Is this Picture on Flickr an Original?

Created: Wednesday, April 17, 2013, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 4:00 am

Updated: at



Flickr does happen to be among the best resources for Creative Commons pictures. Yet how do you know that the Creative Commons licensed picture that you have found on Flickr is indeed an original asset? Even outside of Flickr, there are so many copied pictures serenading as originals — including some you find on Google’s Image Search.

I do think that Flickr is a better source for original pictures — but that may not always be true. As my friend, David Marcovitz rightly pointed out that “there’s not much to stop someone from downloading any picture (legally or illegally) and posting it to Flickr and putting a Creative Commons License on it! Of course, most of the time, pictures on Flickr are posted by the people who take them, and I tell my students all the time to go to Flickr and search for Creative Commons pictures, but that is far from a guarantee of the picture’s true status.”

Completely agree with you, David! In fact, I am often asked whether Flickr is a more dependable source for original pictures compared to other sites — and my answer is in the affirmative because there are a few Flickr features that make this site a better resource for copyright free pictures. But before we reach conclusions, let us ask some questions, similar to the ones David asked in the preceding paragraph:

  • Can anyone just create a Flickr account and upload some pictures that are not necessarily their own?
  • Can such Flickr members also attribute those pictures to a Creative Commons license?
  • Can such members continue doing so forever?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes for the first two questions. Fortunately, the answer is no for the last question!

I must add that it does not pay to be pessimistic about this whole topic. There are indeed millions of genuine Creative Commons pictures on Flickr — and with a little housekeeping, you can certainly filter out the counterfeit stuff from the real. It also pays to be proactive by doing some research.

This is what I do when I look for Creative Commons licensed pictures on Flickr:

  • Copied pictures may not have the camera info on Flickr. Most people who upload others’ pictures may only have access to an altered or compressed picture that no longer has any EXIF data — the data that Flickr uses to tell you which camera was used to click the picture. Of course not all pictures are clicked with cameras — you may want to use some digital art or even a composition created from multiple pictures — in that case, you may ignore the lack of any camera information.

  • If there are a set of pictures clicked by the same photographer — available on their Flickr profile — then that may also be something to consider. Most pictures are clicked with digital cameras — and most photographers click way too many pictures. With larger bandwidth availability and higher megapixel cameras, you may find that there are several pictures similar to the one you have chosen — that’s always a great sign to indicate that the pictures are original.
  • If the person has been a Flickr user for many years, then that reputation also counts. People who misuse others’ pictures can get banned on Flickr and their accounts can be removed. If you end up finding someone uploading copied pictures to Flickr, you can take a proactive approach. Go to the Flickr page of the copied picture — scroll down the page and look for a Report abuse link — yes, the link is very well hidden — if you cannot find it, use your browser’s Find option to locate it!

  • Finally, check if this person has a free or Pro account on Flickr. Flickr’s free account has many limitations that most professional photographers would not enjoy. I am not saying that Free account users have no right to upload genuine pictures and share them — rather I am saying that very few offenders will create a Pro account, pay for it, and then upload pictures to share with everyone!

Even if you take all these issues into consideration, there may always be an occasion when you may be fooled — but at least you tried your best! Remember that being curious and intuitive can help — and that’s where a human can score higher than a computer!

See Also: Attributing Creative Commons Pictures in your PowerPoint Slides

Categories: copyrights, flickr, pictures, powerpoint

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