Flickr kills sale of Creative Commons prints, issues refunds

Flickr has abruptly ended a service that allowed people to buy canvas or wood prints based on pictures that appeared in its Creative Commons gallery, the photo sharing site announced on Thursday.

The decision comes just weeks after [company]Yahoo[/company], which owns Flickr, first launched its so-called Wall Art service as a way for customers to purchase physical copies of its millions of images that can be used for free online.

The service immediately ran into controversy after some photographers complained that Yahoo was earning up to $49 for each print, but was not sharing any of the money with those who had posted the photos in the first place.

Even though the Flickr Wall Art service only offered images for which the owner had granted a Creative Commons license for commercial use, some complained that they believed the terms of the license only extended to online use — and not to physical prints as well. Some withdrew their works from Flickr altogether.

Other photographers, however, had no objection to what Yahoo was doing since, under the terms of the relevant Flickr license, they had marked the images as available for commercial use. (Under the the flexible Creative Commons licensing system, an artist can grant certain rights to the public but withhold others).

Flickr explained the situation this way in a blog post: “[while] some expressed their excitement about the new photography marketplace and the value it would bring, many felt that including Creative Commons-licensed work in this service wasn’t within the spirit of the Commons and our sharing community.”

The company also said it is sorry that “we let some of you down,” and that it would issue refunds to those who have placed orders for a Creative Commons print.

The good news is that Yahoo doesn’t appear to be giving up on the project altogether, but says it will “come back with programs that align better with our community values” — presumably, this might include a licensing system in which Flickr users can explicitly agree to let physical copies be sold.

In the meantime, the company added, people can continue to use Flickr Marketplace, which lets users buy prints of their own images, or from certain licensed artists.

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