Why using CC licenses is awesome

I’ve seen a lot of folks on the forum recently expressing concern about Creative Commons licenses and the misuse of their observation photos or data (which often has little to do with the licensing). I’d like to balance this perspective a bit by sharing why I’ve been using CC licenses for the past decade and why I love them.

First off, as a citizen scientist and amateur naturalist, I feel like I have benefited immeasurably from the ethos of sharing and open access that has swept over the field of biology in the past few decades and I really want to contribute back as much as I can. I remember back in the 90s I once enrolled in a college and then immediately withdrew (and got my tuition refunded) just so I could access their biology library! Luckily today such an idea would seem absurd since I can access a huge wealth of biology content and information for free and even reuse some of it in my own research thanks to free licenses.

Second, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing my bug photos reused all over the world and incorporated into numerous scientific and educational materials that I’m now proud to have contributed to. My photos have been reused in field guides, government reports, journal articles, Wikipedia articles, and elsewhere. I even got a free copy of a beautiful hard-back field guide to leafhoppers and treehoppers recently as thanks from the author for the use of my free licensed photos.

Finally, because my photos are being shared freely, there’s a better chance they will continue to circulate and be re-used even if Flickr or iNaturalist someday close up shop. Hopefully they will have a life of their own and even outlive me. In that way they are a sort of legacy that I hope will be useful for future generations. I don’t have any kids, but if I did, I would definitely release them under a free license!

Also, I know some people like to add lots of restrictions to their free licenses, like non-commercial or no derivatives, but these restrictions often have unintended consequences, for example, you can’t use non-commercial photos on a blog if the blog has ads and you can’t use them in educational material if the material costs money (even if it’s sold at cost). In my opinion, the best licenses are the ones that are truly free, like CC-BY and CC-zero, and I encourage folks to change their default licenses to one of those. It’s kind of scary giving up control of your content, but it also feels good to give it a life of its own.


I want to second this great perspective. I’ve been in university ecology and biology departments since 2009, and from the level of undergraduate student to professor, we often want to illustrate lectures, websites, public and academic presentations with photos. I have often used wikimedia photos and other photos licensed with creative commons in my presentations.

We’re in the midst of a biodiversity crisis at a global scale. Photos can help educate and inspire others about the wonderful species that we share the planet with and that we are losing all too fast. I understand that it’s hard to make a living as a professional photographer–and if you are one you really should get paid and protect your photos. But if you’re an amateur like most of us here there’s little downside to sharing your photos as openly as possible!


I concur. Once I realized that my iNaturalist observations were going up under CC-BY-NC, I dug into the settings and changed to CC-BY. I do not make a living from my photographs nor the observations I make. I went CC-BY on all of my materials more than a decade ago including textbooks I wrote to support my courses. My texts are online and every once in while an instructor elsewhere will write to say they are using one. That feels awesome - to know that what I produced may help someone somewhere else gain new knowledge.


Thanks for the advice. I did not realise such limitations applied to the default license and will adjust my seeing now.

Wondering what your take is on the-SA (share-alike) CC option? Is it a significant impediment to free sharing, to ask that those sharing do so under the same kind of license?

I just realized, I am happy for my photos to be used anywhere, but not Descriptions, comments, Journal posts. What does the CC-BY license allow?

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Here is the official listing of CC-BY and all other CC license types.

Rights setting for photos or sounds will not affect descriptions, comments or journal posts. The observation itself has it’s own seperate rights setting, and you can’t copyright other peoples comments and IDs.

Thanks Mark

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