BY MATT MCGREGOR
Meena Kadri is a Wellington-based photographer, designer and Community Manager for OpenIDEO, a collaborative innovation and design platform.
A long-time user of Flickr (under the name Meanest Indian), Meena releases many of her photos under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives licence. Her CC-licensed images have appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines, blogs and books, and have been licensed for commercial use by companies like Phaidon and Apple.
Despite this success, Meena confesses that she “never actually intended to sell my photos—I just wanted to put them online. But pretty soon I realised the potential.”
While teaching at India’s National Institute of Design in the mid 2000s, Meena started using Flickr to source high-quality images for her presentations; by 2006, she was using Flickr to share her own photos. “Flickr was the first social network I’d ever used. I realised pretty quickly how to optimise traffic to my site using tags, especially because I was taking photos of events that were both in demand but under-photographed, such as the Uttarayan Kite Festival in India. It didn’t take long to get my photos on the front page of Flickr image search for certain topics.”
Her most popular set of photos–on the Uttarayan Kite Festival, India–has received over 50,000 views. Other popular sets include Indian Street Art (over 40,000 views), Back View Bollywood (nearly 25,000 views) and Faces of India (over 19,000 views).
Given the popularity of her Flickr account, her images have featured in countless blogs and presentations. For-profit companies have also paid to use her work, including Serendib, the magazine of Sri Lankan Airlines, and Phaidon Books, who included ten of her images in an Indian cookbook. As Meena explains, “what I usually do in these situations is negotiate. For those people with little or no money, such as NGOs, I usually say go for it. For others, I ask, ‘are you getting paid?’ The implication is that if they are getting paid, then I should be getting paid as well. For them, I charge my standard rate.”
Recently, Meena even licensed one of her Creative Commons licensed photos to Apple, her biggest sale so far. At the same time, Meena ensures that images sold to for-profit companies like Apple and Phaidon remain available for reuse under their original non-commercial Creative Commons licence.
As Meena’s images grew in popularity, she experimented with using Getty, a stock image service. While she made a small amount of money from the service, Meena “didn’t like that they required you to use All Rights Reserved. I tried it, because they do move a lot of images, but in the end I decided that I preferred using Creative Commons on Flickr.”
One reason for this is that Creative Commons licences require attribution, which is not the case with stock image services like Getty. As Meena explains, “The Creative Commons licences means that I receive a lot of traffic from having lots of sites—from major technology blogs like Wired to smaller community blogs with loyal followers—link back to my Flickr page.”
While Meena is keen to emphasise that the upsides of using Creative Commons licensing greatly outweigh the downsides, she has noticed her images being used without proper attribution. “Every now and then, I’ll find unattributed images and send a nice email asking for attribution. It’s important to be nice, as a lot of people genuinely don’t know how the licences works. I tend to assume it’s a mistake, and send them a link to the licence page.”
Other uses have been more problematic. While visiting her father’s hometown in India, Meena opened a major local newspaper to find one of her images used—for commercial purposes and without attribution—to advertise the upcoming Kite Festival. Meena got in touch with the newspaper, pointed out that they did not have a licence for commercial reuse, and was eventually paid her standard rate.
To prevent unlicensed commercial reuse, Meena only puts web-quality images on her Flickr page. This means that her images are good enough for blogs or slideshow presentations; those wanting to use her images for books or posters, however, will need to ask for a higher resolution.
As a Google Image search for ‘Meanest Indian’ reveals, Meena’s CC-licensed photos are being freely reused all over the web. At the same time, for-profit companies are continuing to pay to licence her work for commercial purposes–a great example of artists making money using Creative Commons Non-Commercial licences.