The People’s Picture of CUNY

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Bast Productions

For a few months now I’ve been working on a Commons blog, Pictures of CUNY, which has the ambition to post every day, a different picture of CUNY. Photos displayed on the blog have some relationship with the university – often it’s images of the various campuses and the people that use them, and other times it’s photos taken by CUNY faculty, staff, or students. The simple goal is to identify and display what I find to be interesting images showcasing the rich visual history of CUNY.

In the beginning most of the images posted, were CC licensed photos discovered on Flickr – an image hosting service that is popular with bloggers. Flickr has literally billions of photos that have been uploaded by users and are accessible to anyone as long as they’re made public. Users of the service that make the effort to title and ‘tag’ photos with the names of various CUNY colleges, or the word ‘CUNY’ can be found through simple searches of the site.

What’s so interesting to me is how individuals are becoming archivists, adding metadata (description, titles, keywords) to their work making it discoverable. Once found, these personal archives made public, can become part of a collective historical documentation of CUNY. A job once reserved to for librarians to catalog and conserve collections is now a function distributed to the masses, truly creating a ‘people’s history‘ of CUNY.

Besides adding metadata to photos, one of the choices Flickr users make is to have their images either copyrighted or creative commons (CC) licensed. By default, if a user makes no change to the image license it will be copyrighted and the ‘©’ symbol will appear on the Flickr page. Why would a user choose a CC license for their photos? And for those new to CC licensing, what is it and should it matter?

Creative Commons licenses or CC licenses for short, were created and are managed by the non-profit organization bearing the same name of the licenses. When a creator applies a CC license to their work, he/she gives the public specific rights to use and/or remix the work under certain conditions. It’s an alternative to the ‘all-or-nothing’ approach traditionally maintained by copyrighting work vs. placing it in the public domain.

What’s important to remember about CC licensing, is that it’s grounded in copyright law, and the depending on the specific CC license applied the rights granted to the public for reuse can actually be very limited. In 2007, Educause published a guide for academics, 7 Things You Should Know About…Creative Commons which speaks to the value of CC licensing:

Higher education is rooted in the belief that the free exchange of knowledge is fundamental to the common good, and faculty and researchers in large numbers have begun using Creative Commons licenses to facilitate a climate of openness and sharing.

The four CC licenses are attribution (BY), non-commercial (NC), share-alike (SA), and no derivatives (ND). Each has their own purpose and are used in a number of different combinations. What’s nice is that any combination of licenses used by a photographer would allow for the simple display of a photo on Pictures of CUNY.

So next time you upload an image to Flickr and tag ‘CUNY,’ consider applying a CC license to that image. Or if you have a photo that you identify as CUNY related, you can upload it me and I’ll post it to the CUNY Academic Commons Flickr Photostream. Do either and it might just appear on Pictures of CUNY!


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