I used to work analyzing free photo stock websites. It started as a side project to put together a resource on free stock websites, for creatives, that isn’t a list.
During the almost two years I’d been doing this, I’ve learned a lot about the free stock industry, including how fast free stock photos can disappear forever.
Recently Unsplash created a new license. You might not have noticed this because the “Free (do whatever you want)” is still there on the home page. But there is no longer any reference to CC0. Instead, you will see “Read more about the Unsplash License here.” This links to the new Unsplash license reassuring you that you can still use the photos for commercial and non-commercial use. The new Unsplash license states:
All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.
More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.
Why Get Excited about Unsplash’s new license?
Okay, so why get excited? You can probably still do what you want with the photo. The new license is to stop people from creating competing websites using Unsplash photos. Total sympathy for Unsplash on that.
But, my concern is for you, the user of free photos.
Here’s what happened on Unsplash. All references to CC0 licensing applying to specific photos was removed. But, once a CC0 license is applied, it is irrevocable (CC 1.0 s.2) So, no matter how generous the new license is, it can’t replace CC0.
I reached out to Unsplash to get some answers. What happened to the CC0 photos?
Annie Spratt from Unsplash clarified:
“…all photos prior to the new change in license are still under CC0. We are not changing the license in which those photos were submitted under, however we aren’t going to put anything on our site regarding the separation between the licenses since to the majority of Unsplash’s audience, this change in license does not change the way these photos have currently been used.”
What does this mean for you the user of Unsplash CC0 photos?
You won’t be able to easily identify CC0 photos.
How are you supposed to know which photos are CC0? You might be thinking who cares if the photo is identified as having a CC0 license, if the ability to use it commercially is still there?
But, the issue is bigger than that. CC0 photos that aren’t identified easily, disappear easily.
You will end up applying whatever license is on Unsplash to the CC0 photos.
If the photos that are CC0 are not identified by Unsplash, in effect, the new license is the one you will follow. Who has time to worry about the subtleties between these two licenses if they aren’t apparently affecting you?
But, what about future license changes? Will you feel the same way, if a new license is imposed with changes you don’t want? Although the new Unsplash license is irrevocable, so is the CC0.
Nothing stops a free photo website from creating yet another license.
An example of a License Change from CC0 to paid membership
I didn’t think this could happen but it already did. Stock.Tookapic started as CC0.
Those CC0 photos are still out there. At least I think they are. The problem is I am not sure how to prove that these CC0 photos exist. Why?
Because there is no mention of CC0 on Stock.Tookapic. This is the original source of the photos. This is the source you look to when trying to establish the license of the photo. In this case, you won’t get far.
Stock.Tookapic removed all reference to the CC0 licensing. It now has a pay per month plan.
And, this is the third rendition of the Stock.Tookapic license. Before the pay monthly licensing, the site still contained free pictures that required attribution and a link back.
Licenses on Free Stock Photo Websites can and do Change
The bottom line is free stock photo website licenses change. And, as you just saw with Unsplash, even sites with 200,000 free CC0 photos can create a new license and remove any ability to identify a photo as having a CC0 license.
Ryan Merkley, CEO of Creative Commons has this to say:
In order to ensure that the commons is maintained, we hope that Unsplash will either a) properly mark all the works shared using CC0 and/or b) make available a full archive of the CC0 works so they can be shared on a platform that supports open licensing and public domain tools.
What are your thoughts?
Does it bother you that the 200,000 CC0 photos won’t be identified on Unsplash?
Would you like to see these Unsplash photos identified as CC0?