Can Creative Commons Licenses Be Good for Image Sellers?

Posted on 12/8/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Most professional photographers are adamantly opposed to Creative Commons licenses, which are used to allow free uses of images. However, widespread use of Creative Commons licenses may actually help establish in the minds of users the very important copyright law principle that “All Rights [are] Reserved” by the creator or copyright holder of any work, and that it is left to the creator to specify who has what rights to make what uses of the work and at what cost.

There is widespread misunderstanding as to what rights people have to use anything found on the Internet. Creative Commons defines six levels that grant limited free uses to content found on the Web. All but one of the six Creative Commons licenses involve some type of restriction, and even the last requires credit be given.

How does this help image sellers?

Because the Creative Commons concept is perceived as being “free,” it is vastly accepted and promoted by the Internet community. This also promotes the notion of reserving rights, as well as that anyone who wishes to use an image they did not create must obtain some type of license for its use. The fact that there are six different variations of a Creative Commons license also establishes that the allowed free use is based entirely on the nature of the use—some uses are allowed, while others are not.

Those who charge fees for uses of their images are a very small segment of the Internet community. As such, this group has always had a difficult time getting their message of “compensation for use” accepted by the community at large. With Creative Commons, a much larger and more diverse community is saying: “Yes, you can use my images for free, for certain specified uses, but there are limits, and I must be compensated at least by credit.” This makes it much more difficult for the right-click-and-save people to argue that they did not know about rights. As more creators recognize that it is wise to put some limits on how their images can be used without their knowledge, users will become aware of what is expected whenever they want to use an image.

Hopefully, when customers think about using images, they will recognize that some type of license is required, and that there is a whole range of available options. As of today, licensing options include:

  • Creative Commons – where the allowable rights are specified in a single paragraph of six license types, and the customer is required to do nothing as long as the use is within the specified parameters.
  • Microstock – a lower-priced offshoot of traditional royalty-free, where fees are based on file size and virtually unlimited use is allowed, but the rights granted vary slightly from one distributor to the next.
  • Subscription – where the customer is allowed to download a specified number of images from a site, over a specified period of time, for a fixed fee.
  • Traditional Royalty-Free – where fees, which vary among different distributors, are based on file size delivered and, once the fee is paid, virtually unlimited use is allowed. Microstock licenses are usually slightly more restrictive.
  • Rights-Managed – where fees re based on the specific uses made of images. Discounts are usually available for customers that make volume purchases.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Leslie Hughes Posted Dec 16, 2009
    Jim - Great that you point out that Creative Commons promotes the idea that content rights are reserved by the copyright holder/creator. This idea is valuable. Credit given is valuable. Promoting the idea of rights is enormously valuable. Where I have a hard time with Creative Commons is that they position themselves as granting "free rights" to promote increased sharing. That is it. If they would stay neutral on what is the right "price" and go beyond the notion of free to allow the owner to promote content to whatever they deem appropriate, I would support their efforts more. It is limited to free which means it has limited applicability. But like the point you are making.

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