Can You Make Money from Free Stuff?

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Well, of course you can – free software is the primary demonstration of that. But that doesn't mean it's trivial to turn free into fee. Here's an interesting move that demonstrates that quite nicely.

Getty Images, which describes itself as

a leading provider of digital media worldwide, creating and distributing a range of assets – from royalty-free stock photography and editorial images to footage, music and multimedia – that help communicators around the globe tell their stories.

and Flickr have just announced this new tie-up:

There are billions of photos on Flickr, which is a whole lotta pretty to look at. But, if you’re a budding photographer, how do you get noticed? And, if you’re looking to use an image for your work, blog, ad campaign or more, how do you find just the right one and make sure you have the appropriate rights to use it?

Starting today in the Flickrverse, Flickr members and visitors can work with each other through a new program with Getty Images called “Request to License”. We’ve built this program on the success of our launch of the Flickr Collection on Getty Images just over one year ago.

Now, one of the important things about Flickr is its massive holding of photos licensed under a Creative Commons Licence – over 100 million of them, in fact. So, naturally, I wondered whether those might join the Getty Images scheme too, and how it would work.

There's a FAQ that addresses this:

There is a chance one of your Creative Commons-licensed photos may catch the eye of a perceptive Getty Images editor. You are welcome to upload these into the Flickr collection on Getty Images, but your contract requires that all images you place with Getty Images be licensed exclusively through them. So, if you proceed with your submission, switching your license to All Rights Reserved (on Flickr) will happen automatically. Any image selected to be part of the Flickr Collection on Getty Images that had been in Creative Commons will automatically be designated for Royalty-Free licensing.

If you’re not cool with that, that’s ok. It just means that particular photo will need to stay out of the Flickr collection on Getty Images.

The trouble is, even if you *are* “cool with that”, I'm not sure what is written in the FAQ works. It seems to imply that something currently CC licensed can be turned into something available under a commercial licence. Now, it's certainly possible to add a commercial licence, but I don't think you can remove the CC one (and the people I've asked that know more about this than I do seem to agree).

So this raises the interesting question of whether the new Getty Images scheme will allow people to leave their images on Flickr under a CC licence – in which case anyone can download them freely – or whether they will expect people to remove them (because they must be “licensed exclusively through them”, as the FAQ says). But even if they do, anyone who has previously downloaded that image will still be able to use it freely (you can't take away the rights you've given under the CC licence).

Leaving them on Flickr might not be problematic for those images posted there under a non-commercial CC licence, since the new Getty Images licensing would then apply to commercial uses, while allowing free non-commercial use. But I wonder if that's actually the intent of the new scheme, or whether it might just turn into that because of practical considerations.

It's good to see companies like Getty Images trying to include material that's licensed under Creative Commons licences, but it will be interesting to see how this all works in practice. It does, in any case, emphasise that making money from free stuff, while perfectly possible, requires careful thought about the licensing. But then you knew that anyway.

Update: here's a good explanation of what's going on.

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