Official White House photos are now officially in the public domain, thanks to a licensing change made quietly over the weekend by the Obama administration and the photo-sharing site Flickr.
The White House began posting striking photos of President Barack Obama from its official photographer Pete Souza to the Web 2.0 site in early May. The White House chose to license them using the ultra-liberal Creative Commons Attribution license that lets people reuse, reprint and remix the photos just as long as they credit the original photographers.
But as Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other online commenters noted, that license won’t work — even for Obama’s official photographer — because government works can’t be copyright.
Someone must have been listening, because sometime over the weekend, the licenses changed, and now the photos are labeled “United States Government Work” and link to an explanation on copyright.gov. The White House, however, continues to use the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license for all third-party content published on the www.whitehouse.gov site.
The change marks a first for Flickr, which to date has not had a license for government works, other than a “No Known Copyright Restriction” license that is used on photos from its Commons project, which includes photos from some of the world’s greatest museums and libraries. Those photos include ones from the Library of Congress, for instance, that never were copyright since they were made or paid for by the federal government
Flickr, a Yahoo-owned property, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the change and whether the license will be available for other portions of the federal government.
As for ordinary web surfers, there is still no way in Flickr to add your work to the public domain — the Attribution license is still the closest you can get. Being president, it seems, still has its privileges.