The short answer to the question posed in the post title is this:
In sum, the Creative Commons license hasn’t delivered what I hoped and has instead allowed infringers to hide behind dubious claims of non-commercial use.
Here’s the long answer.
When I started serious photo blogging in 2009, I immediately included a Creative Commons license to my images. I did this because, although I fully support intellectual property rights, I think our current copyright protections last too long and are far too limiting to fair use and derivative works. I also was following the lead of Trey Ratcliff, who issued a CC license back then and still does.
When you issue a Creative Commons license, you retain all copyright to your works. What you are doing is issuing a blanket, universal license whose terms you can fine tune. Not all CC licenses are the same. Mine was CC Non-Commercial, with Attribution, Derivative Works allowed, Share and Share Alike. What this meant was:
The use of my images had to be non-commercial. This is a term of art and needlessly contentious. What it should and does mean is that you cannot use my image in as part of a money-generating project. So you cannot sell it, or use it to sell something, or use it to draw eyeballs to a page that has advertising, etc. It also does not matter if your project is non-profit. It does not require that a financial transaction take place. If you are generating income, it is still commercial.
You had to give me credit and preferably a link.
Derivative Works Allowed
It was OK to incorporate my work into something you create, such as a video or composited photo.
Share and Share Alike
Amy derivative work you create has to have a CC license at least as open as mine was.
Very little good and a fair amount of bad. It is theoretically possible that lots of people have created cool, derivative works with my images but I haven’t found hardly any. I’ve had a decent handful of people write and ask me for permission, which I have always granted (and pointed out that it was already granted pursuant to the CC license). I asked every one of them to write back when they are done to link to where it is published online, and if not online, then please share a copy with me. They all said they would and not one ever has. I don’t know if they abandoned the project or did they finish and fail to tell me. Either way it provides no value to me if I cannot even see what they did with my work.
I did find this image
as part of a derivate work here. You have to scroll down at least 75% of the way down the page to see it. It is part of a silly, quirky project which I appreciate somewhat but the real issue is that the guy gives me no credit and does not seem to have a CC license issued himself, so he violated my license and my copyright. He will be getting a DMCA notice, when I get around to it.
My works also were featured in a handful of personal blogs. Here is an example of someone using one of my NYC images to illustrate his personal blog about his daily commute. This was the best part of my CC license, really. There justs seems to be less of this and more commercial violations, unfortunately.
Then you have commercial and frankly dishonest sites like Buzzfeed , Wired and Thrillist who have all used my images in click bait listicles. They gave me credit but they are clearly violating the non-commercial use limitation. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to fight that and win. I recently signed up with a service called Pixsy, which is pretty cool. They help you search out unauthorized usages and then will go after the violators for you, in return for a percentage of what they recover. They won’t even touch going after an image with a CC license if the infringing use gives credit, even if other parts of the license are clearly violated. Their experience is that it simply is not cost-effective. These clickbait sites are clearly in violation of my no commercial use and share-and-share-alike terms. I don’t blame Pixsy, but it’s very frustrating. If I had never granted the CC license Pixsy would at least try.
Buzzfeed is especially egregious and dishonest. On June 9, 2014 I was contacted by Ann-Marie Alcántara to request permission to use this image:
Here is the complete exchange:
I’m a BuzzFeed reporter and was hoping to use this image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/
My response the same day was, “Thank you, but no. Good luck.”
Then Ann-Marie Alcántara, being a dishonorable, thieving hack, went ahead and used my image exactly as I refused to give permission the very next day, which I recently discovered via Pixsy. The clear message of her email that Ann-Marie Alcántara would respect my choice was a lie. I do not know why Ann-Marie Alcántara lied to me. She could have not bothered asking for permission given the total lack of respect she gave my response. Because of the Creative Commons status, all I can do again is issue a DMCA takedown notice.
I still like the idea of a sharing creative community. If you want to use one of my images in a derivative work, write to me using the contact form at this website or at mgarbowski – at – the gmail thing and we can work something out, but I will probably insist on safeguards to keep me apprised of your final work. If you simply want to use one of my images for a purely personal use such as a computer wallpaper or screensaver, go ahead. Even with a formal CC license I’m going to encourage that. For pretty much any other use, contact me and request a quote.
One Last Bit
This is not really related to Creative Commons, but the image of mine that has been shared, used, and misappropriated the most, almost always without credit, is this:
Go ahead and try a Google reverse image search; I get 20 pages of results.
The funny thing is that even apart from the Creative Commons issue is that I would have difficulty licensing this image for cash because it contains an Apple trademark. I think they would be more likely to succeed on an IP claim than I would. I guess it’s just nice to have my work appreciated at some level.
I removed the Creative Common license text from this website and from my Flickr account in May. The last two images I shared before this post were never subject to a CC license.