Some photographers bristle over Flickr's selling of photos

According to the Wall Street Journal, some photographers are upset the Yahoo-owned site is selling prints of photos they meant to give away for free.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Some photographers are upset Yahoo is making money on images they meant to give away for free. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Flickr, the Yahoo-owned photo sharing site, announced last week that it would sell canvas prints of some photos uploaded to the service. What surprised some photographers was how it would treat some images.

It turns out the Web giant is selling prints of photos some photographers intended to give away for free, according to a report Monday by the Wall Street Journal. That has upset the photographers who said they felt Yahoo was making money at the expense of the community on Flickr.

The crux of their complaints has to do with Yahoo's use of photos contributed to Creative Commons -- a collection of photos and writing that creators have deemed free to use, with various restrictions. For some Creative Commons photos, Yahoo will sell canvas prints and keep all the profits. But for prints of other photos not on Creative Commons, photographers will get a 51 percent cut.

The jostling between some photographers and Yahoo is the latest raising questions of how photos can be used in the digital age. This is not the first time Flickr has been a part of a controversy about how images on the service have been used. In 2007, Virgin Mobile used a photographer's Creative Commons image on Flickr for a billboard ad. While the company had a right to use the photo, the woman in the image sued for damages, claiming Virgin Mobile didn't have permission to use her likeness in the ad.

Not all the photographers contacted by the Journal felt wronged by Yahoo's decision to sell the prints. In fact, eight out of the 14 photographers they contacted were fine with the move.

Bernardo Hernandez, Yahoo's vice president of Flickr, said in an email statement that Flickr allows photographers "an incredible amount of flexibility." They can indicate their photos are not allowed to be used for commercial purposes. They can also withdraw from the Creative Commons license altogether, he said.