Son of DCist Creative Commons Brouhaha: RFC
5 March, 2006
I've been familiar with open-source/GPL/copyleft issues for a decade or so now, mostly because my crowd in college and the years after after was extremely Linuxy and I found the legal/intellectual property questions fascinating. A few weeks ago a buddy from that crowd pointed out that my choice of Creative Commons license options on my Flickr photos was not optimal. I chose a no-derivative-works no-commercial-use option, with my goal being to have someone inform me (via asking permission) when a pic of mine was being used. Buddy pitched for the ShareAlike option with the logic that NonCommercial-NoDerivs diluted the meaning of the CC license.
As I was pondering making this change (I'm very deliberate…or, procrastinatey), a minor fuss erupted over CC license interpretation at DCist. As best as I can tell, it started when DC-area blogger and Flickrite John noticed DCist use a non-commercial-licensed photo, and made a case for DCist being a commercial site and the use therefore violating the license. While not fully accepting that interpretation, DCist agreed to no longer use NonCommercial-tagged stuff except if the photo had a "dcist" tag (which was taken by all as permission granted a priori for any DCist use). OK. Fin, thought everyone.
Note three things:
— The pic is under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license.
— The pic has no "dcist" tag (I liked the composition enough to post it, but didn't think it worthy — at the time I was using the tag very sparingly and I thought the underexposed building weakened the image).
— Martin cropped the shot from rectangular to near-square, which has artistic impact (the crop makes the image less about the "don't block the box" sign and more about the "U street" sign, for editorial reasons). Also I can't quite tell but the pic may have been lightened (this was taken before I did any postprocessing beyond cropping or I might have done the same, on the building).
The image on DCist:
Seems clear to me that DCist's use is in violation of its license and of their own photo policy. Permission was not obtained by asking me or by my use of the "dcist" tag. So by their own policy they were not permitted to use it since it has a Non-Commercial clause, and while their policy doesn't address the No-Derivs clause, by the same logic that term is violated too.
Was my previous acceptance of their use of my stuff taken as implicit permission? I have to say that in practice, in this case, I don't much mind the use or even the crop. I want the exposure (hah), would have granted permission if asked, and would likely have tagged the photo DCist had I been using tags then as I do now. But that's not the point, is it? Their use altered the artistic intent of the image–both their crop and their mode of reproduction. They appear to use a locally stored low-res copy instead of a link back to flickr, which makes things look crappy (possibly affecting the photographer's reputation) and also removes the accountability/link trail that'd be uncoverable by services like technorati.
I love DCist. I think it's one of the better -ists and I get a lot of value out of my visits/subscription to it. They have played a large role in my development as a photographer–their use of tagged flickr shots taken by Just Folks Around Town was an incentive to get me back behind the camera again and I owe them no small debt for that motivation. And they throw good events and I personally like the DCist-affiliated individuals I've met that way. 🙂 I am perfectly aware of the volunteer nature of the work they do and that IP issues are not at the forefront of editors' minds as they seek to illustrate posts about life in the District. So I have a strong desire to drop this. But that seems like the wrong thing to do on many levels. So this is a request for your comments. What do you think?
Maybe this will look clearer in the morning. It's been a very long day, longer than any weekend day has a right to be…..