Flickr API Follow-Up

Photo by dullhunk

There was a lot of response to my post yesterday, so much so that I wanted to pass along a couple of things that were left in the comments as well as emails that I received. First off, let me say that I in no way was blaming my iPad for the app’s ability to download images from Flickr. I also was not blaming Flickr either, although I have to say that their default/suggested settings do make it easier for images to be downloaded and improperly used.

Is it wrong to download someone’s image for personal use?

That’s a tricky question and one that I’m sure will have supporters on both sides. Let me ask you a slightly different question. Is it wrong to illegally download music if you are the only one who is going to be listening to it with no plans to share or distribute? The law says yes. Funny though that we don’t see a lot of arrests being made for folks downloading an image from Flickr to use as a screensaver, even if it has a copyright symbol right there on the image. There is just a different attitude about things like that, even though there really is very little difference.

Why does Flickr allow this?

Hey, Flickr is a photo sharing site, emphasis on the word SHARING. They are all about making it easy for you to let others see your work, and if you are putting your images there, you probably want your work to be seen. Also, if you have friends or family that look at your images, you might want them to be able to download and or use your images as well.  There are all sorts of reasons that people want to allow images to be downloadable. Another big reason is that photographers want to share large versions of their images (just because they look better that way). The only way to actually display a large version of your image on Flickr is to make it downloadable to others. Then, and only then, will you see the All Sizes link, which leads to the larger size images, and more importantly, the Download link. This is one of those settings that I would love to see Flickr change. Why you can’t display a version larger than 500 pixels wide without the download option is beyond me.

Clicking the All Sizes icon leads to these options –

So are programs that use the Flickr API just evil?

Nope, in fact the use of the API is how a lot of photographers get discovered. For example, the photographer who’s work I found the other day that spawned yesterday’s article, Danny Irvine, is an incredibly talented photographer and I might have never discovered his work had it not been for the API. The fact is that there are tons of programs using it for a myriad of reasons, from blogs to simple Flickr discovery programs. In fact Flickr has a whole page dedicated to websites and programs that are using the Flickr API called the App Garden. Many of them simply comb though Flickr looking for popular or new images and then present them for viewing using a non-Flickr application. Usually clicking on the image will take the viewer directly to that phorographer’s Flickr page, but not always.

So is there any way to keep the API from using my images?

Supposedly there is an API opt-out that will keep your images from being used by the Flickr API. If you look in the Your Account section of Flickr, under Global Settings, you will see one of the options labeled – Hide Your Stuff From Public Searches. By editing this option, which is set to No by default, you should be able to hide your images from 3rd party sites using the API. I say supposedly because I have had some folks tell me that there stuff still comes up occasionally.

What if I don’t mind if someone uses my pictures?

Hey, that’s a personal decision and one that only you can make. Something you might want to consider is using the Creative Commons license, which has gained a lot of popularity over the past couple of years. The image you see at the top of this blog post is actually one that I found using a Creative Commons search in Flickr. With the Creative Commons, you can assert different rights and restrictions for your images from “May be used with attribution” to “Non-Commercial use only” and a few other choices as well. All of this can be set up within the Flickr account settings.

So should I even use Flickr?

I do, as do hundreds of working pros and amateurs around the World.  It is an amazing site that offers numerous ways to communicate, share, learn, teach, inspire, and get inspired.  What you should do though is decide how you want your images to be used/viewed and then take some time to really explore all of the settings and options. Don’t just opt for the defaults without even looking and then complain when someone uses your image in some way that you didn’t approve of.

After all, if you don’t tie your food up in the tree, you can’t really blame the bears for eating it.


  1. While I agree with you in how copyright should be respected, you do ignore the fact that copyright laws vary from country to country. For example, where I live copying any copyrighted content for personal use is allowed (even music, movies etc.) so the same applies. But publishing (distributing to others is considered publishing) isn’t.

    But in any case, API changes, website obfuscation to try and prevent downloads etc. will never be foolproof. Educating users / viewers is ultimately the only way to make a change.


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    Flickr API Follow-Up Photography.alltop

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  7. ImageRights says:

    Follow-up to yesterday's post, 'Is My iPad Stealing Your Photo?' #photography

  8. korwelphoto says:

    iPad, Flickr and copyrights – check recent posts from @PhotoWalkPro here and here

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