional shock, though, and the latest one is so deeply ironic I can’t really even comprehend it. I discovered a photo I took of the IAC building that was used, without any attribution at all, on a website called Despite the “.org” in the name, this is clearly a commercial website. On the page that contains my photo, I counted 16 ad spots, 3 sponsored channels, and 3 calls to action to “ADVERTISE ON PAIDCONTENT.” On top of that, the article is about a Pre-Conference Reception being held by at the IAC building, and it features a prominent button inviting readers to buy tickets to the conference (plus 8 additional links to sponsors of the conference). So, not only is my photo being displayed on a commercial site, but it’s directly being used to promote the sale of tickets to an event (well, it was – the event is now in the past).

The most troubling part about this is that these are not people who can claim ignorance. This issue falls right in their area of expertise, which according to their site is “global coverage of the business of digital content.” Plus, their own website is published under a “by-nc-sa” CC license, which means it has the same restrictions as my photo, but also that if you reuse the content, you can only do so under the same license (in other words you can’t put their content into your own work and then copyright it).

Although, maybe they don’t understand Creative Commons as well as I would expect them to, because right under the message that says “This work is licensed under a CreativeCommons License.” there’s another message that says “Copyright ContentNext Media Inc. 2002—2007.”

Being, as I am, a Content Strategist and a consultant, seems like it would be exactly the type of organization that would appeal to me. But this experience makes me question how they could possibly claim to be experts in the field of digital content.

2 thoughts on “Creative Commons is not “carte blanche”

  1. Rachel

    Glad to hear that your organization is learning more about Creative Commons, Rafat. People will be looking to to help them understand content licensing issues, so demonstrating the appropriate usage of CC licensed content will be a great way for you to put the theories into practice and create a real-world model for others.

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