Flickr Sharing vs All Rights Reserved

Rights management is complicated. Photo sharing sites are by necessity complicated. has made it as easy as possible to share and manage rights. But, people still mess up, authors and consumers. Especially in an age where people are moving fast and using technology to speed things up.

Nal's Flickr Channel August 2016

Nal’s Flickr Channel August 2016

A point in debate is whether an image placed on Flickr and marked All Rights Reserved can be shared. That is a different question from WHETHER it should be shared. 

The Flickr Terms of Service (ToS) provide some rights to share ANY THING uploaded to Flickr no matter what the marked copyright status is. Surprised? Many are.

Winding ones way through the ToS at Flickr is no simple matter. Here are the various ToS’s that apply to what we do when using

You find the gotcha in section 9 paragraph ‘a’ of the Yahoo ToS which is a part of the Flickr ToS. You grant all rights to the image (all uploaded content) to Yahoo and by association and TOS inclusion: Flickr.

I suspect most think the Flickr API ToS, is the only binding part of the agreement. See:  Flickr APIs Terms of Use. Specifically see:

  1. Licensed Uses and Restrictions – a. You Shall – i. [This section explicitly makes the other ToS’s part of the Flickr ToS.] and – ii. Comply with any requirements or restrictions imposed on usage of the photos by their respective owners. … [the paragraph is long. Read it all. Because that first sentence can be misleading.]

I suspect some users of Flickr haven’t realized that when they click an image’s SHARE and find the options to Share, Embed, Email, or BBCode they are using the Flickr API’s.

I know for a fact that many think marking an image All Rights Reserved (ARR) means no one can use the image without their permission. Well, sort of… BUT, Flickr can. Remember that Section 9 where you granted them all rights to the image as long as it is on Flickr. And therein is the loophole Flickr glosses over. They give you control of it, but they don’t get  in your face about it. You can set it to Share or No-Share. This is a restriction imposed by the user. If you don’t impose it…

Now when the Share, Embed, Email, or BBCode links are used it is Flickr that is ‘displaying’ the image and the Flickr API ToS that takes over in all its ‘inclusive’ glory. Does this sound like I am splitting some proverbial RCH (i.e., red pubic hair)?

I think it does. When I first started using Flickr I looked at image ownership and rights management before signing up. Digging through all the ToS legalese will damage your brain. It’s like the current insurance ad where the girl with the adorable little voice says, ‘What’s paragraph 5 say? Bla bla… Bla bla bla… Bla bla.’

Fortunately Flickr explained the issue in a blog post: Flickr Web Embeds – DECEMBER 18, 2013.

So, if you do not want Flickr sharing your images via Share, Embed, Email, or BBCode links, turn off public sharing. You can stop 100% of sharing, not even a link to the image will display it unless, it is on a Flickr page. Or you can sort of share which allows people to LINK to the image, meaning click a text or image link and go to the author’s Flickr page with the image. But, open public sharing and every image you have whether set to CC or ARR is going to be shared by Flickr via API ToS. And they will make the Embed code available to people like me that jump past the copyright notice to see if the author has allowed sharing. If they have… well, the author has it set to Share OK… so I share.

My Use of Images

I cannot change and API image or remove any of the acknowledgements the API puts on my site when I embed an image. Cursor over any Flickr image on this page. You’ll see them. Nor can I change the link target. I also have to remove the image as soon as reasonably possible, if the author requests the shared image be removed.

Inner Self

Inner Self

If you dig through the blog here you will find images I’ve edited or modified for my use here. Those are Creative Commons images. I comply with those licenses… like 99% of the time. I’ve pushed the envelope a couple of times. Sorry.

There are some images I so badly wanted to use I got in touch with the author and negotiated for use of the image beyond the rights provided on Flickr. I even have a place where I keep those emails/posts combined with the original image. If I average 1 of those per year, I would be surprised.

Mostly I am in too much of a hurry to have the patience for asking. So, I move on to an image with the rights I can use or is publicly shared.


From this side of things I cannot tell whether an image is serving the author’s intended purpose in posting it. Nor if it is meeting their expectations for being viewed. What I do notice is some awesome artists do ARR and CC licenses and share them both publicly. Those people often have image views in the thousands.

Others turn off the public sharing while using the same licensing. Those mages get fewer views. But, it is NOT a clear cut decider in how many views an image gets. So, while I know I tend to skip over images with public sharing turned off, I can’t say that is the sole major impact on popularity. I do expect it decreases views. But… I can’t prove it and would have liked to.

Views are, as best I can tell, driven by talent. My opinion is, if you are good and just getting started; share. People are more likely to find you when bloggers like me can share your work. Even when shared via Flickr API I am restricted in how I can use the image and certainly can’t sell it or make derivative images.

With Flickr you can reclaim most rights granted to Flickr by removing the image from Flickr.


Make sure you set your copyright and sharing settings to get the result you want. Otherwise people like me will take your ‘OK-to-share-publicly’ setting as your intended setting. I’ll respect your ARR copyright, but embedding your image via the Flickr API is according to Flickr legitimate use even of ARR licensed content, at least until you say otherwise.

Also notice ARR license restrictions display when you cursor over a Flickr housed image on my site.

You can Google the debate. It shows up in various places. I’m going with Flickr’s page on Web Embeds.

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