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Analysis of 100M CC-Licensed Images on Flickr

Open Culture

Since last weekend we’ve been celebrating the number of CC-licensed photos on Flickr, which now has reached over 100 million — the largest pool of CC images to date. We’ve received some great feedback from the community, including the following analysis from Christian (metawelle):

On July 29, 2004 Flickr announced that anyone who wanted to release their Flickr photos under a Creative Commons license could do so. Within the first year 10 million photos were published with the help of CC’s six different licenses. Now in the fifth year since the initial collaboration between the Canadian photohosting service and the non-profit organization Creative Commons, there are currently over 100 million photos in Flickr’s massive database. And the photos are not just to look at; you can also download, print, and distribute the photos legally and free of charge. Plus, a large portion of the photos explicitly allow derivative works, and a surprisingly larger percent allow for commercial use.

100 million CC-licensed photos on Flickr — reason enough to take a closer look at the figures.

100,043,383 free images on Flickr

Today there are 100,043,383 free images on the Flickr servers. 33% of them are equipped with the most restrictive CC License, BY-NC-ND. That means that over 32 million photos are available to download, display publicly, and distribute, as long as the author is attributed and no changes are made to the original image. The second most frequent license is BY-NC-SA. It allows derivative works for non-commercial purposes as long as those resulting works are made available under the same license. 29%, or 29 million images, can be used in this manner.

Restrictive licenses are more popular

Thus it would seem that the bulk of photos are licensed rather restrictively. That basically means authors rarely tend to release their works with creative and commercial freedoms. 76% of all photos bar commercial use. At the same time, it means that 24%, or 24 million photos, do allow for commercial use with minimal restrictions. For example, over 12 millions photos are completely free to use, as long as the author of the image is attributed.

If you take the time to click through Flickr’s gigantic image pool, you’ll notice that it doesn’t just host snapshots. Among these 12 million photos you’ll find numerous professional photographs. Aside from commercial freedom in these works, creative freedom is most important for a functioning digital culture. Approximately 63 million of all available image files allow for derivative works; in other words, they can be used for photo montages, collages, films, animations, or similar projects, without having to ask permission or clarify rights (although naturally we must distinguish between commercial and non-commercial uses).

Monthly growth rate

Also very surprising is the growth rate of the number of CC-licensed photos. The monthly growth rate sunk from an initial 13% (April 2006) to about 4% (November 2008), at which point growth more or less stabilized.  Presently, the pool of free images is increasing about 4% in comparison with the previous month. That means that the absolute number of monthly gain in photos is rising. It is also important to mention that here you can interpret this as a gain in freedom.  Increasingly, there are more licensed images bringing high creative and commercial freedoms. In other words: consistently more authors are equipping their photos with more freedoms. Thereby they are more frequently granting the public derivative or commercial use of their photos. However it should be noted that this development is very slow.

CC Content bei Flickr von 04/2006 - 11/2008 (Bild: CC BY-SA
Absolute number of CC-licensed photos on Flickr, from April 1, 2006 – November 1, 2008 (Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Altogether the range of freely available photos is enormous. The 100 million works on Flickr make up the majority of CC-licensed content worldwide, and the consequences of such a pool are not to be underestimated. Especially for schools, who should be promoting creativity, such a massive image archive offers many advantages. Freely available images can be used for example, in presentations, educational websites, or other digital projects.

But this archive also offers big advantages in commercial fields. A positive example is Spreeblick Verlag KG, a German publisher that uses gratis and commercially available images in a Flickrpool on their blog. It surprises me that more publishers and editors don’t take advantage of this enormous offering. Probably knowledge about Creative Commons is still not distributed widely enough in the minds of the online editors — let alone the print world.


Translated from Christian‘s “100 Millionen freie Bilder bei Flickr“, available under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License. This translation is available under the same license.

We’ve been collecting Flickr licensing stastics on our wiki for some time now, and we are very happy that members of our community such as Christian have taken such proactive steps to analyze our data. Anyone else out there should feel free to do the same!

Posted 25 March 2009