Back in time, deep in the 2000s internet, you would have found my Flickr photographs consistently licensed with a Creative Commons license. I'm not sure what I would have said at the time about the license - but looking back I think it was mainly a signal, a way to be part of a community creating content online and looking with suspicion on older models of intellectual property.
Every now and then someone would use - or contact me about using a photo. But with only an occasional request, and no intention to make photography my job, licensing choices faded into the background - my licensing brain cells moved on to software licenses I guess...
Recently I have been thinking about photo licensing again:
- Should CC-Licensed Content be Used to Train AI? It Depends. - Creative Commons
- Common Crawl
- Openly Licensed Images, Audio and More | Openverse
- Exploring 12 Million of the 2.3 Billion Images Used to Train Stable Diffusion's Image Generator - Waxy.org
In the screenshot above you can see some of my photographs on Openverse - "a tool that allows openly licensed and public domain works to be discovered and used by everyone." I applaud the idea behind Openverse - educational material, historic places, important events... photographs of all sorts that can be searched and used liberally (especially in free projects) - hugely important. (Perhaps see and consider Wikimedia Commons for a variation of this idea with a hard to ignore impact).
Openverse searches across more than 300 million images from open APIs and the Common Crawl dataset. It goes beyond simple search to aggregate results across multiple public repositories into a single catalog, and facilitates reuse through features like machine-generated tags and one-click attribution.
It seems that a very important part of CC licenses has become signaling to machines that they can use content without any meaningful query to, conversation with or participation by its creator.
Openverse presents quite a lot of information of about a photograph - but no nuance. No creator profiles, no effective search for a specific creator, no stories, no context on what it would be appropriate for, nothing about why, wishes, hopes or dreams - no context... I don't doubt that this targets the needs of the average Openverse customer who wants to quickly get an image of ________ - but dehumanized mega-search isn't where my small records of place and time belong. My concerns about the usage of my photographs go well beyond what I can express with a CC license. The Creative Commons alludes to this general idea in their 2021-2025 Strategy Document:
Today, changed technological, social, cultural, political, legal and economic environments raise new challenges for the open movement. In order to protect what we have achieved so far and to create the world we want to see, we must expand our focus beyond copyright licensing, because content sharing cannot be decoupled from economic or ethical concerns. Indeed, the benefits of open sharing can be undermined by exploitative practices that threaten the financial sustainability of open endeavors, leading to economic hardship. Further, open sharing practices can also be marred by ethical concerns, such as the problematic use of open content to train potentially harmful artificial intelligence (Al) technologies or the use of open content in violation of non-copyright norms.
These days if you visit my photographs on Flickr you will see them listed as 'all rights reserved'. A relic from the old world I guess, but I don't think there is a license, metadata field or legal framework that would adequately define how I feel about these photographs or what I believe it would be appropriate to use them for. 'All rights reserved' seems to be the best stand in for 'let's talk like humans about it'... If you are interested in having a conversation about using my photographs contact me, regardless of my answer I bet you have an interesting story that I'd love to hear...