Lan Bui, photographer and vlogger, recently found himself in a difficult situation in relation to a photo he published on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license. While at this years SXSW conference, Lan noticed to his surprise that the photo had been reproduced on a promotional poster for PodTech, a technology and entertainment video network. There was no attribution to be found and the use was commercial, violating the terms Lan had chosen.
What followed was a lengthly back and forth between Lan and PodTech. After going through the proper channels to solve the issue, but with no results, Lan posted about the incident on his blog. Many responded, commented, and weighed in on the matter – some in support of Lan and others in disagreement. For the most part, there was an overarching feeling that Lan, under his specified terms, deserved compensation from PodTech.
After a long wait, this compensation eventually came, albeit in an amount much less than Lan had asked for. PodTech sent him a check for less than a third of his original invoice and less than half of his renegotiated claim, a frustrating response to say the least. From Lan:
I didn’t want lower my offer because I didn’t want to set a precedent that others can steal work and then negotiate after the fact as though nothing was done wrong in the first place. What incentive is there for companies to pay creators up front for their work if they can just steal it then only pay up if they get caught, with no penalty, the same amount they would have paid up front? Negotiations are for normal business transactions, which happen before work is used… this was a different story. Although that was my position, I also didn’t want to drag the entire thing on for a long time, so I decided to lower my invoice to $2500. They didn’t accept my offer.
From the beginning of this I’ve told everyone that I was not looking for some quick easy free cash. This was, for the most part, about setting a precedent so companies (and individals) think about what they are doing and the repercussions that can ensue when they use others’ work outside of the copyright or Creative Commons license that is provided.
I believe in using Creative Commons, it allows my work to be used without someone going through the hassle of contacting me and waiting for me to grant them permission. I am ok with this as long as they follow the rules of the license, but just like if I had an all rights reserved copyright on a photograph, contact me before you use it outside of what Creative Commons grants. This goes for anyone using Creative Commons, you should expect others and companies to respect your copyright. You still own the copyright on your work if you release it under Creative Commons; you are just granting certain use of your work through a Creative Commons license.
It is unfortunate that PodTech did not take into account the terms of Lan’s CC licence, as it would from the get-go prevented the entire issue. Perhaps PodTech misunderstood his licence to begin with, but this should not have stopped them from working with Lan to find a mutually beneficial solution. Thankfully Lan was monetarily compensated for his work to an extent – unfortunately it was not on the terms he had chosen.
There has always been a commitment to commercial viability with the licenses CC provides – allowing or disallowing commercial use as a creator sees fit. As CC gains momentum, knowledge of this will become more pervasive, from both a content creator and content consumer standpoint. CC licenses and commercial use fit together nicely and have the ability to marriage the benefits of a “sharing economy” with that of “permission culture”.
Lan has decided to end pursuing the matter and instead has chosen to donate the money he received from PodTech directly to CC to help further our mission. Lan’s belief in the ethos of CC is truly inspiring – CC licenses were created as a means to avoid these content misuses on all levels, and Lan sees his donation as a means to further this goal. He is truly an exemplary member of the CC community.