From Copyright and Technology:
Suppose you’re a musician. You put your songs up on SoundCloud to get exposure for them. Then you find out that SoundCloud has started a program for selling your music as high-quality CDs and giving you none of the proceeds. Or suppose you’re a writer who put your serialized novel up on WattPad; then you find out that WattPad has started selling it in a coffee-table-worthy hardcover edition and not sharing revenue with you. You’d be pretty upset, right?
Those are rough equivalents of what Flickr, the Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site, has been doing with its Flickr Wall Art program. Flickr Wall Art started out, back in October, as a way for users to order professional-quality hangable prints of their own photos, in the same way that a site like Zazzle lets users make t-shirts or coffee mugs with their images on them (or Lulu publishes printed books).
More recently, Flickr expanded the Wall Art program to let users order framed prints of any of tens of millions of images that users uploaded to the site. This has raised the ire of some of the professional photographers who post their images on Flickr for the same reason that musicians post music on SoundCloud and similar sites: to expose their art to the public.
The core issue here is the license terms under which users upload their images to Flickr. Like SoundCloud, Flickr offers users the option of choosing a Creative Commons license when they upload their work. Many Flickr users do this in order to encourage other users to share their images and thereby increase their exposure — so that, perhaps, some magazine editor or advertising art director will see their work and pay them for it.
The fact that a hosting website might exploit a Creative Commons-licensed work for its own commercial gain doesn’t sit right with many content creators, who have operated under two assumptions that, as Flickr has shown, are naive. One is that these big Internet sites just want to get users to contribute content in order to build their audience and that they will make money some other way, such as through premium memberships or advertising. The other is that Creative Commons licenses are some sort of magic bullet that help artists get exposure for their work while preventing unfair commercial exploitation of it.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: as others have pointed out, what Flickr is doing is perfectly legal. It takes advantage of the fact that many users upload photos to the site under Creative Commons licenses that allow others to exploit them commercially — which three out of the six Creative Commons license options do. It seems that many photographers choose one of those licenses when they upload their work and don’t think too much about the consequences.
. . . .
Flickr is — still, after ten years of existence — a major outlet for photos online. As such, Flickr has the means to control, to some extent, what happens to the images posted on its service; and with Flickr Marketplace, it is effectively wresting some control of commercial licensing opportunities away from photographers. Some degree of control over content distribution and use does exist on the Internet, even if copyright law itself doesn’t contribute directly to that control.
. . . .
The problem here is the lack of both flexibility and infrastructure for commercial licensing in the Creative Commons ecosystem. Creative Commons is a clever and highly successful way of bringing some degree of badly-needed rationalization and automation to the abstruse world of content licensing. But it gives creators hardly any options for commercial exploitation of their works.
Link to the rest at Copyright and Technology