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The SpaceX Copyright Saga Is Over, and the Public Wins

Flickr now allows photos to be posted without any copyright restrictions.

The SpaceX photos copyright saga has one last chapter—​Flickr has finally created an option for photo uploaders to waive all rights to their work, making it possible for artists and companies to allow anyone to use their photos for any reason (without credit). SpaceX changed the designation of its photos Monday to take advantage of that new designation.

The change comes in response to  ​self-professed copyright nerds pointing out that, though SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month that he was placing photos taken by the company into the "public domain," there was ​​actually no option to do that on Flickr, the popular photo-sharing website that SpaceX uses.


@Pandoomic Just changed them to full public domain

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 21, 2015

The distinction is important. When photos are in the public domain, they can be used by anyone to do anything, without credit. The license that SpaceX was using, which was previously the least restrictive one offered by Flickr, allowed anyone to use the photos, even for commercial purposes, but still required the person using it to credit SpaceX.

In practice, it's not necessarily a huge deal, but the tweet Musk sent suggesting that the photos are in the public domain conflicted with the actual license listed on the photos.

After discussions with SpaceX and Creative Commons, (and after reading stories about it on Motherboard and on Medium​'s The Message), Flickr is now allowing people to use a Creative Commons 0 waiver, in which the original copyright holder waives his or her copyright on the photo entirely.

@jason_koebler @jessamyn you certainly didn't hurt the process. We're happy that you gave the issue the attention it deserves.

— Flickr (@Flickr) March 31, 2015

"We've heard from our community that we're missing two important designations: Public Domain and Creative Commons 0 (CC0). Many members of our community want to be able to upload images that are no longer protected by copyright and correctly tag them as being in the Public Domain, or they want to release their copyright entirely under CC0," Flickr  ​wrote in a blog post Monday.

"One of the first accounts on Flickr to change its designation was SpaceX, which has uploaded more than a hundred gorgeous images of its launches," Flickr continued. "These extraordinary photos are now available for others to freely use, enhance, and promulgate without restriction under copyright law."

It's a big deal not just for SpaceX but also for Flickr. Now infoanarchists and copylefters can release their works without any license. Having additional options for copyright—a nuanced, confusing area of law—is always a good thing.

Now, you can go sell SpaceX posters on the corner, or make a book, or release a candy bar with a SpaceX photo on the wrapper. Musk has now progressively lifted the restrictions on SpaceX's copyright three times—from here, there's no less restrictive license or waiver, so this, probably, is the end of the story.