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Why is there no support for sharing licenses in Facebook and Instagram?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
27th December 2012


Excerpted from RYAN SINGEL:

“Say you have a gallery of photos of human rights abuses that you uploaded to Facebook – and that you want the world to see, and newspapers to print. Well, there’s no option for that on Facebook.

Try to license an Instagram photo via Creative Commons. It’s not that CC isn’t the default mode — there’s not even an option for it. You get your copyright for a hundred plus years, and Instagram gets a license for that duration too.

Facebook is about Facebook. Sharing to them means sharing … on Facebook. Connecting with other people means connecting with other people … on Facebook. Like the old joke about fortune cookies, you have to append “on Facebook” to get the real meaning.

Instagram is still young, so perhaps it can buck its corporate master. But it’s yet to show a commitment to doing right by users and the public, and the recent decision to prevent Twitter users from seeing Instagram photos inside Twitter makes it highly unlikely the company considers being part of a larger sharing culture a priority.

Twitter, which only recently began to control photo sharing, will also have to decide whether it wants to support an open content ecosystem. While I’m still hopeful, its recent, ridiculous dictates about displaying tweets outside of Twitter.com and its limits on third-party clients and APIs throws into doubt whether Twitter will embrace CC licensing of photos.

Thankfully, Flickr remains CC-friendly. Once the star of online photo sharing, Flickr made CC licensing famous and easy. Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer seems to have revitalized it through a just-launched mobile client that creates the possibility that “Flickr has the opportunity to become the new Flickr.”

YouTube followed Flickr’s early example, eventually making it simple to add CC licenses to a video. Google+ already has CC-licensing for photos you share on its social network. Just look in Settings under Privacy and Permission. Slideshare offers a CC-license option for presentations, too. SoundCloud, a service for sharing music online, makes it simple as well: Musicians upload music, choose a license, and then allow others to remix it, rework it, republish it, use it in a film, etc.

In the last week alone, nearly 19,000 tracks were uploaded on Soundcloud under one of the CC licenses.

In that same period, not a single photo was uploaded to Facebook or Instagram with a visible CC license.

It’s not that it’s technically or legally hard. All it takes is a couple of flags in a database and a little user-interface work. Mostly it just takes a belief that part of your company’s job is to help sharing culture grow.

Now, there actually is a way to license your Instagram photos under Creative Commons. Philip Neustrom, one of the founders of the non-profit LocalWiki, decided to do something about it with I Am CC, which lets Instagram users sign up to have all their Instagram photos automatically have a Creative Commons license. Neustrom also built an API so people can search those photos.

But this service exists only because Neustrom thought it was important and long overdue, and so he built it himself. None of the $750 million that Facebook doled out for Instagram has gone to adding a CC field to their photo database.

I asked Facebook twice by e-mail for comment on why there’s no support for CC licensing in either Instagram or Facebook. The company did not respond.

The silence is telling.

Facebook and Instagram will never add CC-licensing because they’ve got you and your attention and your content – which leads to money and power. When you’ve got that, who cares about principles?

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