Flickr’s new business model could see works deleted from Creative Commons

Following yesterday’s series of announcements about Flickr’s plans to revamp its site under its new owners, SmugMug, one major concern has been raised: its decision to now limit free accounts to 1,000 photos may impact the number of photos available through Creative Commons.

Creative Commons is a U.S. nonprofit that helps make creative works — like photos — available for legal use through several different types of copyright licenses that respect how creators want to share their work. For example, many creators make their photos freely available under the condition that their name and a link to their profile or to the original work is also cited.

Flickr has been a longtime partner with Creative Commons, and today makes millions of photos available through its site under the various license types.

But with Flickr’s plans to reduce storage, some are concerned what this means for this valuable resource of legally free-to-use photos.

“Many users are concerned such a limit on free account capacity might cause millions of CC images to be deleted from the Commons,” writes Ryan Merkley, CEO at Creative Commons, in a blog 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,” he says.

He says the nonprofit is already working with Flickr and parent company SmugMug to find a way to “protect and preserve” the Commons and help it grow in the future.

“We want to ensure that when users share their works that they are available online in perpetuity and that they have a great experience,” says Merkley.

Like SmugMug’s new owners, he also believes that Flickr’s business model prior to its acquisition was broken. Giving away massive amounts of free storage (and the accompanying bandwidth) at Flickr’s scale — billions of photos — was incredibly expensive. He understands that, for Flickr to continue, it has to explore other options.

That’s exactly what Flickr is doing with its revamped account plans. Users now can store 1,000 photos (or videos) for free, but unlimited storage is $50 per year.

It’s unclear how this change will impact Creative Commons. Merkley says the organization will be the first to step in if works from Creative Commons are being deleted, though.

He also says he met with Flickr’s new owners earlier this year, and believes things will work out.

However, the organization says it’s looking for ideas on how it can help Flickr to continue to support Creative Commons, and hopes to have answers on that front soon.

SmugMug hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment, but we’ll update if they do.