Why Did the White House Choose Attribution and not Public Domain?

The microblogs have been a-buzz this morning about news of the launch of the official White House Flickr stream featuring photos from Obama’s first 100 days in office. While the photos are licensed under our Attribution license, one could make the very strong argument that they’re actually in the public domain and can be used without attribution (though one would have to be careful and respect the personality rights of the private citizens featured in some of the photos). The photos are likely in the public domain because they are works created by the federal government and not entitled to copyright protection. As you might recall, the Whitehouse.gov’s copyright notice indicates as much.

Why would the White House then choose Attribution for their Flickr stream? Simple, unlike communities like Wikipedia and Thingiverse, Flickr doesn’t allow their photographers to choose Public Domain as an option to release their work to the world. So the Obama team must have picked the next best option: Attribution only.

8 thoughts on “Why Did the White House Choose Attribution and not Public Domain?”

  1. Flickr needs to allow its users access to the public domain “license” option. Currently, only contributors to Flickr’s “The Commons” project are allowed to designate their images as “No rights reserved” (http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/). I understand the potential issues with doing this type of thing. Users who don’t know any better could “give away” their rights, but I don’t see any more risk with allowing public domain as an option than what is already allowed with the CC licenses.

    Maybe Flickr could institute a filtering system whereby only “approved” pro members of the community could use the public domain option.

    Just my two cents.


  2. In addition to each photo’s CC license, White House’s profile page has some additional restrictions.


    “These official White House photographs are being made available for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photographs. The photographs may not be used in materials, advertisements, products, or promotions that in any way suggest approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”

  3. Inasmuch as I have welcomed the Obama’s wired White House, it is completely wrong for the WH to use public domain photos taken by a WH photographer, technically on taxpayers’ payroll, to have a business on the side, i.e. Flickr to promote his photos, which forces the people to essentially to use a commercial business in order to access President Obama’s photos.

    It is a disturbing White House arrangement and certainly, requires some additional review. In other words, is the White House selling itself to Flickr’s demands just to reach the public?

    Public domain items should remain just that, public domain.

  4. Hi Tuyet,

    Flickr does not charge for accessing any public photos on the site and basic accounts are free of charge.

    In terms of hosting the content, the White House should not have to re-invent the wheel everytime it wants to engage with the public online. Flickr is an ideal place to host such photos (ignoring the issue raised in the above post) and it makes it easy for people to share and comment on them.

    I doubt many citizens would object to the White House using paper manufactured by a private corporation to distribute their photos, which is not that much different from using Flickr to distribute the photos digitally.

    Also, since the photos are in the public domain, it enables anyone to re-post them anywhere. Accordingly, they’ve all been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Photographs_by_Pete_Souza

    Which is another place you can access them.

  5. Flickr isn’t ideal. Hosting it on servers we taxpayers already fund is ideal. No reason, either, to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when there are so many free open-source solutions available.

    Which brings up the better solution: not use Flickr.

    (On a separate note, Grrrr and shame on CC for forcing javascript on posting comments!)

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