5 Expensive Problems with Using Creative Commons for Small Business

From Small Business Trends:

Using a Work with a Creative Commons License Published by Someone Else

Now, let’s imagine that you maintain a blog for your small business. You need to include images with your blog posts because all of the blogging experts and research studies show that blog posts with images perform better than blog posts without images.

You don’t have a budget for images, so you search on Flickr and choose images that have Creative Commons Attribution licenses applied to them that allow commercial use (because your small business blog is a commercial property). You follow the instructions on the Creative Commons website to appropriately attribute the image to its owner and identify the Creative Commons license. You assume you’ve done everything right and that you’ve followed all of the necessary rules so you won’t be accused of copyright infringement in the future.

Sounds good right? Not always.

What happens when you receive the Getty Images Demand Letter like so many other bloggers and small businesses have in the past several years? What happens when the real owner of the work (who is not the person who uploaded it to Flickr and applied a Creative Commons license to it) contacts you and demands compensation?

Again, there are problems that are very likely to arise in the future.

. . . .

Creative Commons Won’t Help You if You Have Problems

The Creative Commons organization absolves itself of any problems you might encounter with one of its licenses in the future within its terms saying, “Creative Commons gives no warranties regarding its licenses … disclaims all liability for damages resulting from their use to the fullest extent possible … is not a party to its public licenses.” If something goes wrong, you’re on your own.

The Creative Commons License on Someone Else’s Work Might Not Be Valid

A big problem with Creative Commons licenses is the fact that anyone can apply them to any work. For example, many of the Creative Commons licensed images on Flickr, Google, and sites that aggregate images weren’t uploaded by the owners of the images. The Creative Commons licenses applied by the people who uploaded the images (but don’t own them) are completely invalid! If you use one of these improperly licensed images, you very well might get caught and find yourself on the losing end of an expensive copyright infringement lawsuit.

Link to the rest at Small Business Trends

PG will add that organizations that own and licenses large numbers of copyrights on images of all sorts can use the same image search techniques you use with Google Images, likely on an automated basis, to sort through the zillions of web sites online, including your author’s website and the product listings of online bookstores to find images that have some degree of similarity to an image for which the organization owns the license (usually assigned by the creator or the owner if the image is a work made for hire).

Images that are no longer protected by copyright are safe to use, but you’ll want to make certain that the image of Big Ben you choose from the many, many other photos is, in fact, the one shot by the photographer whose copyright is expired or the painter of similar vintage.

3 thoughts on “5 Expensive Problems with Using Creative Commons for Small Business”

  1. Part of the problem with the CCL is its name, which is close to deceptive marketing.

    The CCL is not a license. It is a covenant not to sue. The latter is a more-technical mouthful, which strongly implies that “I need to ask a lawyer if this will actually meet my needs” — but that’s not what the early-century ‘netizens wanted to communicate.

    There are lots of reasons that this matters. Two are particularly obvious and applicable. First, a license is enforceable both ways, but the CCL by its own terms (any version) is not. Second, a license cannot be unilaterally withdrawn without notice or compensation — withdrawal requires either cause or expiration. (Just calling it a “license” if its terms provide for at-whim withdrawal will get laughed out of court.)

    This was an example of the ‘netizens trying to make the law conform to their desires without going through the process of, ya know, actually changing the underlying law — if only because there was, and would have been, substantial opposition to the desired/proposed changes.† So, in the grand tradition of Luigi Pirandello as embodied in the ‘net, “It Is a License If You Say It’s a License” appears to have been their strategy.

    † That the ‘netizens had some legitimate grievances with the methods and conflicts of interest of those opposed to their vision of free-for-all-on-the-‘net is beside the point. If you go into (legal) Thunderdome, there may be no other rules, but two disputants enter — one disputant leaves.

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  2. For general blog-illustration purposes (which inevitably fail for very particular wants), one workaround is the typically Xmas-time annual sales or new subscriber offers of small $ for 100 photos from some stockphoto sites [e.g., DepositPhoto].

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