License to share alike

I publish my photos on the net mostly under the Creative Commons (CC) license BY-NC-SA which means that I let you remix, tweak, and build upon my work non-commercially (NC), as long as you credit me (BY) and license your new creations under the identical terms (SA, ie. Share Alike). And because my photos are there for the taking I try to keep an eye on where my creative work travels, mostly because I’m quite intrigued by what interests people.

Some time ago I noticed that my Flickr account got a noticeable amount of traffic from Aol Travel, both from the front page and an article. I naturally decided to look into this.

It turns out that Aol Travel has an article about worlds grossest foods and they used my image of a century egg as the main image. The image isn’t there anymore, and I’ll tell you why.

You see, I was of course a bit annoyed that this Big Giant Corporation was using my image commercially, but that wasn’t really the issue for me (and they, quite correctly, had a proper attribution). I was actually more interested in if the people there really understood what the BY-NC-SA license of my image meant for them and their work.

So I tried to contact the author via twitter a couple of times, to no avail. Nor were the few attempts to contact Aol Travel via twitter any good either. It seems that this is a company that utilizes social media in an archaic way as a one way broadcasting platform.

Only after I contacted Aol Travel via their official feedback form on the site, did I get noticed. To my query concerning if Aol Travel understood the meaning of the license (including a statement that I’m not angry and that there’s no need to remove my image) the answer from the author, and assistant editor, was short: “Thank you for contacting us. As a courtesy, we have replaced your photo in this post.”

Ok. I can only guess what happened in their end but I presume I’m not the first one contacting Aol Travel concerning the usage of photos. And they acted as the Big Giant Corporation they are by sending a standard issue answer and removing my image. Less trouble (and sweat) for them and no need to act human.

I replied to Aol’s answer by explaining to them, that all CC images aren’t there just for the taking, since some come with restrictions, some with obligations and some with both. I also told them that removing my image doesn’t change the fact that they still are left both NC and SA licensed images in their article, and some images that need to licensed for use via Getty Images. I still haven’t heard from Aol, but then again I really didn’t expect that to happen either. And they haven’t returned my image back to the article, even though I in my mail granted them the right to use my photo in their article.

Now, about a month later, it seems, all SA images are gone and only NC and Getty licensed images are left.

I wonder what Aol Travel would have done if I’d never contacted them but actually just acted upon the Share Alike part of my (or, for that matter, anybody else’s) CC licensed image used and assumed that Aol’s article (regardless to their copyright notice) was free for me to remix, tweak, and build upon as long as I attribute them and share my derivative work alike?

What I love about the Creative Commons licensing is the fact that it isn’t just a tool for prohibiting (and hitting others in the head), but comes with obligations for the one that uses the images. If you take of mine, you have to give too – sounds like common sense. That’s probably very difficult for corporations to understand and that’s why I wanted know if the people of Aol Travel understood what it’s all about. Perhaps somebody there now understands. And understands too, that asking, when in doubt, especially when you’re a commercial player, never hurts. Some might say no, some yes, but in the long run it will pay to be polite.

(BTW, speaking of tweaking Aol’s article: Chinese urine-soaked eggs are probably more disgusting (even just as a thought) than any of the foods they have listed in their article and freshly ground and brewed Kopi Luwak is really great.)

Century Egg
Century Egg