Licensing Photos

I like taking photos (although I seem to have rather got out of the habit of doing so). I like it even more when people want to use my photos. For that reason, all of my photos on Flickr are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike licence. This means that anyone can do whatever they like with my photos as long as:

  • They credit me
  • They don’t use them commercially
  • They license the work which uses my photos under the same conditions

That seems to accurately reflect the way that I want my photos used. Do whatever you want, but don’t make money out of my work. Actually, it means “don’t make money out of my work without asking me first”. My photos have been used in a couple of commercial situations and I’ve been happy to allow that use without a fee. The non-commercial clause is really there just to stop someone like the Daily Mail using my photos without paying me.

One place that I particularly like to see my photos being used is on Wikipedia. Searching on Wikipedia Commons tonight I see that there are two of my photos listed. I think it used to be more and I think that it will soon be fewer. That makes me sad.

The reason I checked Wikipedia Commons this evening was that I got a message on Flickr from someone who has been checking the licensing of Wikipedia Commons images. He was asking particularly about this photo of the 2003 “Stop the War” demo. He was asking as the description on Wikipedia Commons didn’t include the non-commercial clause that was mentioned on the Flickr page. He asked if I had changed the licence. I replied saying that I didn’t think I had changed the licence as the Attribute, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike licence pretty much summed up how I had always wanted my photos licensed.

He replied saying that he had removed my photo from Wikipedia Commons as Wikipedia can’t use images that have the Non-Commercial clause in their licence. Which is why the photo wasn’t returned by the search I ran earlier. And why I suspect that the other two photos will soon disappear.

I tried an experiment. I edited the description of one of my photos on Wikipedia Commons so that the licence was accurate. And when I previewed my changes the licence template expanded into a big warning sign saying that my photo was now a candidate for speedy deletion as it wasn’t licensed according to the Commons licensing policy. I quickly changed it back.

I don’t understand this at all. Wikipedia is a non-commercial project. I specifically chose a licence which would, I thought, allow my photos to be used on Wikipedia. But it seems I was wrong. I don’t see why Wikipedia requires a licence that allows commercial use. Does anyone know what is going on.

I really don’t want to re-license my photos to allow unrestricted commercial use. But I really want my photos to be usable on Wikipedia.

It’s all a bit of a dilemma.

Update: I thought this all sounded very familiar. I wrote something very similar in 2008.


  1. Do you need the non-commercial clause to prevent The Mail from using your photos? Surely the share-alike clause would be sufficient, because The Mail aren’t going to make their content available under such a licence?

    Wikipedia content gets re-used on other websites, some of which carry adverts, and I believe it’s allowed to print it in books (and sell them), so I can understand them requiring commercial use.

    Do you object to commercial use if it’s under a similar licence? Anybody who is making money from your photos would have to be doing so under a licence which would allow others, including you, to reproduce what they’re doing.

  2. I’m in very much the same situation.

    I use the same CC license on my Flickr photos, as I don’t mind my photos being used by others on blogs & the like, but if someone wants to sell a copy, then I want them to ask for permission & pay a reasonable fee for commercial usage rights.

    A couple of my photos have ended up on Wikipedia, but they’ve done the same thing where the editor requesting permission to use the photo asks me to relicense the photo under a more permissive CC license. I’ve generally allowed this because, hey, it’s Wikipedia, and I understand their reasons as Smylers notes above. But I’m not going to relicense everything that way, as there have definitely been situations where people have wanted to profit off my photos in ways I wouldn’t necessarily have approved of.

    For me though, the bigger problem isn’t Wikipedia, but garden-variety spammers, who seem to have taken to using a bunch of my Flickr photos on “astro-turf” spam sites (weight loss “news”, astrology sites, get-rich-quick scams, etc). There doesn’t seem to be any good way, or maybe even point, in preventing this from happening though, so I’ve just been putting up with it. Very annoying.

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