I frequently use Creative Commons licenses images in posts to illustrate them when I don’t have an appropriate image of my own. I try to use friends images because it’s cool to promote your friends. When I can’t, I do an advanced search on Flickr set to only use Creative Commons licensed images. As a photographer and a writer and someone who has published many articles and photos it is important to me that my work is properly credited and that I do so for the photos that I use.

Photo by ~C4Chaos

Photo by ~C4Chaos

But really, using and crediting Creative Commons images in the web is still a big gray area. As such, here are a few guidelines I use when citing photographers for their work.

Caption the photo

I’ve used images in blog posts and presentations and videos, and I always put a “photo by” credit visible on screen. On a blog I either use the captioning functionality of wordpress or use html / css to make a caption. Alternatively, you can run photo credits at the bottom of the post.

Link back to source

photo by Stevegarfield

photo by Stevegarfield

If I embed a photo in my blog and use a caption I always set the photo to link back to the original image. This way if someone is intrigued by the image they can easily see who took it, and browse more. Plus everyone wants people to see and enjoy their creative work, so it’s a way to show appreciation.

Check specifics
The Creative Commons “Attribution” license specifies:

You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).

As such, if you are aware of other ways the author would like his or her work attributed, you should do your best to follow those guidelines.

Notify the author

When I post an article with a Creative Commons borrowed image, I post a comment on the original image saying that I did and linking it back to the post. If someone has a problem with the use I’m happy to change the image, though I’ve never had a problem. If you do this on a blog and you are using photos you found on another blog, it is good to try to give them a trackback of some kind, so that their readers can see how you’ve used the imagery

Photos in Video

If you use photos in a video is is more problematic. You can’t link them back to the original image, and it’s not always practical to caption them. In this case I follow the Hollywood method and credit in full at the end with a URL of the source website or flickr set.

Get the name right

Make sure you spell it right! And if you get an image from a Flickr source, (for example I am indisposed), you should not credit it to @mehwolfy as that is clearly not the source of the image.

License your images

Make sure to utilize the Creative Commons or copyright specifications in Flickr or whatever image host you are using. Also make sure that you have the rest of your desires specified somehow so that people who care can find out and follow them.

My images are licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. And my additional directives are posted on this site here: http://iamindisposed.com/copyright/ . Additionally, I have a link from my Flickr profile to my copyright page so those wishing to use my flickr photos can access the specifics and also contact me to find out more about how I want my images used.

There will always be people who will steal images and use them as they see fit and however they see fit to interpret the license, and there isn’t much you can do about that except hide in a cave and never share anything. But if you aren’t a professional photographer chances are that it won’t hurt you any more than any other form of rude doucheyness. Just try to comply with the photographers intents and wishes and if you can’t, do another search and find another image.


UPDATE: I found an article outlining a case study for community and linkbuilding using Flickr Images. Though the links are immaterial because of the flickr nofollow tags, i still think it’s a valuable use case.

UPDATE 9-2-09: Just ran across this article by Stephen Shankland on Cnet.com on Flickr’s reactions to Copyright claims and some insights into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act:

Under the DMCA, a party holding copyright to a photo or other work can request that a Web site remove content posted by a third party that infringes that copyright; the Web site can avoid liability in the matter if it takes down the work in question when it receives the notice of infringement. The DMCA also includes a provision to let the third party that published the content challenge the claim. Read More

UPDATE 9-25-09: Creative Commons released research on the definition of “Non-Commercial.”

On a scale of 1-100 where 1 is “definitely noncommercial” and 100 is “definitely commercial” creators and users (84.6 and 82.6, respectively) both rate uses in connection with online advertising generally as “commercial.” However, more specific use cases revealed that many interpretations are fact-specific. For example, creators and users gave the specific use case “not-for-profit organization uses work on its site, organization makes enough money from ads to cover hosting costs” ratings of 59.2 and 71.7, respectively.

UPDATE 10-13-09: PDN Pulse Magazine reports on photo copyright infringement by GUP Magazine of The Netherelands.

“I guess it just bothers me when my work gets published without anyone from the publication contacting me to ask permission or let me know…. I don’t know where GUP got my image from, but I am presuming they just ripped a 72dpi version of my website.”

UPDATE 12/11/09: From Photographer Lincoln Barbour:

Here’s the deal. If you want to talk me up or talk up my client, I don’t mind if you use my photography in a bloggy editorial kind of way. I just want a heads up. If you take my photography to promote yourself (even if by bringing traffic to your website where you sell products or services), then we have an issue. These photos are my intellectual property and are protected by US copyright law. All rights reserved means I decide how and who uses the images.

I came across this in a Facebook post from John Shafer of PhotographyReview.com. There was the following comment by Ed Martini which I think definitely reflects a lot of opinions regarding photo intellectual property:

I don’t think it’s a different perspective at all. Anything posted in public is fair game for fair use. As long as I’m not selling prints, I have the right to link your publicly-posted photo to my site. Photo credit seems like a reasonable courtesy, but is certainly not a requirement.

If I were you, I would brand all my photos and only post them small. :)

If you really want to protect your IP, you should only exhibit prints in a gallery where security can prevent people from shooting photos of your photos.