Flickr Adds Public Domain, CC-Zero License

Flickr announced on Monday that it was adding CC-Zero and Public Domain licensing options. Users who want to share their images freely with the public now have the option to release their work with no strings attached.

The site has offered CC licensing since 2004, but for all the nuances built into the Creative Commons license it simply doesn't cover all situations. For example, photos taken by the US government are automatically in the public domain, and the same applies when a member scans and uploads a century old photograph.

Flickr Adds Public Domain, CC-Zero License Creative Commons, Open Source Intellectual Property

What's more, lately Flickr has been asked by their users to provide more options for uploading new images and releasing them without restriction. For example, last week SpaceX, Elon Musk's private space flight company, uploaded hundreds of photos last week but had to use a CC-By license because that was the least restrictive option.

Today those photos are labeled public domain. They're free for anyone to use, without no restrictions (moral rights excepted).

Or at least that is what SpaceX and Flickr intend; I'm not sure that the legal status of a preemptively declared PD work will stick.

As in most countries, the US has automatic copyright protection. Make a work and boom, it's under copyright. But what the US lacks is any way to formally release a work from copyright. This in part inspired first Creative Commons licensing and later CC-Zero.

Under a CC-Zero license, someone still owns the copyright, and they're granting permission for all to use the work willy-nilly. This differs from the public domain, where no one and everyone owns the copyright.

If someone releases a work under a CC-Zero license they still have the option of changing the license at a later time, but a work released into the public domain would theoretically be free until the end of time.

That is how it's supposed to work, but here in the US we have courts which have repeatedly yanked works out of the public domain and placed them back under copyright. What's more, the US copyright law also has termination clauses which would enable someone to terminate existing licenses after 35 years (TechDirt discussed this issue in depth in January).

That means that a work released into the public domain could be returned to copyright 35 years later - perhaps by a creator's heirs. The heirs would then sue to regain control, and they'd probably win.

I could easily see that scenario happening with a work which had been preemptively declared public domain, can't you?

Ars Technica

image by Alexandre Dulaunoy

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: He's here to chew bubble gum and fix broken websites, and he is all out of bubble gum. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills at the drop of a hat. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.

1 Comment

  1. […] of Creative Commons’ public domain option. Nate Hoffelder of the blog Ink, Bits & Pixels notes the way US copyright law’s structured makes it hard to truly release something to the public […]

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