More than 300 million publicly shared Flickr images use Creative Commons licenses, making it the largest content partner. Yahoo last week said it would begin selling prints of 50 million Creative Commons-licensed images as well as an unspecified number of other photos handpicked from Flickr.
For the handpicked photos, the company will give 51% of sales to their creators. For the Creative Commons images, Yahoo will keep all of the revenue.
Just to be clear, Yahoo is only selling prints of works licensed under the CC clause which allows for commercial use, so they what they are doing is completely legal. But that doesn't mean it isn't ruffling feathers.
For some time now I've believed that the Creative Commons license needed more variations of the commercial use clause, and now it would appear that some creators feel the same way. The WSJ found several creators (six out of 14 contacted) who apparently wouldn't mind my using their images in a blog post, but are not happy that Yahoo is going to sell prints.
That includes Nelson Lourenço, a photographer based in Lisbon, who told the ESJ that "When I accepted the Creative Commons license, I understood that my images could be used for things like showing up in articles or other works where they could be showed to public". He's not so happy about Yahoo selling prints, adding that "selling my work and getting the full money out of it came as a surprise".
And he's not the only one who is viewing this move askance. Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield said that the move was "a little shortsighted". He added, "It’s hard to imagine the revenue from selling the prints will cover the cost of lost goodwill."
He's not wrong in calling this move shortsighted; by annoying users Yahoo is poisoning the well. At least some of those users will stop uploading photos which Yahoo can use, and even if they continue to use Flickr those users might simply switch to a non-commercial CC license. That would stick Flickr with all of the cost of hosting the images with no chance to generate revenue, something I would describe as the worst possible outcome (for Yahoo, at least).
I think this move was particularly boneheaded not just because of the loss of goodwill but also because I can see how it would not have been hard for Yahoo to turn this to their advantage. How?
By paying a royalty on each print sold. While Yahoo is going to pay a select group of photographers, most are going to be left out in the cold.
That royalty is not required under US law but it would still be a good idea. It would mollify most of Yahoo's critics, and what's more it could potentially have been used to turn all those creators into salespersons. They could direct requests for prints to Yahoo, generating more revenues all around.
It's a shame Yahoo didn't think of that before stepping in this mess.
This isn't the first time that Yahoo has tried to generate revenue from Flickr since acquiring it in 2005. The photo hosting service offers a Pro service level, and in researching this post I found hints that Flickr was somehow using the uploaded photos commercially as far back as 2007 (I can't find any specifics on that, though).
image by Dave Ward Photography