My failed experiment with Creative Commons

Himeji Castle in Himeji Japan
The west keep and the main keep of Himeji Castle

Years ago when I started photography I was amazed at all the free learning resources other photographers were giving out online. Later, when I started uploading my images online, I thought that it would be great to give something back to the Internet community that had helped me so much in the beginning. I thought that I could contribute by publishing some of my images under a Creative Commons license that would allow other creatives to use the images on their projects. I chose to use the Attribution-NonCommercial license so that the images would be available for anyone wishing to use them on their blogs, school projects, etc. I also saw that many photographers had had good experiences with the CC license.

Now, about 10 years later, it seems that my experiment with Creative Commons was a failure. Over the years I have seen my images being used in scientific articles, illustrations for horror stories, and many other uses. It has been rewarding to see them used the way I intended and to see them in contexts I couldn’t ever have imagined. However, that kind of usage accounts for about 5 per cent of the total. The second group of users are bloggers, who seem to think that Creative Commons means “free”, and use the images without giving me credit. Sometimes I’ve sent them a message asking for my name to be included, but most of the time I haven’t bothered. And then there is the majority of image use I see: companies using my images without permission to advertise their products or services. As I said, the CC license I chose restricted the use to non-commercial use. Some companies seem to think that it’s OK to use the images nonetheless, as long as they credit the photographer. The majority of them, on the other hand, just take the images and use them. I’m sure some of these organisations genuinely think that they’ve using the images within the terms of the license, but most of them just don’t seem to care.

And therein lies the problem. I have found the hard way that by using the CC license, I have essentially given away my rights to demand compensation for my work. Especially when a company has added my name under the image it seems to prove that they have used the image in good faith, and it’s very hard to get a proper compensation after that. Even when companies haven’t given me credit, it still seems hard to justify why they should pay for the images when it has been available for free for non-commercial use.

So, after all these years, I am tired of arguing about copyright and I’m tired of feeling powerless in front of all the companies exploiting my work. Therefore, I’ve decided to remove the CC licensing from all my photos that I’d published under it, and from now on will only publish images under full copyright.

It feels like a failure, and it feels like I’m giving up, but trying to educate people about copyright and spending time fighting for my rights just takes too much time. At least from now on, it’s a clear-cut situation: either ask for a permission to use the image, or you don’t use it. I’ll just have to find another way of giving back to the community.