Over the last little while, I have been mentally battling with the usage of Flickr images by commercial media organisations. There is something particularly pertinent about this issue. If media organisations are trying to slash budgets, surely it is folly to ignore a giant pool of potentially “free” material.
Is it giant? Yes. Creative Commons recently reported that the number of CC-licensed images has passed the 100m mark. Of these images, almost a quarter are licensed for commercial use. This isn’t quite touching the big image libraries (Corbis, for example, has over 70m images) but it is significant.
Is it free? Here’s where it starts getting tricky. According to various freelance charters, such as the Guardian’s, it is very bad form to use anything for free. Even if you have asked for permission, even if it is commercially-licensed under CC, even if they beg you not to pay them. You are exploiting them even if they ask to be exploited. As a freelancer myself, I am well aware that voluntary exploitation is inevitable- I’ve dabbled in it myself in the past- but it sets a dangerous precedent.
But if a media organisation decided that they were fine with using images that have been CC comercially-licenced, or indeed images for which they have individually sought permission… they could find themselves saving a lot of money, albeit at a moral expense. But as things stand, the way I understand it there is very little stopping Nike using a Flickr image as the cornerstone of their next ad campaign, as long it had been CC-licensed for commercial use, and was attributed as requested (which, by the way, is another ad hoc can of worms).
Is it safe? Another issue. You can trust the recognised agencies, like Corbis, Getty, the AP and so on. But can you trust bumgrapes65237? What if they’ve just scanned somebody else’s work and claimed it as their own? News organisations may wish to safe themselves the hassle.
What is interesting is that very little seems to be formalised, legal departments don’t seem to know what to do about it, and neither do the majority of journos. I have a feeling this one will run and run. Twitpics are another issue altogether, but let’s not go there yet (the Guardian picture desk are currently searching for Twitpics coming out of Iran, and have found a number of agency images amongst their number).