Using Creative Commons Licensed Material – How safe is it?

On 27th January 2013, the American Librarian, Bobbi Newman, posted a blog entry on the ‘Danger of using Creative Commons Flickr Photos in Presentations. Bobbi had used an image from Flickr with a Creative Commons (CC) licence attached and posted it on her blog site.  She subsequently received a message from the owner of the photo insisting that she should remove the image as the owner had changed the terms of the CC licence and was concerned that her blog had a commercial interest. Regardless of whether or not the blog is commercial or not, this has still prompted several questions.  How do you know if an owner has subsequently changed a CC licence from a generous to more restrictive licence?  How can you prove the material was originally given a more generous licence? How easy is it for a copyright owner to change a licence to a more restrictive one?

According to Creative Commons their “licences are not revocable” and “you cannot stop someone, who has obtained your work under a Creative Commons license, from using the work according to that license”.  Once material is published under the terms of a specific CC licence, the user or licensee may continue to use the work according to the licence terms for the duration of copyright protection. See:

But how can you prove that the material you have used was given a more generous licence in the first place?  Respondents to Bobbi’s blog have helpfully suggested the following resources:

  • Image Stamper at: This is a free tool to help you keep dated, independently verified copies of license conditions associated with CC licences images. It can help you to safeguard against licence changes or to prove you are the original image creator.
  •  Xpert from the University of Nottingham: This database of images, sounds and video automatically attaches the licence details and attribution to the bottom of the image or resource. It can also provide html code to embed into PowerPoint presentations.  An example of an image with attribution is shown below. The image on the top is attributed using the ‘original size’ and the image on the bottom is attributed using the ‘Xerte On-Line Toolkits size’ option, which is easier to read.


But how do you attribute material CC licenced material from sources other than Xpert? The Creative Commons website has produced a best practice guide on attributing material and recommends the following style:

 “My Awesome Photo,” © 2009 Greg Grossmeier, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: .

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