Creative commons, photography, and Jim Webb.

When I created an account on photo sharing site Flickr early last year, it was a no-brainer for me to mark my photos as being available for others to reproduce. I’m far from a professional photographer, so very few of my images are likely to be worth paying for, but some might be worth using for free.

Tim Wakefield
Tim Wakefield throws a knuckleball.

That’s accomplished under a Creative Commons license that permits anybody to reproduce my photos, provided that they both attribute the photograph to me and agree that any derivative works that result from that photo (cropping it, using it in a montage, etc.) will likewise be distributed under the same license. Not all of my photos are licensed in this manner, but nearly all of them are.

I think this approach has been successful. I’ve had a few photographs become quite widely-reproduced and widely-photographed. My photo of The Boston Red Sox’ Tim Wakefield has been reproduced on several sports websites and earned me dozens of e-mails from fellow BoSox fans.

Annie Catches a Snowball
Annie catches a snowball.

I took a picture of my dog, Ado Annie, during the big snowstorm that we had this past February. Boing Boing, the world’s most popular blog, went looking for a photo for a blog entry about the blizzard. Because my license was marked as being freely-reproducable, they featured that photo of Annie. Had it not had those licensing terms, there was no danger of them paying me $100 to use it. So I lost nothing and gained some exposure, for what it’s worth.

Creigh Deeds
Sen. Deeds, shortly before announcing his candidacy for attorney general.

My March 2005 photograph of Sen. Creigh Deeds on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall has also been widely reproduced, almost entirely on Virginia political blogs. It’s a group that’s less copyright-savvy, tending towards the belief that “I found it on the web” is a valid excuse for reproducing any copyrighted work, but I haven’t minded particularly because I figure it’s good promotion for Deeds, of whom I’m a fan.

Perhaps most surprising to me has been the popularity of my trio of photos of Jim Webb. I happened to be visiting the General Assembly on March 7, the date that he announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate. I stopped by and snapped a couple of dozen photos. I found three that merited sharing on Flickr — none were particularly good, but I thought they might be useful to somebody. Well, it took so long for Webb’s campaign to get off the ground that, for a period of many weeks, they were the best available photos.

One photo, in particular, became the standard photo of Webb. He’s standing at a podium, a microphone in front of him. He’s standing quite still, listening to a question from a reporter. His lips are pursed, his forehead and posture telegraphing his tenseness. The florescent lighting does him no favors. Behind him is a white wall on which a framed photograph hangs. I bump into this image everywhere. First it was only on Virginia political blogs, but now I routinely stumble across a national political website that bears a tightly cropped version of the photo as their standard headshot.

James Webb
James Webb announces his candidacy.

Many of these well-financed websites don’t hesitate to charge for licensing of their own content. I’ve taken to writing to these sites to ask that they either pull the photo, abide by the terms of the license, or provide me with a licensing fee. Just this morning I was reading a New York Times article about the race when I discovered my photo of Webb gazing off towards the left side of my monitor. The Times is using my photo as their standard Webb headshot. I didn’t hesitate to demand that they comply with my licensing terms.

Some of this is frustrating, but on the whole I’ve quite enjoyed sharing photos via Flickr and Creative Commons. For somebody as unaccomplished in photography as I am, this level of exposure is very satisfying. I expect to spend even more time on photography — and less writing — in the near future. At a thousand words a pop, it’s certainly faster than composing blog entries.

16 thoughts on “Creative commons, photography, and Jim Webb.”

  1. I suspect it was somebody assigned to the task of retrieving headshots of every candidate. I expect that this person grabbed the headshot of Webb without realizing that it wasn’t the campaign’s photo, and so permission would be required. That’s the simplest explanation, anyhow.

  2. Hey Waldo,

    Thanks for this article; it was just the nudge I needed. It took about 2 minutes to use flickr’s organizr to change the all-rights-reserved copyright on all my photos to CC Share-Alike. Now apparently I need to take shots of a) cute dogs in the snow or b) Jim Webb looking serious.

  3. yup! I didn’t want to plug my pics–my new Nikon D50 skills are weak. Soon, though, I’ll be mighty proud of my photostream….

  4. I’ve used a couple of CC Attribute-NonCommercial licensed photos in the Weekly, but I asked permission first. Ended up getting a copy of the weekly to the person in question, plus a photo credit. As someone who has CC Attribute-NonCommercial-ShareAlike content on my web site, and a generally net-aware person, I tend to notice licenses every now and then.

  5. I remember asking to use one of your pictures of Webb (including the one above) ages ago. You were so kind as to allow me their use…..I hope I didn’t owe you anything.

    It is amazing how a good idea (or picture) will spread widely if it is made available.

  6. Of course, you didn’t owe me a thing! That’s the whole beauty of it — I get the satisfaction of knowing that my photograph was useful to somebody, and that’s enough.

  7. Just saw the NY Times website with the story you linked too. They finally pulled your “Webb” photo and replaced with a different one. I think it took them long enough.

  8. Waldo:
    I applaud your sharing and attribution angle to work published on the web. I would be the first to tell you if I found someone submitting your photos to Istock for sale, without your benefiting from your own work.

    In my mind, that is the copyright violation, profiting from the work of others without any compensation. I would be hard pressed to feel sorry for say CoCa Cola if I used their image on my site for satire, or just posting it… I just gave them free advertising. Satire of course has already been settle by the US Supreme Court as laid out pretty well by BVBL posts concerning the use of images used for satire.

    You will notice I modified my comments on the A-Team today.

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