Understanding How Copyright Works on Flickr

Photographer taking a photo of a landscape

Arthit Somsakul / Getty Images

Flickr is a popular photo-sharing website, but it comes with many questions about copyright and how other people can use your photos. The nice thing is that, by default, a new Flickr account is set to "All Rights Reserved," and that means that your photos cannot be copied without your permission.

However, you do have other options and can open up all or just a selection of your Flickr photos to be used if you like. It is important to understand how to protect your uploads from copyright infringement as well as which photos you can use from other users.

Where Can I Find Copyright Info?

Every photograph that is uploaded to Flickr is marked with the licensing information, so it is very clear what permissions are granted for that photo.

  1. When a photo on Flickr is enlarged, you will see a list of information underneath the photo and to the side of the comments.
  2. Within this information will be the licensing information. It will say "© All Rights Reserved" or indicate one of the Creative Commons licenses that the user has chosen for that photo.
  3. If the photo is marked with the "© All Rights Reserved," that means the photo cannot be copied or used in any way without permission. There is no gray area here: you cannot use the photo without permission. If you use such an image, you are violating that person's copyright, and your usage is illegal.
  4. If the photo is marked with any of the Creative Commons licenses, look up the specific usage rights granted for that particular license. It's very easy to do on the Creative Commons website
  5. If you have any questions, contact the user who uploaded the photo and asks them if you can use it. Be sure to include your intended purpose.

What If I Want to Use an "All Rights Reserved" Photo?

Quite simply, you need to contact the person who took the photo if it is marked 'All Rights Reserved.' If the image means that much to you, do the courteous (and legal) thing, and send them a message via FlickrMail.

The user may or may not allow you to use the photo and they may or may not ask for money. It is all up to the person who owns the copyright to the image (the person who took the photo).

  • Many Flickr users use the "All Rights Reserved" setting, so they can control who they give permission to.
  • Some Flickr users simply do not want their images used.
  • Others may be bound by a contract to sell no further usage rights, and the photo is simply on Flickr as a portfolio piece.

The point is that you don't know until you ask, and you cannot use the image unless you ask. Don't even download it until you have permission. 

Protecting Your Photos

Flickr makes it very easy to manage and update the licensing you to grant for all of the photos you upload to the website.

  • The default setting is "All Rights Reserved." If you have an older account, double-check that this is set correctly.
  • You can change the default on your account to the type of license you prefer. To do that, go to Your Account. Select the option Privacy & Permissions and then choose Default for New Uploads. You can then adjust the license for any new content.
  • Also, if you would like to set different permissions on different photos, you can set that individually when viewing or uploading an image.

The strongest copyright protection setting available on Flickr is "© All Rights Reserved." This means that you grant no one permission to copy or use your photos for any reason or purpose without your permission.

Within the Creative Commons license options, you will find various permissions. For instance, you can allow an image to be used for personal reasons but not for commercial purposes. Be sure to read all of the CC licenses thoroughly until you understand everything about them before you choose one.