I started making my photographs available on Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons licence in 2006. Since then, I have uploaded over 3,500 photos to Commons, and I plan to upload many thousands more in the future. The main reason I started to upload my photos was to illustrate Wikipedia articles, and thatâ€™s still a big reason why I have continued doing so. However, only 16% of the images Iâ€™ve uploaded are currently used on the Wikimedia projects. So, why am I continuing to upload so many images?
My hope is that, in the long run, my photos will help preserve history. I hope that they will provide a record of the state of things today to others looking back at this time in the future, in a similar way to how we look at 50-year-old photos today. I want to make sure that those looking back on our history donâ€™t have to worry about the copyright of those images, but can freely use them in their own projects.
However, there is a great shorter-term outcome that keeps me motivated to continue uploading my photographs: how people have been making use of my photos today in ways I never anticipated when uploading them. Some examples of this (amongst many others) include:
- In December 2007 I took a photo of the London Eye; I uploaded it to Commons a month later. I was taken aback in August 2008 when I got an email out of the blue from a couple who had recently gotten engaged on the London Eye â€“ theyâ€™d found my photo and loved it so much that they had it printed on canvas. Due to a mistake by the delivery company, they accidentally received two copies of it â€“ so they got in touch with me and sent me the extra copy! To this day this print acts as a focal point for my flat.
- At Science Online London 2011, which took place at the British Library, I took a photo of Michael Nielsen. The photo was subsequently published by the New York Times, with Michael Nielsen letting me know that this had happened.
- More recently, I was contacted by Nature Cymru who wanted to let me know that they had used one of my photos in their latest edition â€“ a picture of seagulls nesting in Conwy Castle. I uploaded this photo as part of a series of photos I took of Conwy Castle, and this was the photo I expected to be of least use â€“ but it turned out to be the first of this set of photos to be reused.
One of the lessons Iâ€™ve learnt throughout this is that, realistically, no-one respects the licence that your photo is licensed under â€“ theyâ€™ll simply use it for their purposes. If you try to keep full copyright of your photo and deny people the use of the image, then youâ€™ll be ignored â€“ but if you release it under a free license then youâ€™ll be able to reasonably ask for proper attribution. Also, people will generally go out of their way to let you know that they are using your image under a free license, if you ask them to, but if you restrict the use of the image then theyâ€™ll simply use it without letting you know.