“Selling” Photos

A couple of days ago I received through the post a copy of Diplomat Magazine – a magazine which is sent free to all foreign embassy staff in the UK. It took me a minute or so to remember why they would send a copy to me.

This issue contains an article about the London Livery Companies. The online version of the article uses one of my photos (the one of Girdlers’ Hall) but the print version uses three or four more. The publishers had contacted me a few weeks ago telling me that they were going to use my photos and asking if I would like a copy of the magazine.

Notice that I say that they just told me that they were using my photos, not asking if they could use my photos or offering money for the use of the photos. This is because of the way that the photos were licensed.  When the magazine found the photos on Flickr they were available under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike licence – which basically means that anyone can do what they like with the photos as long as they a) credit me and b) license their work under the same terms.

On investigation, I found that many of my photos were under the same licence. But the licence I now prefer to use is the Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike licence. This licence is the same as the previous one, except that it only applies to non-commercial use. Anyone wanting to use the photos for commercial purposes would need to contact me and negotiate a seperate deal.

I’ve now gone through and relicensed all of my Flickr photos under the non-commercial licence. But I’m starting to have doubts about whether that is really what I want.

You see, this isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. A while ago, I was contacted by an archeaologist who was using some of my photos of Cahal Pech to illustrate an article she had written about Mayan archeaological sites. Also, like many other people, some of my photos are in a couple of the Schmap guides.

In all of these cases, I’m pretty sure that these companies specifically search Flickr for photos that they could use without worrying about licensing issues. Flickr’s advanced search specifically allows you to search for photos by the Creative Commons licence they are released under. If my photos had been under a non-commercial licence when those searches were carried out then my photos would not have been found and the companies wouldn’t have even know of their existence.

So I need to have a bit of a think about why I take photos and why I make them available on Flickr. Clearly I’m not a professional photographer, so I don’t expect to make a living selling my photos. It would, however, be nice to sell the occasional photo for a small amount of money. I do like to see my photos being used by other people, but do I want to allow people to make money using my photos without me getting a slice? There are plenty of people putting photos on Flickr who don’t care about the issue (or haven’t given it any thought) so there’s no incentive for people who are looking for photos to look for ones that they have to pay for – even if it’s only a small amount.

Currently my photos are all marked as non-commercial use. That means that they aren’t showing up in commercial use searches. Will this mean that no-one ever uses my photos on a commercial project again?

I know that many of my readers put photos on Flickr under a wide variety of licences. I’d be very interested to hear how you chose the licence that you use.


  1. I thought it might be you who took all those pictures – the big panorama at the top of the page is mine, credited deep in the spine of the magazine…

    I got the same email you did even though my images are already by-nc-sa, and my reply did point out that this was me letting them use my images and that they couldn’t without my permission – the reply they sent me was slightly apologetic in tone.

    by-nc-sa has done me well, with people generally being nice and asking about using images, as well as asking how I’d like to be credited. I just wonder how many times my piccies have been used anyway…

  2. (Oh alright, I will sign up so I can comment)

    Interesting. (I also have pics on Schmap, and even sold one to an ad agency recently, too.) All mine are ‘all rights reserved’. Obviously.I am not a professional (although, being paid for having taken a picture, I could call myself one now :) photographer either, and most times if someone asks me to use one, I am happy. As they are non-commercial. And it chuffs me to be asked.

    However. (And this goes for software, too, but that is a different argument.) *My* work is *my* work, and if someone wants to use it, license it, then they pay for it. What is this, hippyland?

    I think our thinking on this is close. If someone else is going to make money from something I have done, then I am more-than-entitled to something I own all the rights to. And I do.

    And don’t get me started on the local scumbag papers that have stolen my pics, without attribution, and used them in their rags…

    Of course, it depends on what people use your pics for. Will you ever see it if someone steals it and uses it somewhere you won’t notice? (Although I was asked, and I allowed it, one of my pics is in a Chemistry textbook in some nowhere state in the US. One of Fehling’s solution, as it happens. My payment was a copy of the textbook, which was enough for me :)

    Just be safe. Set the ‘all rights reserved’. (I wonder what the legal status of that really is, though. I must re-read the terms and conditions, as I haven’t since Flickr got bought over. My bad.)

  3. Most of my photos are under Attribution-Share Alike, mostly because that makes them usable by wikipedia and the like. Photos of family and friends are all rights reserved, though. However, now that my photos seem to be a bit more “artistic” that they used to be — a rather big word, isn’t it — I think I’ll be gradually moving to a non-commercial CC license.

  4. “*My* work is *my* work, and if someone wants to use it, license it, then they pay for it. What is this, hippyland?”

    Well, that’s fine. My work is my work, and if someone wants to use it, I’ve let them just go ahead and use it in all my Flickr photos. I don’t take photographs for money, I take them for fun.

    So far, my photographs have been used in Time magazine, on the front cover of a Ministry of Sound CD, on countless websites including The Australian newspaper, in a few books, and Schmap stuff, yes, too. They’re simply licenced for “/by/” and that’s it. I find that many people have still contacted me to let me know they’re using my photo, and is that all okay with me?

    If you’re a professional photographer, of course the world is different. But as a hobby snapper, I’m delighted when people want to use my images. Perhaps, then, the plan is to learn what you want to do for fun, and what you want to do to get paid-for.

  5. Hi Dave:

    I’m the archaeologist that used your Cahal Pech photos (and very nice they are). And, yep, you’re right; mine is a commercial site and when I look for images I limit my search to those allowing commercial licenses. And it would be great if I could afford to buy photographs–just as it would be great if I could actually make enough money from my writing to support myself and my family.

    By making our content available for free (i.e., publishing on the Internet), in one respect, we’ve short-changed ourselves–after all, we could keep our work to ourselves and market to print outlets on a per-pay basis. On the other hand, the Internet has provided us an outlet for getting our work to people to see and read, without requiring us to market to a print medium. A lot more people read us/view our images because we are on the Internet, and, to a large degree, I gotta say that’s worth the trade off. And that does make our portfolios visible.

    I can’t make a living simply writing stuff for the Internet, as you can’t make a living by simply posting your pictures on the Internet–there are far too many crap sites that do the same thing for free for even great quality information/photos to be able to charge a fee.

    What I do is balance the two–publish on the internet AND market to print publications. I can’t say it’s perfect–frankly there aren’t enough hours in the day–but it does mean I have multiple sources of income.

    Best wishes,


  6. As far as I know you don’t have this problem with your code – your CPAN modules are almost certainly being used in somebody’s commercial application somewhere and they haven’t even told you about it (not that they’re required to).

    And I’d argue that producing and packaging code is far more of an onerous task than taking a photo (not to denigrate photographers but each individual photo is usually takes significantly less time and effort to produce than a library or application).

    So since you’re you’re not bothered by the code, why are you bothered by the photo?

  7. I have very similar thoughts to you on this. I’d love Time magazine to use one of my photos, and as long as I was consulted and credited, I’d be so chuffed I’d probably gladly let them have it for free.

    But there is another other issue to think about with commercial sites/publications.

    If you give away your photos for free, then someone who does take photos for a living is missing out. Should you care about that? I’m not sure.

  8. I’ve used some CC licensed stuff in my TV show. Example: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8096386698676591139

    When I searched I searched for allowing commercial, with attribution CC license. Although my show isn’t commercial, I didn’t want to risk the image authors accusing me of using it commercially when I wasn’t.

    Most people think all TV shows are commercial. They’re not. Although in hindsight, I’ve been considering selling DVDs of the show so that decision gave me more future options.

    They are fully credited in the end credits.

    It never occurred to me to contact the author directly to let them know I’ve used it in much the same way as it doesn’t occur to me to EMail the author of a software package when I choose to deploy that.

    Should I?

  9. More a comment for se71:

    If you give away your photos for free, then someone who does take photos for a living is missing out. Should you care about that? I’m not sure.

    Is that something that open source programmers should care about when they write software that directly competes with commercial vendors?

    Professional photographers will always have work in the service industry. When people want photographic record or want assured high quality and no doubt about licensing they’ll hire the professionals.

    Now stock-footage companies are going to find the future more challenging, but that’s ok. I’m sure they’ll find a way to add more value.

  10. I don’t use any of those fancy photo sites, and just have all mine on my own website. People seem to find them anyway, using google and the like. It says “If want to use any of these photographs on your web site or elsewhere, please ask” at the top of the index page, with a link to send me email. That works well enough. People ask, and all but one has paid my price. One of these days I’ll be a little photo-whore and put some of them up on the various stock photography sites as well.

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