Yahoo Angers Photographers By Selling Their Work

Chris CrumBusiness

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How would you feel if the photo storage service you use decided to start selling your photos, and not share the profits with you? That's what Yahoo's Flickr is doing, and it's leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some.

Assuming the provider is within its legal bounds to be able to do so, would you mind if they sold your photos and kept all the money? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Yahoo has upset Flickr users as it sells their photos and keeps all the profit, but at the same time is not actually doing anything legally wrong, according to the company and the EFF.

It would seem that Yahoo is trying to make better use of the content it hosts in terms of turning it into a revenue stream. This stream should be at its peak during the holiday season.

Last week, the company launched Flickr Wall Art, enabling users to turn their personal photostreams into prints, search from over 50 million "freely-licensed Creative Commons images, and order hand-selected collections from Flickr’s licensed artists."

"In addition, we’ve curated a gorgeous selection of Flickr Marketplace licensed photos in various popular categories — animals, food, abstract, landscapes, patterns, and travel," the company said in a blog post. "With the option to use Creative Commons, licensed artist images, or a photo of your own, you have endless possibilities to create the perfect holiday gift."

For users, that sounds pretty good. Flickr is apparently the biggest Creative Commons content partner for photos. Some photographers supplying those photos, however, aren't too thrilled about Yahoo using their work to make money without sharing any of the profits.

The Wall Street Journal, which highlights some complaints from disgruntled photographers, reports:

Yahoo says it is complying with the terms of Creative Commons by selling only images that permit commercial use. The licenses “are designed for the exact use case that we’re enacting through our wall-art product,” Bernardo Hernandez, vice president of Flickr, wrote in an email.

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A spokesman for Creative Commons, a nonprofit group formed in 2001, confirmed Yahoo is in accord with its licenses. Legally, “it doesn’t appear that Flickr is doing anything wrong,” said Corynne McSherry, intellectual-property director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

It's just that some of the photographers made their photos available under Creative Commons under the impression that they'd be used in articles or by other sources rather than Yahoo itself turning them into a source of revenue, much less one that leaves out the content creators. In fact, it's entirely possible that the move could hurt Yahoo. If enough photographers feel that way, they could simply stop using Flickr, and take their photos to other sites that do share revenue with content creators in these types of scenarios.

As one photographer the Journal spoke with pointed out, however, leaving Flickr isn't that simple for those who have already invested so much into the service, and have massive amounts of photos on the service. That photographer, Devon Adams, had this to say in a Facebook post:

I am very wary about Flickr's new policies about selling CC images as mural art on their website. Biggest complaint is how rough it is to keep attribution with the image.

Adams links to a blog post from Carter Law Firm, which says:

Every Creative Commons license I’ve ever seen requires giving the copyright holder an attribution for their work. (Always give credit where it’s due!) I would hope that Yahoo would put the attribution on the front of the image – in a lower corner, so anyone who sees it can know who created the image. If that’s not possible (and good luck convincing me it’s not possible), at least put a non-removable label or notice on the back of who the copyright holder is and a URL to the original image on Flickr. If they don’t give an attribution as the license requires, they could be committing copyright infringement and could face a cease and desist letter, a bill, or a lawsuit.
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I hope Yahoo is diligent about giving photographers the credit they deserve and respecting when a photographer changes the license on their Flickr account to only allow non-commercial uses. This won’t impact a person’s ability to own wall art of it prior to the license being changed; but Yahoo should stop selling it if the artist doesn’t want the company making money from it.

This isn't the first time Yahoo has tried to better monetize Flickr of late. It also started including ads in photo slideshows in another move that irked some of those photo providers.

While some photographers are clearly not thrilled with Yahoo's selling of their work, it's certainly worth noting that the majority of the photographers the Journal spoke with were actually okay with it. 8 out of 14 indicated they were fine with the move, mainly because they're happy to get the exposure and see people appreciating their work. It's hard to say, based on this small data set, just how controversial Yahoo's move is.

Do you see a problem with what Yahoo is doing? Let us know what you think.

Image via Flickr

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.