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The internet and technology have changed how people access images, and photographers are responding by employing new methods to reach audiences. These methods include personal websites, social media tools, photo-sharing platforms and communities, and tools such as Creative Commons licenses that enable easy sharing and reuse of creative works.

CC licenses are a flexible way to share images while building on the strong foundation of traditional copyright law. Simply put, Creative Commons licenses allow the shift from “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved,” enabling you to share your images under terms of your own choosing. This gives you control over distribution, and the non-exclusivity of the licenses means you can retain all commercial rights if desired.

Photographers using CC licenses gain new audiences for their work on photo-sharing platforms like Flickr and communities like Wikipedia. Mohamed Nanabhay, Head of Online, Al Jazeera English, writes:

“When launching our [CC] repository, we had thought that it would be a key resource for anyone producing content on the war and that it would primarily be used by other news organisations and documentary filmmakers. What we saw was both surprising and delightful. Soon after posting our first video, Wikipedia editors had extracted images to enhance the encyclopedia entries on the War on Gaza. Soon thereafter educators, filmmakers, video game developers, aid agencies and music video producers all used and built upon our footage.”

Wikipedia is a heavily-trafficked website with over 400 million unique visitors a month. Flickr contains over 200 million CC-licensed photos, establishing it as the Web’s single largest source of CC-licensed content.

In 2008, DigitalPhotoPro published an article on the use of CC licenses by professional photographers with advice for those thinking of using CC themselves.

Photographers using CC licenses

Jonathan Worth

“Creative Commons enables me to use existing architecture really smoothly and to address the digital natives’ social media habits. The mode of information is the same, but the mode of distribution has changed. We don’t have all the answers, but CC lets me choose my flavor and helps me take advantage of the things working against me.”

British photographer Jonathan Worth’s work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He teaches photography at Coventry University in the U.K, and his course materials are released as open educational resources (OER) under CC BY-SA. He has photographed actors Colin Firth, Rachel Hunter, Jude Law and Heath Ledger. He is also one of an emerging group of photographers experimenting with sustainable working practices for professional image makers in the digital age. Jonathan Worth has been featured in:

  • The Telegraph - How the Power of Open can benefit photographers
  • BBC News - "Photographer Jonathan Worth explained that Creative Commons allowed him to sell his work for commercial use while still giving it free to individuals who wanted it for other reasons."
  • BBC News - "Photography and open education"
  • The Power of Open - Stories of creators sharing knowledge, art, & data using Creative Commons

Lan Bui

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Lan Bui "makes media." From photography of tech celebrities (Veronica Belmont, Zadi Diaz, Casey McKinnon) and The Ninja to videos for professionals and events (Comic Con and Pixelodeon), Lan (with help from his brother Vu) makes them all from start to finish. Lan echoes the thoughts of other artists using Creative Commons; the idea that your work is, in a way, an advertisement for yourself and future work. Lan expresses this in this way: "I think that people pay me for my time and talent, not for the actual images I deliver."

MacArthur Fellows

Photos and video pertaining to the MacArthur Fellows by the MacArthur Foundation is licensed CC BY.

{{#show: Case_Studies/|?Image Header|link=none}} is the moniker of John Harvey, a Brisbane-based former photojournalist who licenses his Flickr photo stream under Creative Commons. John is an active member of the Flickr community, having first uploaded a photo on 26 September 2004 and now sporting a collection of close to 1,000 images, and encourages others to engage likewise. Several of John’s photographs have been featured on Flickr’s ‘Explore’ page, as an indication of their popularity in the Flickr community.

Vinoth Chandar

Vinoth Chandar is a professional photographer who releases many of his photographs under the Creative Commons Attribution licence, saying that "I use [the] Attribution Creative Commons licence for all my photos because I want everybody to use my photo and credit me ... This way, my photos reach every corner of the world without any effort from my side except taking the photos and uploading it to Flickr."[1]

One example he used of the exposure provided by free culture licensing was the use of one of his photos for the cover of a popular Italian magazine. "I am an Indian and how else in the world can an Indian photographer expect his photo to be published in an Italian magazine? CC licence made this possible."[2]

Enforceability of CC licenses in photography

CC licenses have been upheld in several court cases around the world. A few of these cases pertain specifically to CC-licensed images.

  • In Curry v. Audax, Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ and one of the pioneers of podcasting, published photos onto his Flickr account under a BY-NC-SA license. A Dutch tabloid reprinted four of the photos in a story about the Curry family's public persona verses real private life. Curry sued the tabloid for violating the portrait rights of his family and for copyright violation over the improper user of his Flickr photos. The Dutch court held that, in the future, the tabloid could not use any of the photos from Flickr in the future unless under the terms of the photos' CC license or with permission from Curry.
  • In Gerlach vs. DVU, Gerlach took a picture of the German politician Thilo Sarrazin at a public event and published it online under the Creative Commons license BY SA 3.0 Unported. Later the DVU, a German political party used the picture on their website without the plaintiff's name, the license notice or any other requirement of the license. The applicant sent a notice and takedown letter to which the party didn't react. Subsequently the applicant sought preliminary injunction before the Disctrict Court of Berlin against the unauthorized publication of the picture. The District Court of Berlin granted the injunction because the applicant had successfully established prima-facie evidence of authorship, of the licensing and of the breach of the license.
  • In Avi Re’uveni v. Mapa inc., plaintiffs uploaded photographs to Flickr and and offered them under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license. The defendant made a collage from the plaintiffs’ and other photographs and sold them without attribution. The court found the defendant guilty of copyright infringement. The defendant claimed ignorance of the copyright and license, but the court found that this did not matter.

Photo-sharing sites that have enabled CC licenses


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Flickr was one of the first major online communities to incorporate Creative Commons licensing options into its user interface, giving photographers around the world the easy ability to share photos on terms of their choosing. As the Flickr community grew, so did the number of CC-licensed images — currently there are well over 200 million on the site — establishing Flickr as the Web’s single largest source of CC-licensed content.


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deviantART is an online community dedicated to showcasing art as prints, videos and literature. CC license options are built into deviantArt's UI, allowing users to set the permissions they want their works to carry. Naturally, different users choose different options for their works, including All Rights Reserved.


Fotopedia is a breathtaking application for the iPhone and iPad. The app builds on the concept of a coffee table book, updating and enhancing the browsing experience for the web. This project is possible thanks to Creative Commons, as over 18,000 of the pictures in Fotopedia Heritage book are under one of the CC licenses. The pictures come from all around the world; as individual photographers and organizations license their high quality photos under Creative Commons, the book will only grow as a community contributed and shareable resource.

National Library of Australia: 'Click and Flick'

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'Click and Flick' is a National Library of Australia (NLA) initiative to open their online pictorial gateway, PictureAustralia, to contributions from the Australian public. PictureAustralia encourages people to make their material available on the archive under the CC licenses, as part of two dedicated Flickr image pools: ‘PictureAustralia: Ourtown’ and ‘PictureAustralia: People, Places and Events’.

Newsbank Image

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Newsbank Image is one of South Korea's largest and most comprehensive photo-archives. The photograph archive website provides images produced by Media companies, photographers as well as web-friendly versions containing watermarks, original images, all which maintain the marking of original creators. Users can choose to upload their photos under CC licenses.

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A comprehensive online guide to Slovene culture, covers contemporary art, culture, and heritage in Slovenia. Over 2,300 articles in English and the fastest growing independent free image bank (currently over 1,500 images) are offered for reuse under Creative Commons licenses.

How To Publish photos in an online community

One way to increase visibility and access to your photos is to share it with an existing community that has enabled CC licensing, making it easy for you to indicate the license along with other information, such as who to attribute. In addition, search engines like Google and Yahoo! will index your work as CC licensed if the metadata is properly attached. See Publish/Images for more info.

Finding CC-licensed photos

Thanks to the machine-readability of CC licenses, CC-licensed images can be found via:

  • Google Advanced Image Search by specifying options under "Usage Rights"
  • Yahoo! Advanced Image Search by specifying options under "Creative Commons License"
  • It appears that Yahoo Advanced Image Search no longer offers this option. Can anyone else confirm this?
  • Google Docs, where Google Image Search has been integrated
  • CC Search Portal, which is not a search engine, but a tool that offers convenient access to search services provided by independent organizations, such as Flickr, Google, and Wikimedia Commons (media repository for articles featured on Wikipedia).

Related resources