You never think it’s going to happen to you…

… until it does.

Just got a Flickr comment on one of my photos from a fellow photographer in Indianapolis.

It seems that – the “Official site of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association” is pulling photos off of Flickr from a lot of local photographers, including those with “All Rights Reserved” explicitly assigned to the photos, without asking for permission. That includes at least several of mine. Although I’m not trying to make money out of photography (yet), I’ve specifically thought about what level of license to assign to the photos I post there.

a night at the museum

A lot of people opt for different flavors of the Creative Commons license, which would allow them to use photos off of Flickr without asking for permission, within the constraints of the specific Creative Commons license assigned. But at least for now, I’ve made the choice that what I post to Flickr is “All Rights Reserved”. That means that using it without my permission is not allowed


To be clear, is not asking for permission to use photos that are “All Rights Reserved”.

Digging into the issue a bit, it sounds like unless you specifically opt out of allowing use of the Flickr API for public search and display of your photos, this is OK based on Flickr’s terms of service. Still seems a bit shady in the case of photos that are “All Rights Reserved”. And from a recent thread on their help forum, it’s clear they haven’t sorted out the potential conflict between their API and photos that are “All Rights Reserved”.

At the very least, Flickr needs to clarify the language for this option in their account settings. Currently the wording is “Hide your photos and video from searches done outside”. I wonder how many people appreciate that “searches done outside” includes sites that dynamically search and display “All rights reserved” photos outside of Flickr.

I’m composing a polite e-mail to letting them know that they don’t have permission to use my photos off of Flickr without permission. I’ve also opted out of allowing this use of my photos. While I might like to have the increased exposure that this offers, I’d like to be asked. It’s just the polite thing to do.

BTW, both of these photos are currently being used on without my permission. Ya see, just ’cause it’s possible to pull these photos off of Flickr, without my permission I’m the only one who is allowed to. Like my mom always used to say, “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you’re allowed to”.


~ by Dave on 03/24/09.

21 Responses to “You never think it’s going to happen to you…”

  1. I’m wondering what’s going on right now. Just in the last week, I’ve gotten four requests to have my images included into a web project or company presentation. The wording of the emails are always very polite, but I’m too buried right now to respond right away, so after I got the fourth one I thought, “Hm.” I’ve had a couple poorly written requests from “students” who just love the picture and would like to be able to include them in school projects. ‘Please?’ Now I’m thinking it’s all a scam to rip off photos.
    No one ever offers to pay me.
    Web designers should know better. They make a living, too. They should know that if they want stock images, they should set aside part of their project’s budget to purchase images.
    It’s pissing me off. Flickr is getting used for FREE stock images.

    I opted out of the Getty Images deal through Flickr because like you, don’t have ambitions to make money from my hobby, and also, didn’t like the idea of losing control of several images of the kids.
    But now I’m thinking that’s the only arrangement that protects hobbiest who get approached from being sweet talked into giving images up for free.
    Too many photographers are losing business right now.
    One in Zionsville just went bust.
    I’m ignoring requests or saying no from here on out.
    I hate not being nice, but I can’t help feeling like these companies are telling each other, ‘Cut your marketing costs by kissing up to novice photographers. Promise them you’ll give them photo credit. They eat that up.’
    No thanks. They can go buy their own D300s or PAY stock photographers.

  2. I am in charge of web design for and played a part in our decision to pull Flickr photos. Let me first apologize if you feel we did a disservice to your photography. Your work is very beautiful. We certainly did not intend to “steal” your work. Our logic worked like this…

    Why do people post photos to Flickr? Answer: they want people to see their work.

    We wanted to showcase work from great amateur photographers and push people to their Flickr pages to see more, increasing their exposure. We don’t claim ownership of images and are very deliberate about where they come from and who took them.

    We will gladly remove your images from our site and will not showcase any more images from your account. Again, accept our apologies.


    Jeff Robinson
    Creative Services Manager
    Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association

  3. Hi Ange. *whew* Just read your blog post on this. I hope you feel better now. Anyhoo, I agree with you. You’re just much more articulate than I am.

    Jeff: thanks for replying to my email. I don’t necessarily feel that you’ve done a disservice to my photography. But I do feel your logic about pulling photos which are clearly marked as “All Rights Reserved” off Flickr is flawed. To be fair, I think Flickr is partly to blame because their API makes it easy for developers to skirt photographer’s rights by enabling them to use “All Rights Reserved” photos without requiring that the photographer be asked for permission.

    If I wanted my photos to be used by whoever found them interesting, then I would assign them one of the Creative Commons licenses. But I haven’t.

    Think about it. If you have something that I want (whether it’s of any commercial value or not is irrelevant), and I simply take it or use it without asking for your permission, or even notifying you that I’ve taken it, then you haven’t shared it with me. I’ve simply taken it.

    People get pissed off about that (waving again at Ange).

    PS to Ange… I don’t remember if I saw any of your photos on or not.

  4. Kudos to Jeff Robinson for replying to your concerns and addressing them in an adult and mature manner. Good job.

    Dave, I would rethink allowing some of your photos to be used for free. If you’re concerned about payment, considering letting some photos be used by places like They ARE very beautiful, and ones I think people should see, especially if it showcases both the city and your talents.

    The argument for giving away free stuff is that people are so impressed by it, they’ll pay for everything else. Marketing guru Seth Godin even gave away audio copies of his book, Tribes, because it got people to buy the print copy afterward. Similarly if you let a few of your photos be used in places like — the leading website for all things Indianapolis — what better way to be seen AND taken seriously as a professional photographer.

    As a writer, I am constantly on the lookout for unauthorized copies of my work being posted elsewhere. But I don’t mind sharing stuff when people ask. It’s how I build my readership, and start earning bigger speaking fees, getting more and better publication requests, and building my brand in general.

  5. Erik, I think part of the point is that didn’t ask. If they had, some people might have said yes. I wouldn’t have, but that’s me.

    The conclusion that Jeff and his team came to about why people put photos on Flickr is an assumption – a HUGE one, and a very erroneous one. There are any number of reasons why people share photos on Flickr – the reasons I do are quite different, as a matter of fact, and finding my photos on a site without my knowledge was very unwelcome.

    Even if “getting your photos seen” is your reason for using Flickr, it doesn’t necessarily follow you also want to share them somewhere else, especially when they can be grabbed to promote something that the you may not want to promote.

    What if the site grabbing your pictures and posting them was associated with something you disagreed with strongly? How does the Convention and Visitor’s Association know I support their goals? They don’t, and that’s another assumption they shouldn’t be making.

    In all, they should have made a good faith effort to be sure they were boosting Indianapolis photographers at the same time they were boosting themselves. A little consideration and good will can go a long, long way. If they’d asked, they potentially could have had a pool of photographers willing to actively take shots on their behalf for the practice and enjoyment.

  6. @Steph,

    I do agree with you on the “getting your photos seen” point as being pretty lame. I blogged about that last year on my humor blog (which includes a great homicidal rant from scifi writer Harlan Ellison). I hate the “we’ll promote you” excuse. That’s why I have a blog and bust my ass doing self-promotion. That costs me time and money. Why should I give someone else free content when I’ve already done the hard part? I’d rather get paid and seen by fewer people than seen by a lot for free. “Free exposure” doesn’t feed my family.

    I would hope that in the future, the CVA would make a good faith effort to try to work with photographers, but at the same time, they shouldn’t rely on the “getting exposure” excuse as a way to cheap out on paying someone to use their photos or hiring a real photographer.

    I mean, I can’t use the “I’ll give your city exposure on my blog” as a way to get free gift cards at St. Elmo’s steakhouse.

    Or could I. . . ?

  7. I’m on the fence with this one. It’s plain that the images are from Flickr, with links to the Flickr page on both the thumbnail and the popup. I don’t really see anyone trying to pull a fast one.

    I think it would have been polite to ask, but it’s not like the images are used in a banner, or an ad, or as a lead image for a blog post. I would be miffed if the images were used to represent ideas that I might not agree with.

    I don’t see any of that happening here. If it were a list of just links to images on Flickr would that be better? I don’t really see this being all that different. No one’s claiming or hiding the ownership of the images.

  8. Again, it depends on your point of view. Some people want more than credit when their work is displayed; they want compensation. It’s certainly great that they gave credit, but that also implies that credit is all the images are worth.

  9. I’m a website designer for a big corporation. I oversee the site design for 20 websites – when we use an image ANYWHERE, we buy it, and often at considerable cost. I don’t know if you’ve looked at stock photo sites at all, but the purchasing image rights is NOT cheap. That’s because photographers have paid for their equipment, travel, time, attendance at events, setting up shots… Photography is a JOB, whether you do it professionally or on a freelance basis. People deserve to get paid for their camera clicks. Anything else devalues the effort people are putting in.

    I’m sad that so many people are willing to not seek compensation of their creative output.

  10. I don’t disagree. I’m thinking of this as something like a book review website. “Here’s a list of ten great books and a short excerpt.” I don’t think anyone expects the authors to be compensated for this.

    So, how should this be handled with photography? “Here’s a list of ten great images.” And… not show them?

    I certainly can see the argument that has gone over the line though. This isn’t just TEN OF THE BEST LIGHTNING SHOTS ON FLICKR. It’s… a “Featured Photo Gallery”.

  11. Think of it this way – they put 30 of my friend Rachel’s photos into their Central State Hospital Museum section. If she had uploaded them to istockphoto instead, and they had obtained them there, she would have made $15 bucks a piece for them – $450 is a nice chunk of change.

    Sorry; I’ll stop with the rants now; I’m clearly in zealot mode.

  12. No, this is good stuff, important stuff. I don’t see this as rants at all.

    I think your point is valid, more than mine really. I’m just wondering at what point “here’s some great images” becomes content theft. When you wrap them in your own gallery? (I think that’s probably an obvious “Yes”.)

    How about this site, which makes one big sliding page of recently Explored images:

  13. This discussion is fundamentally about the messy intersection of creativity and ownership. I covered this last year at blogINDIANA in detail at

    Certainly, photographers who mark their content as “all rights reserved” do so to create a legal mechanism to prevent others from using the work without permission. violated this implicit obligation. Mr. Robinson’s offer to “gladly remove your images from our site” demonstrates not reticence, but defiance. It is the moral equivalent to accepting a fine for being caught speeding but continuing to speed in the future anyway.

    That might sound like a tremendous character attack, but just as practically everyone exceeds the speed limit, practically everyone borrows, repurposes, highlights or otherwise rationalizes their use of available, yet privately-owned content. The “your” and “our” in Mr. Robinson’s comment proves he understands the ownership.

    The larger point, however, is that just as the cops cannot monitor every vehicle nor will people always drive the speed limit, the flow of information cannot be stopped. Any bits that you assemble into pictures, words, music or code can be leveraged by anyone regardless of your railings to the contrary.

    The future of information ownership is a world without ownership. Perhaps the adage speaks truth: If you love something, let it go.

  14. As Steph has said, for me the main issue is that didn’t ask for permission, and that Flickr makes it much too easy for third parties to skirt the issue of asking for permission when photos are designated “All Rights Reserved”. The prevailing attitude seems to be “it’s on the web, you must be willing to share it, and anyway we’re giving you free exposure and everyone wants that, right?” That’s a price you pay for being on a social site like Flickr.

    If they had asked for permission, I honestly don’t know if I would have given permission or not. When the exposure consists of having thumbnails linked back to Flickr buried among dozens of other almost identical thumbnails from other photographers, I don’t really see much benefit to me.

    I have given a considerable amount of thought to this over the last year or so. If I ever move in the direction of wanting to sell any photos that I take, they won’t end up on Flickr except at a low resolution with a prominent watermark, and they’ll be filed with the copyright office long before they ever show up anywhere on-line. I’ll cross that bridge when I start taking photos that I think are good enough to consider selling.

  15. I appreciate everyone’s thoughts on this issue. With the advent of Flickr and a world of other Social Media outlets we, as an organization, are still finding our way. We try to showcase the city as best we can and commission a lot of professional photography. However, we felt like using thumbnails and clearly attributing credit from Flickr photographers could add richness to our listings beyond what our photography budget would ever allow. Plus, we would be showcasing some very nice work by local amateur photographers.

    Clearly some have taken offense to this strategy and we will be revisiting it soon to make sure we work within acceptable guidelines. It may be a matter of seeking permission prior to any use. The only problem with that approach is the amount of administration involved. We may have to scrap the Flickr approach all together. We’ll see.

    Again, accept our apologies if we upset you. That was not our intent.


  16. @Jeff says – “It may be a matter of seeking permission prior to any use.”

    One would hope so, since that is the minimum obligation of your site under copyright law – that’s what All Rights Reserved means.

    @Robby Slaughter – “The future of information ownership is a world without ownership. Perhaps the adage speaks truth: If you love something, let it go.”

    I’m sorry, we’re not in a communist state yet. I don’t work for the government or the common good, I work for myself to get paid for what I do. It’s lovely that the internet allows us to share so much of ourselves, but the sharing still has to be under our own control.

    In other words – don’t steal stuff, on the internet or anywhere else.

  17. Jeff, it IS a matter of seeking permission, not forgiveness. I’m the one Steph referred to earlier, whose pics you swiped and put in your Indiana Medical History Museum set — including one you’re using as a featured photo. Please don’t act like you’re doing me any favors by putting them up there — “credit” does not equal “permission,” and if your lawyers are telling you it does, then you need new lawyers.

    I went into my Flickr account settings yesterday and checked the “Hide from the API” box — hoping that alone would make my pics fall off your site, but it hasn’t (yet). I’m keeping an eye on that.

    If you’re worried about the administration of a permissions task, you might want to note this: Your Photo Galleries > Featured Photos page is so overloaded with redundancies that the usability of the page is low. You have several “featured” pictures with “Where is this?” links that link to the SAME THING. (Examples: Zoo, Arts Council, Speedway, etc.) You could increase the usability of this page, for the people you’re trying to serve, by actually REDUCING the number of photos you represent here. And reducing that number means you have fewer permissions to request.

    I don’t disagree that thumbnails and pics “add[s] richness to your listings beyond what [your] photography budget would ever allow.” I’m just saying, get the OK *first,* not later.

  18. And how proud am I that my friend and co-worker Rachel delivers a nice usability heuristic review of the design along with her protest… go Rachel, you web dev professional, you.

  19. I learned from the best! 😉

  20. In my view, this issue of using creative work for free on the grounds that the photographer, or writer, or musician, likes having their ego stroked is completely unjustified. I think what has done is appalling. You wouldn’t expect a qualified plumber to come and mend your sink for free because s/he likes being useful to the community. You’d expect to pay them!

    Both plumbers and photographers have spent years acquiring their skills and a lot of money equipping themselves and it’s reasonable to expect to be paid for the outcome. Why creative people should be treated any differently from accountants or tradespeople baffles me.

    Flickr is a showcase for people’s work. Some may not want to be paid for their images but I bet most of us would! As far as I am concerned Flickr is the equivalent of the Yellow Pages (UK) and a potential marketplace. If my images are up there and you want to use them you pay me for them. Period.

    I bet Jeff at Indy is not working for nothing! Not paying creatives for their work is nothing short of scandalous. We need to stick up for our rights – if our work has value for other people they should pay for it. How else are we to make ends meet?

    Liz Barnard

  21. @Liz: Your response (a year later!) has sparked my renewed interest in this conversation. You write:

    “Why creative people should be treated any differently from accountants or tradespeople baffles me.”

    However, this comment highlights the heart of the issue. Accountants, plumbers, painters, teachers, doctors, lawyers and virtually everyone else are paid for working, *not* paid a royalty for the right to use their work product. If we were to compensate plumbers like we do photographers, everyone who used a particular sink would have to pay royalties!

    Certainly, artists deserve to be paid. But why can’t we pay artists just like artisans—for the work they do?

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