A couple of weeks ago, I received a request to remove a photo off of my “website” by a rather large public library. By the head of their marketing and communications department, no less.
Why? Because they decided to change the license on their Flickr account from Creative Commons to All Rights Reserved (which is where I found the photo).
Here’s the [edited] email they sent me:
“We are writing to you from [insert public library name here] to let you know about the current license on our photos available through flickr, and we note that you have a [insert public library name here] photo posted on your websites at http://www.slideshare.net/davidleeking/technology-trends-in-libraries-the-emerging-generation and http://www.slidesearch.org/slide/technology-trends-in-libraries-the-emerging-generation.
This will inform you that [insert public library name here] now has a license of ‘All Rights Reserved’ on all its flickr content, including the image you have posted on your site. All previous licenses, including of Creative Commons, are unequivocally revoked, and you are requested to remove the photo from your site within seven days.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we’ll follow up in several days if you have questions about this request. Please email legal@[insert public library name here] to confirm that you have removed the photo from your site.”
Guess what? You can’t do that with a Creative Commons license. According to the Creative Commons website, CC licenses cannot be revoked. Creative Commons says this: “Once you apply a CC license to your material, anyone who receives it may rely on that license for as long as the material is protected by copyright and similar rights, even if you later stop distributing it” (found here).
Here’s what I emailed back to the library:
“As a reminder, once you use a creative Commons license, that license cannot be revoked – https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Considerations_for_licensors_and_licensees#Considerations_for_licensors
I won’t use the photo anymore, since it appears you have taken it offline (the link no longer works). But per Creative Commons licensing rules, my use of that particular photo was, is, and will be fine and legal, since it at one time had a Creative Commons license.”
So long story short, I won’t use that particular photo anymore. But I’m also not going to sift through a couple of slidedecks that I posted at slideshare.net (i.e., not my website) and remove one particular photo from them. Because the library can’t change the CC license, once given.
And so – a gentle reminder to you about Creative Commons licenses. Creative Commons licenses are great. They allow for easier sharing and remixing, and seem like something libraries should do. We are, after all, all about sharing, distributing, and remixing content of all shapes and sizes.
But think long and hard about applying a Creative Commons license to your content. Because as staff, departments, and priorities change, someone might want to change those CC licenses too. And you (the people who create and control the content) need to know what’s allowed and what’s not, what’s legal and what’s not, etc.
And a small side note on that legal thing – I’m a librarian, not a lawyer. Do Creative Commons rules hold up in court? Beats me. Hopefully I don’t have to find out!
CC logo from Creative Commons