Why Flickr’s Model Shift Could Shake Up the Commons

The photo service Flickr, once owned by Yahoo, is moving to a subscription model and limiting free accounts. While the shift could lead to the deletion of millions of photos, the organization Creative Commons is working with the company on a solution that could keep many of them available online.

One of the most popular platforms for sharing photos is changing its business model—and that could lead to a lot of photos disappearing from the internet.

But Flickr, a company that was once a key part of Yahoo’s infrastructure, said the changes—pushing its users to pay $49.99 a year for a pro plan and deleting photos of free users who took advantage of the company’s previously generous capacity—were necessary to keep the platform alive. The service was purchased by competing photo service SmugMug earlier this year from Oath, the Verizon-owned conglomerate that combined the former assets of AOL and Yahoo into one company.

The company’s former approach of giving users as much as a terabyte of free photo space helped make it a repository for images licensed under Creative Commons, a permissive agreement that allows creatives to maintain ownership of their work but permits the content to be used freely online. The license, while not limited to photos, perhaps found its best home on Flickr—where more than 400 million have a CC license of some kind.

The new model, as well as the company’s pledge that photos on free accounts would be deleted, could be a complicating factor for loosely licensed photos on the service, but the nonprofit organization that manages the Creative Commons licensing structure remains optimistic even with the changes.

In a blog post last week, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley emphasized that he had built a relationship with the owners of SmugMug and that he trusted that they would come to a solution that would benefit everyone.

“Many users are concerned such a limit on free account capacity might cause millions of CC images to be deleted from the Commons,” he wrote in the post. “A lot of people have reached out to us directly and asked what we can do. I’m confident that together we can find solutions, if we assume goodwill and bring our collective creativity to the problem.”

Merkley agreed that the model change was realistic based on Flickr’s needs, as other observers have noted, and he called the company’s old model and similar ones “fundamentally broken.”

There is a three-month grace period before Flickr does anything with the photos, and any outcome is likely to be less drastic and sudden than the one at a competing service earlier this year. A photography community named 500px, having switched its ownership to a Chinese company, announced that it would no longer allow Creative Commons photos. More than 1 million images were deleted from the service.

(Alexandrum79/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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