Digital Culture

Photos and licenses

Twice in the last two months, I’ve found myself re-examining my Flickr account and my photos. I’ve had two instances of people wishing to use my some of my pictures for various things. One, a website about Sewanee, and the other a publication about the Immersion program.

All of my pictures are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, and in both cases the first two criteria are fine for the uses. The Share-Alike is where stuff starts to break down…people seem unwilling to ensure that the resulting work is licensed in the same way. In some ways, it’s a sort of educational issue…most people are still not aware of Creative Commons.

So I’m torn. On one hand, I certainly do want people to use my photos. On the other, I also want to push the Creative Commons message, and requiring that the resulting works Share Alike is the right thing to do, I think.

Has anyone else dealt with this friction? How did you resolve it?

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

One reply on “Photos and licenses”

I think the ShareAlike and NonCommercial clauses put too many limits on the freedom of the individual to reuse one’s work. And I think that by simply using a Creative Commons license (albeit a more open one) and answering the questions when they come, you’re helping to spread the message.

I see a very fuzzy distinction between commercial and non-commercial—which was partly brought to bear during my cease and desist experience. Lets say you’re running Google Ads on your site to pay for hosting costs and beer. Technically that would prevent you from using a photo on your site licensed as NonCommercial.

And what if that photo is also licensed “ShareAlike”? Are you prepared to relicense your post (or the whole blog?) under the same terms of that photo? And what about the next person that comes along with a ShareAlike license with different clauses?

All that to say, in my opinion, the NonCommercial and ShareAlike clauses seem to create more sticky questions than they answer. In general for photos, I think the most sensible options are attribution, attribution-noderiv, and my personal fav: public domain.

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