Flickr, creative commons and "borrowing" works

I happened to stumble across a very interesting thread on the Flickr board: "HELP: Somebody's using MY pictures in HIS Photostream!!!". The thread opens up all sorts of pitfalls I'd never even thought of with Weblogging, shared photos, Creative Commons, etc.

As best I can summarize the situation, the most salient facts are:

  1. UserA complained that UserB uploaded a couple of UserA's photos into UserB's account ("photostream") without UserA's permission.
  2. UserA has placed the photos under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
  3. UserB did not provide attribution to UserA
  4. UserA does not want UserB to host these pictures under UserB's account regardless of attribution
  5. If UserB were to provide attribution, because of the many ways people can link to or embed Flickr photos, it's possible that the attribution will not be apparent in certain normal usage

Some less salient, but interesting facts:

  • 10) UserA is distressed and asked for help, officially and unofficially, in part how to deal with the unwanted usage, and for better understanding of policy and convention
  • 11) UserA says that English is not his first language, and he doesn't necessarily understand everything that's going on
  • 12) UserA feels that UserB is being "a bit of a jerk" about the entire situation but UserB has consented to update with attribution [Note drifting from fact to characterization: based on UserB's own comments (he appears in the thread later on), I think the problem is misunderstanding followed by standard flame war social dynamics]

The most striking thing here is the contradiction between Fact (3) and (4). It seems that UserA does not understand that in using this particular CC license, he loses control over (4), providing that licensees adhere to terms (which according to (12) should be the case by now). Is there a problem with licensors nonchalantly choosing CC licenses without considering or understanding all the ramifications of thee licenses? (I'm sure there is always going to be some degree of such problems, but how widespread are they among the many people who are not used to thinking in terms of Copyright licensing?)

Is there a problem with the fact that Flickr makes it easy to tag with attribution-required licenses, even though the way the service is structured cannot really enforce or ensure attribution (5)?

To what extent are CC licenses applied using technological metadata tagging means legally trumped by separately and explicitly stated means of the licensor? In this case, UserA has tagged his photos with a license, but has also informally expressed a desire for more stringent restrictions than those expressed in the tags. What restrictions are legally enforceable in this case?

One matter that came up is pretty much an entirely separate discussion on its own. It seems that Flickr purposely does not allow people to specify photos as public domain, for reasons that really seem a bit fuzzy to me.

Based on reading Flickr staff responses in this thread, they really don't know answers to such questions any more than I do. Some seemed remarkably muddled in their responses, and some gave responses that I think are plain wrong. Most of these discrepancies do get hashed out in the thread, though, and I hasten to add that Flickr staff seem to be genuinely concerned about sorting this all out based on what I read. I suspect that the entire situation just dredges up a ton of issues regarding the intellectual commons that no one really fully understands yet.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia