What Creative Commons Licensing Really Means for Your Photographs

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About a year ago I decided to really put my work out there and start selling my work on a stock website. I will not mention the name as I do like them but they did make a major mistake. Let’s back up before we get into it. I have always been a bit conservative about sharing my work. I have had people copy and steal my ideas since I was in grade school. (Sara S., yes you started it all.) So obviously I was a bit reserved to put my work all over the internet and on a stock site. I did it, I had decent results within the first year. I was excited to share my old work and also shoot new things I wouldn’t normally shoot. My creative juices were flowing again.

Then one evening while laying in bed, for some reason I googled myself. I rarely do this. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have. The next thing that appeared on the screen made my jaw drop. I saw “Alexis Arnold Free Stock Images”. What? What? What? Why would that be on the internet? Wait, why are there at least three links that say that? Now I’m starting to freak out because I am only on two stock sites and I did not agree to give away free images on any of them.

After looking at the links I see images that are mine and that have been downloaded over 900 times. The other sites have the same images. These sites only offer free images, that’s what they are in the business of. After calming down I moved onto the emotion of pissed off. I’m so mad that someone would take my images without my permission and then just give them away. As a photographer the feeling is similar to someone breaking into your car and stealing your favorite sunglasses or worse, your cell phone! My hard work, my visions, my time, my editing, my photography was being handed out across the internet like free popcorn at Les Schwab (oregon folks will get that referral).

Well after a couple days I tracked down where the images where being given away or free to download. They were coming from a sub website from the stock agency I was a part of. Now my first thought is that they had that listed somewhere on their policy and I just missed it. I printed it, read through it, nothing. Read it again, still nothing. No where in their policy did they mention the other site where they offered free downloads on a weekly basis. I know you are wondering how this all got resolved! The suspense! I did contact a lawyer and the first thing he would have done for over $500 is send a cease and desist letter. As an artist that wasn’t in the current budget so I contacted them myself. Once I got in touch with someone who was higher up it was resolved very quickly. They tried to cover up their mistake by telling me they sent out emails to all the photographers asking if they wanted to submit images for the free site. Looking in my past messages I oddly never got that email and second if I did I would have had to send over the images I wanted to have shared. Make sense? They took the images down right away. I had to contact all the other sites who had them and also let them know they didn’t have permission to use my images. They also took them down immediately.

Now, this is really, really important for you to understand as an artist. The reason all these free stock sites said they could use my images was because the images were given away under the “Creative Commons License.” Burn those words into your brain. My first thought was what the bleep is that? Then I did research and a lot of reading.

The Creative Commons licenses allow for free usage of your photos, within each license type’s terms. 

There six wonderful version of it as well. Six different ways for people to copy, edit, print and just give away your work. This is not ok people. You should be mad. You should be alert about reading the “fine print” before you start sharing your work. It’s not safe out there, on the internet, for artists right now. Just to give you an idea of how they want to screw you over, read below.

Creative Commons Attribution: This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.

Are you ok with that? If you are, please stop reading here and just don’t visit me again. I’m not ok with it, at all. I’m disgusted that this is even an option. Without photography, video, models, make up artists, designers etc all these big name brands would be nothing. Without us making and creating and sharing, they would be nothing. But who is suppose to suffer? The artist, the creative, the little guy. No more folks, I want you to stand up for copyright’s and to not be afraid to tell someone to stop using your work for free! Please share this article if you care about artists. We need to band together to let the world know that yes, we do deserve to get paid for our work. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for supporting artists of any kind!

To read more about the bull crap licensing head over to this link. Note, they word it real good so it sounds like they are helping you out. We also like this link at 500px that we recently found that breaks it down so it’s easy to understand. They aren’t – never give away all the rights to your images, never!

Please share this on your twitter, blog, facebook; anywhere you think it will reach another artist. If we reach just one other photographer who didn’t know their work was being “given” away we have made a difference. Let’s make a difference, together.  Cheers – Alexis. Green Bay, WI and Door County wedding and portrait photographer.