I have been trying to spend more time in the last couple of months maintaining this website, so that its various components do not remain broken for several weeks without notice. Besides some small updates (e.g. it is now possible to search through my essays by year using the right sidebar), my "maintenance" mostly consists of finding old entries and noting that text, photos, and other media that I have linked to no longer exist.1

Even worse was an short entry I wrote on my lunch choice back in the summer of 2007. Only thirty-three words including the title, this microblogpost (nowadays, I probably would just post it to Twitter) included a link to a photograph on Flickr of chorizo, the primary component of the sandwich which made me sick.

While the Flickr photograph is still online, its license has changed. When choosing among the various photographs of chorizo sausage available on Flickr, I had made sure that I selected one with a Creative Commons license. However, the photograph and all of the others in its owner's photostream are now under full copyright.

Some sleuthing on archive.org's Wayback Machine suggested that the license changed between September and November 2007 (a few months after I wrote the entry). I tried contacting the photo's owner to ask why the licensing on her photostream had changed, but she did not respond. I speculate that she might have made the change in fear of commercial use of her photos2, or so that she could license them to Getty Images, who do not accept Creative Commons licensed work.

Despite the change in licensing, I do not feel obligated to pull the photo from my post. While Flickr allows you to change the license on your photos, Creative Commons notes that this does not "unlicense" them. Therefore, my use would theoretically still be valid under the original Creative Commons license.

An additional wrinkle appears, though. While I have documentation (from the archive.org page) of some of the photos in the photostream being previously licensed under a Creative Commons license, the Internet Archive never crawled a Flickr page that contained references to the chorizo picture under such a license. Even more damning, the "NoDerivs" part of the Creative Commons license that the photo might have been under does not allow cropping. This means that even if our beloved chorizo photo was under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license, I am in violation of its terms by virtue of having created a thumbnail that showed a cropped version of the sausage in all of its porky glory. This violation would cause the license to terminate, along with any rights I have to use the thumbnail.

It is also not an option for me to contact Flickr in hopes that they have record of the photo's licensing status. A Wired article about a similar situation from November 2007 (alas, too late for me) noted:

The company does not keep track of the changes to CC attributions on particular photos, and advises people who want to use CC-licensed images to keep records of their own, for instance by taking a screenshot of the originating Flickr page.

As a result, I am at the mercy of the photo's owner and her authorized legal representatives.

  1. I am a firm believer in the concept of the permalink: hyperlinks that never disappear, and that are permanent and canonical references to the content that appears on their pages. The rest of the Internet seems to have decided not to read that Wikipedia article because TLDR

  2. Unlike the photos misused by The Independent in the linked article, the September 2007 page shows her photos licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license, which permits commercial use.