Restoring CC attribution to Flickr, because Yahoo broke it

You may know that Flickr is one of the largest repositories of freely usable public domain and Creative Commons photos in the world, hosting collections contributed by libraries, national archives, foundations, museums, galleries, and individual users (I've uploaded more than 10,000 CC-BY-SA images of my own). However, with its latest redesign, Flickr has made is very difficult to copy the images it has been entrusted with, and nearly impossible to correctly attribute them in accord with their license terms.

Today, we're fixing that. A little, anyway.

Years ago, Boing Boing reader Cory Dodt (no relation, obviously) created a script called "attributr" that took the structured license data in each Flickr image page and created a snippet of text that set out the permalink for the image, its creator's name, and the license it was released under, along with a link to the license -- for example:

(Image: Modern Book for Girls, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from snigl3t's photostream)

Late last month, Yahoo updated the Flickr pages for each image in a way that removed all the structured Creative Commons license data, breaking the script. And CC users who tried to make use of the images Flickr is privileged to host found that replicating the attribution text by hand was nearly impossible. The page used scripts that intercepted copy-to-clipboard shortcuts and also broke text-selection, so that it was nearly impossible to copy the name of image or the name of its creator to your clipboard unless you found it in the page's source-code.

In addition to removing the structured, machine-readable CC metadata, the new Flickr pages also don't make use of the standard CC license logos, familiar due to hundreds of millions (possible billions, by now) of webpages that use those logos to signal in familiar terms that the material on the pages can be shared.

Finally, the links for downloading the high-resolution versions of CC licensed images that had been entrusted to Flickr have been buried under a cryptic ellipsis.

Cory Dodt has replicated his Flickr script, with the caveat that it is now extraordinarily fragile, because it scrapes the Flickr source, and any future changes will break it. Accordingly, it's hosted on github so that it can be maintained when (inevitably) it breaks.

But this is bigger than one script. I have a long history with Flickr. I served as an advisor to Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake when they were working on a game called Game Neverending, and Stewart offered to prioritize GNE's photo-sharing feature to help me court a woman I'd started dating overseas. The feature was so successful they folded up GNE and renamed it Flickr, and now I am married to that woman. I owe my marriage to Flickr, and Flickr exists in part because of my marriage.

Over the years, I continued to advise and cheer on Flickr as it became a powerhouse for CC-licensed images, one of the most important photographic resources on the planet.

I understand Yahoo's desire to update Flickr in the face of competitive pressure from other image-sharing services, and I celebrate its design experiments. But the current iteration -- either through negligence or deliberate intent -- terribly undermines the Flickr Commons and does not do justice to the trust and generosity of its many institutional and individual contributors.

I hope that Yahoo will take speedy action to remediate this issue. Honestly, restoring the CC metadata -- a feature that's been part of Flickr since the day it added CC licenses -- is trivial. Using real CC logos will have virtually no visual impact on the pages. And putting the download link back where it belongs, visible and located near the CC license, is a minor change. Ending the interception of control-C on the page so that users can copy the names of the images and their posters would be trivial.

And if Yahoo doesn't do this, I think it's time to start thinking about hosting CC images somewhere else -- perhaps Wikimedia Commons, or a purpose-built site. Flickr still has its admirable API for bulk-ingesting CC images and rehosting them in a way that facilitates the sharing that their copyright holders and custodians expressly desired for them.

(Image: Portrait by Jonathan Worth, CC-BY-SA)