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Commercial Use of Flickr (and a Rant about Customer Service)

Terms of Use, Terms of Service, Terms, Community Guidelines, Policy. The rules of the road for social media platforms have many, varying names. Some platforms have their rules centralized. Others have Terms as well as Guidelines (which, by the way, is a total euphemism for “rules” because they are enforced in the same way as “terms”). Others, like Google and Yahoo! and their myriad subsidiary sites, have a set of centralized rules and multiple off-shoot sets of rules. It can be dizzying.

So, what does this have to do with Flickr? Well, we have a client which recently had their account deleted – photos and all – from Flickr without any prior warning – apparently for somehow violating the Flickr Terms of Use (and/or Community Guidelines ). Beyond that, I can’t be sure. (The Guidelines, of course, indicate that they give warnings and believe in second chances. Not apparently true here…)

A bit of background. This client sells product internationally, online and over the phone. Their Flickr account existed prior to our involvement with them but we continued to use it. It was not highly trafficked but did help SEO-wise. It probably hosted fewer than 150 images – product shots, office and staff photos, trade show snapshots, etc.

When we launched the company’s blog in May, we did use the Flickr account to embed a few photos in blog posts. Not many photos, probably fewer than 20. The Flickr photo captions (where they existed at all) were brief descriptors with no links. The one and only link to the company site was in the Flickr profile.

When we realized that the account had gone “missing”, we emailed Flickr customer service. Almost immediately, we received an automated response with a case number and a note indicating that it may take a few days for a meaningful response due to volume of emails.

Two days later, I received this:
flickr1

Okay, fair enough (though I’m a bit curious as to who reported the “abuse”). I wanted to know a bit more about the specifics of the violation. So, I asked,

“Can you tell me specifically which photo(s) or usage was the problem? We’ve reviewed everything we’ve done with Flickr and cannot figure out what the problem is. While we would love for this account to be reinstated, we understand if it cannot but would like to know exactly what the problem was so that it is not repeated.”

Here’s where it started to go downhill. This is the response I received:

flickr2

Note that it references this website and not our client’s website. None of the client’s Flickr images ever appeared on or were tied to this website. Which is what I told “Flickr staff” in my response.

Specifically, I said,

“The deleted account belonged to our client [redacted] – which, I agree, is a commercial entity. But their Flickr stream was not used to sell any product. For clarification purposes, is the existence of a Flickr account owned by a company a violation of the TOS? Or is the embedding of those images on a company blog a violation? Or both?

One last question: if the mere existence of a Flickr account owned by a company is a violation, is there some procedure in place to get approval for such an account (just asking because it seems like there are countless other company-related Flickr accounts and I’m wondering if we’ve missed an authorization procedure…)

Thanks very much for your attention – just trying to sort this out for our clients.”

And Flickr’s response:

flickr3

Which links to a help topic on corporate use of Flickr groups. Not responsive to my simple inquiry.

So, I replied:

Thanks again for your follow-up response. The link you attached references commercial use of groups and not use of Flickr accounts by companies, which was my question.

Should I assume then that the problem with the [redacted] account was the mere existence of an account that was owned by a company? And not something else such as a particular image or the embedding of any images in a blog?

Thanks in advance for the clarification.

And then again about four days later after I had received no response:

Just wanted to follow up to see if you might be able to clarify these items for future purposes. Not trying to be argumentative at all – just want to understand the TOS/guidelines so that we don’t violate them in the same way again in the future with this client or any other clients.

Our questions:

Is it a violation for any company to have and use a Flickr account?

If not, is it a violation for that company to embed any of those images in a blog post in the company’s blog?

Thanks for your help on this,

Flickr’s response:

flickr4

And me:

Thanks for your quick reply. I’m still not sure what the answers to my questions are though.

Can companies have Flickr accounts without violating the TOS or community guidelines?

If they can, can the images they upload be embedded anywhere else, like in a company blog?

We’re still trying to figure out exactly why the account was deleted. Not trying to argue with you at all – just looking to understand exactly what the violation was.

Thanks,

That was a month ago and I’ve not heard back.

I don’t think my questions were argumentative or difficult. In fact, they really just required “yes” or “no” answers. Very, very disappointed in the level of customer service from Flickr. No names, just “Flickr staff”. No answers beyond links and cut/paste from their Terms of Use.

In my quest to figure out the specific problem, I read a lot of social media marketing blog posts recommending Flickr for client use. At this point, I guess, I would caution those who use Flickr in any even remotely commercial way from continuing to do so. Keep back-up files with all images and don’t bother embedding any Flickr-hosted images in your blog or website.

Was it product photos that got our client in trouble? Was it embedding those photos in a brand-new, still-relatively-low-trafficked blog? Was it a company logo in the profile pic? Was it the mere existence of the account, set up by a company?  Who knows? We certainly don’t.

Why are there so many other commercial entities (including professional photographers and income-producing blogs) with Flickr accounts which have not been deleted? Go to Flickr and search “store”, “boutique”, “books”, “shoes” or “jewelry” to see how many Flickr accounts are being used for commercial purposes. (And, no, there is no indication that a Flickr Pro account would change this commercial purposes prohibition.)

Contrast this to the outstanding service we’ve received from Twitter, Yelp and Foursquare in the past two months. All growing and probably overwhelmed with voluminous email inboxes. All of which responded to simple, specific questions or requests from us on behalf of clients in a quick, efficient and pleasant manner.

After all that rambling – what has your experience been with Flickr for your company and/or clients?

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