Copyright Liberation

Throughout the recent redesign of our departmental sites, we’ve used an array of images from Flickr, under Creative Commons licenses. This meant making additions to our copyright page that complied with the conditions.

We aimed to:

  • Display a thumbnail of the image and a link back to its original Flickr page
  • Credit the authour under the Attribution condition, and link to their profile page
  • Display all the CC conditions connected to the particular photograph

We decided to extract the data using the Flickr API, so that the information is accurate, and we can check if any of the conditions have been changed over time.

What is Creative Commons?

According to Wikipedia CC is a “non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share.”

It enables authors to relinquish the default “All Rights Reserved” copyright status of their work, but retain some rights; for example whether an image is used for commercial purposes; or is further adapted using Photoshop. People are motivated by a sense of creative community and openness.

Why use them on our site

We do use stock images when we need to communicate something visually, using absolute clarity. However, there are issues of cost and limitations of use, which make them impractical; also we know that our clients are media savvy, and turned off by some of the hackneyed symbolism used in stock photography.

By using images from Flickr, we have access to authentic pictures taken from personal experience.

A Good Example

On the History Department homepage there is an image of President Obama: we could have bought a small web-ready image from an established agency for around £50; but we wouldn’t have been allowed to adapt the image to fit our layout, and we’d have to remove it after an allotted time period. Furthermore the image is likely to have been formal and static.

By using an image by Flickr user Matt Wright, taken from the crowd at a Democrats rally, we have a dramatic image that we can adapt to our layout under the conditions of the license.

About Flickr API

Flickr offer one of the most comprehensive application programming interfaces (API) of any web service allowing anyone with a bit of knowledge to develop on top of their services to offer extra functionality or integrate with your own systems.  We’re not however using the main API.  Instead we’re making use of a new service offered by Flickr parent company Yahoo! – YQL or Yahoo! Query Language.  This service offers an SQL-like syntax to query the web.  For example to find out information about a photo, you could use the query:

select * from flickr.photos.info where photo_id='471634239'

That gets requested from a web service along with the return format – either XML or JSON – and they send back the resultset. No API keys are required making implementation a piece of cake. We’re doing it server side allowing us to cache the response to improve performance but YQL can also be implemented on the client using just JavaScript.

YQL isn’t just limited to extracting data from Flickr – many other Yahoo! properties are available and it can even be used to extract microformats and other data from any web page. Along with Yahoo! Pipes and Google Spreadsheets, it’s become a vital tool for anyone creating mashups of data.