Contrary to popular belief, Flickr is not a stock photo* website with a cornucopia of beautiful and relevant photographs of people, objects, and infrastructure you need for your professional or academic project.
I have heard several stories, and witnessed on multiple occasions, workers and students appropriating photos they find on Flickr .
Flickr seems to have, on average, more interesting, and higher quality photos than other photo sharing websites, including Picasa, Photobucket, MySpace, and Facebook. But Flickr enables its users to display the rights visitors have to use their photos (if any). These are rights granted to content creators by the federal government the moment such content is created. These rights can then be sub-granted to others through licensing. Flickr users can identify their photos to visitors as having one of the Creative Commons licenses, or reserving all rights (this means visitors shouldn’t even download the photo to their computer).
A couple of months ago I started watermarking my photos on Flickr because I didn’t want someone to use my photo without following the rules of the Creative Commons license. (All of my photos have the Creative Commons-Attribution-Share Alike-Non-commercial license ascribed – this license allows anyone to use your work as long as they don’t make money by using it, they attribute you, the creator, and they share their work in the same fashion.) The photo above shows two uses of my photos where neither myself or my employer (who commissioned the photos) are credited.
This scheme also makes it easy for photographers on Flickr to share their work widely. In April, a professional association emailed me to ask if they could use a photo I posted on my Flickr photostream in an upcoming publication. The photo was clearly listed as having the Creative Commons license I described above. They didn’t need my explicit permission to use the photo. I understand, though, that the license permissions displayed on Flickr may not satisfy corporate or organization policy, and a written agreement is needed. That’s fine – when you require such an agreement, don’t then make it difficult for the original content creator (myself) to agree to it. The organization wanted me to print a document, sign it, and fax it to them. Or I could open the PDF agreement in Adobe Illustrator and attach my digital signature and email it to them.
Visitors to Flickr who are looking for high-quality, desirable photos to use in their own works should respect the licenses listed on every photo’s page. When a Flickr users reserves all rights to the photo, visitors can consider contacting the user for special permission to use the photo. Using someone else’s work without their permission or against their preferences is also rude and unprofessional.
*Stock photos are those taken expressly to be used in other people’s works and the photographers have agreed to either a payment given at once, or by royalties. iStockPhoto and Getty Images are major stock photo warehouses.