Flickr’s Creative Commons Wall Art Creates a Stir Among Photographers Over Intellectual Property

intellectual property casesProtecting intellectual property on the internet can be tricky for some. For others, it can hit them where it counts — in the wallet.

Photo sharing website Flickr came under fire recently when it began offering some of the Creative Commons-licensed works on its site for sale as wall art, in addition to a curated collection of favorite photos. While the photographers whose works are being sold had already approved their works for commercial use for free, not all of them were happy about the idea of someone else selling their work. And although Flickr owner Yahoo shares 51% of the revenues from the sales of hand-picked photos with their respective photographers, the company will keep all of the revenues from sales of Creative Commons works.

Thanks to the internet, more artists than ever are able to share their creations, gain exposure, and sometimes even make some money off of their works. But because anyone can access those works when they are displayed online, it can make intellectual property protection difficult and intellectual property theft even easier. Of all traffic on the internet, at least 25% of it is used to consume infringed content, whether that’s from downloading a blockbuster movie or purchasing a t-shirt with a stolen design on it.

Part of this could stem from confusion over copyright, at least for those who infringe upon a work without meaning to. Copyright protects all written and artistic works, so everything from songs to novels belongs to the creator. Myths abound when it comes to copyright protection. There’s the “poor man’s copyright,” where creators mail their works to themselves for protection, and those phony Facebook status updates that uselessly assert copyright when it’s already there are going around again. Creators who use Creative Commons licenses can distinguish whether or not they want their works to receive attribution from others and whether their work can be used commercially or not.

Many intellectual property cases involving art stem from its illegal use. In other words, someone didn’t get proper permission from an artist to reproduce, redistribute, or display his or her works. While larger enterprises have the ability to fight infringement, small businesses and individual creators often don’t have the financial resources to pursue enforcement through intellectual property cases or adequately protect themselves by hiring an intellectual property rights lawyer.

As for the photographers of Flickr, who won’t see money for their works unless they were chosen specifically, it turns out that it’s perfectly legal for those works to be sold. Therefore, despite the objections of some of the photographers, who were profiled in the Wall Street Journal, Flickr has done nothing wrong by offering the works for sale — that’s what the Creative Commons licenses are for, so long as the photographers get credit. Those who have questions about whether to allow commercial use of their creations may want to speak with an attorney first, especially if they don’t want to be fighting any intellectual property cases over infringement in the future.