As I was scrolling through some older blog posts the other day, I noticed one of the images was missing. I like to use creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA images whenever possible to help promote, as well as model, the idea of sharing open content for education.
Flickr has a wealth of CC-BY-NC-SA licensed media – nearly 74 million as of this morning. I can nearly always find something that fits the topic of my current post.
Apparently with the image in question, the author decided to change the license from the more open Creative Commons to All Rights Reserved. Creative Commons licenses are intended to be something you cannot revoke. Unfortunately, Flickr doesn’t prohibit someone from changing the license. This can cause problems for those who have licensed the media following the rules.
So, what happens if an artist decides to change his or her mind and later reserve all rights – when someone else has created new media following the rules – potentially at considerable cost in adapting the media (which may be the case when derivatives are in play)?
The CC-BY-NC-SA license means the artist or author has pre-licensed their creation, permitting other to use it under specific conditions: the licensee agrees to attribute the work to the author (BY), the material is used only for non-commercial purposes (NC), and the resulting material – or derivative of the media is to be similarly licensed (SA). Under the CC-Share Alike license others down the line are free to reuse the same media again, as the resulting media must be licensed similarly – kind of a pay-it-forward approach.
The thing is… I have no means of proving the media was Creative Commons licensed at the time I used it and would likely have some difficulty in supporting any such argument going forward. In my case, I can just break the link and replace it with another.
Going forward, I plan to take a screenshot of the page and license and send a message to the author thanking them for using the license and informing them of how I plan to use their materials.
Does this solve the problem? Probably not. We have a long way to go in figuring out copyright and the Internet. Creative Commons and similar open licensing is a critical piece of the big picture, but there is still much yet to be sorted out.