Flickr says it won’t delete Creative Commons photos

Flickr will spare both the Flickr Commons and Creative Commons photos from deletion, the now SmugMug-owned company announced today. However, its new storage limitations on free accounts may impact its use as a home for photos with a Creative Commons license in the future.

When the company unveiled its big revamp last week, one of the immediate concerns among users was what the changes meant for the Creative Commons photos hosted on Flickr.

Under its new management, Flickr decided to stop offering free users a terabyte of storage, and instead will begin charging users who want to host more than 1,000 photos on its site. Users with more than 1,000 photos either had to choose to upgrade to a Pro account to retain those photos on the site or see them deleted.

Ryan Merkley, CEO at Creative Commons, expressed some concern last week over what this meant for the millions of CC images hosted on Flickr.

Would they be gone, too?

Flickr today says the answer is “no.”

It vows not to delete either its own Flickr Commons archive or any photos uploaded with a Creative Commons license before November 1, 2018.

The Flickr Commons is a resource consisting of photos from institutions that want to share their digital collections with the world, such as NASA, the National Parks Service, the UK National Archives and The British Library, for example. These organizations were either already Pro account holders or have now received a free Pro account from Flickr, the company says.

If any of these photos disappear from Flickr, it will be because the organization itself chose to delete them.

Meanwhile, any photos (or videos) licensed before November 1 will also remain, even if the photographer has more than 1,000 under their account. But users who want to continue to upload photos — Creative Commons or otherwise — past the 1,000 mark going forward will have to upgrade to a Pro account.

Flickr is also carving out an exception for nonprofits — aka 501(c)(3) charitable organizations — to offer them free storage, like SmugMug does. It’s already working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Second Harvest, on this front.

“Freely licensed photos are deeply important to us. After SmugMug acquired Flickr, one of the first meetings we had was with Ryan Merkley, the CEO of Creative Commons. We want to keep that partnership alive and strong, and we are actively working on how to grow it for the future,” wrote SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill in a blog post. 

However, the move to limit free storage on any uploads, including CC photos, could impact Flickr’s use as a home to this sort of content in the future.

It’s possible that some photographers will opt for another service like 500px’s $3.99/month tier with unlimited uploads, instead of Flickr’s $5.99/month Pro plan. Or perhaps they’ll publish photos in public albums on Google Photos, under one of its affordable TB plans or on newcomer Unsplash’s website, where they’re licensed under its own free-to-use license type. Or maybe they’ll just host photos on their own sites instead.

Merkley, however, promises to focus on continuing to grow the Commons and finding solutions.

“We’ll be working with Flickr to look for ways to continue growing and archiving the commons,” Merkley said. “When Flickr users apply CC licenses to their works, they are inviting everyone to use their works freely and with very few restrictions. That’s an incredible gift to the world, and that generosity should be acknowledged and preserved into perpetuity for everyone to enjoy,” he said.