Friday, January 23, 2009

Question from a reader: Which pictures on Flickr can I use?

Hooray, our first interactivity for my new blog. Reader and Seattle P-I managing editor Rita Hibbard asked me offline today to answer this question:

Which pictures from Flickr can I republish on my blog?

Excellent question.

First, a little background: Contrary to many bloggers' beliefs, you can't just take content that you find out on the Internet and post it on your blog. All the content in the universe has some kind of ownership rights attached to it, and before you republish anything, it's your duty to check first to see if the owner of that content has granted permission.

If you don't see any indication on the site that the owner is granting permission, you need to contact the owner of the content to ask permission. Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great Q&A to help bloggers learn the nuances of copyright.

Be careful on this point: One blogger I know once contacted the PUBLISHER of the content (another blogger) and asked for permission to use a photo on his site. He said Sure! You guessed it -- he had taken it from another site and did not own the content or have the right to grant others permission to use it.

Flickr, an awesome photo-sharing site, makes it easy for you to tell whether the owner of the photo grants you permission to use it.

To start off, go to See that search bar front and center? Type Seattle in the search box and click Search. On the results page, look to the right for Advanced Search. Click Advanced Search.

Scroll down the page and click the checkbox in front of "Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content." Click Search. The results page will give you all the photos people have decided to share, in various ways. Go here to get definitions of the different kinds of sharing. For example, some people want you to credit their work if you publish their photo. Some ban commercial use.

Okay, so, click on the photo you like. This will bring you to a new page with a bigger photo. Scroll down the page, looking in the right column, and you'll see Additional Information. This is where you'll find the specific info about how this photographer has chosen to share his or her work.

A word of warning: Many photogs ban commercial use. In my mind, if you have Google ads on your site, and earn even $2 a month, that's a business. Many people are likely not that picky about it, but since you are making money you might want to write to the photographer and ask him if the usage you have in mind is okay. I generally write to people when I publish their photos anyway to thank them and give them a link, so they can see how the photo is being used.

More later on other places to get photos. Thanks for the question Rita! I have another question lined up from P-I Food Writer and blogger Rebekah Denn for tomorrow, but after that I'm bone dry. Please post your questions in the comments!

Thanks Ben Sonkua, for the use of the awesome photo! Check out Ben's Flickr stream -- he's got a bunch of great photos there.


  1. I'm launching a blog about children's books, an area I've covered for about 20 years at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. How "finished" should the design and format be -- and how many posts should I have -- before I let people know about the blog's existence? How much can I tweak as I go along?

  2. Cecelia, good question. Blogs benefit from having content to show readers what the blog is about and what kind of authority its author has. So I usually ask bloggers to have at least three posts before we launch on the site. But there's no hard rule. If you can, I'd try to get as much content up there as you can right at the start, and then blog frequently to let readers know it's an active blog by someone with good background and a lot to say.

  3. Dear Michelle,

    I've been grabbing photos off government sites, figuring my tax dollars paid for them, they must be fair game.

    Should I stop this?


    Taxpayer in San Diego


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