Photography platform 500px will no longer allow photographers to license their photos under a Creative Commons license, and is removing the functionality to search and download such images. The site also closed down its stock photo platform, 500px Marketplace yesterday, replacing it with distribution partnerships with Getty Images and Visual China Group.
Earlier this week, the site updated its contributor FAQ, explaining that the closure of 500px Marketplace, in favor of Getty Images and Visual China Group was “part of a strategic repositioning of 500px’s network of contributors and the licensable content they submit to 500px.”
Founded in 2009, the Toronto-based company is a photography platform and, since its inception, has gained 13 million users with its Marketplace. It was billed as a platform that connected photographers and clients looking for stock images. The company has gone through a number of changes this year: it was acquired by Visual China Group in February, while in May, it announced that it was partnering with Getty Images, beginning on July 1st. Just last week, it brought on a new CEO, Aneta Filiciak, formerly its vice president of strategic development.
Buried in its contributor FAQ are some drastic shifts for 500px: the company explains that Marketplace “hasn’t performed as well in the stock photography space as hoped,” and that it “had to choose between” investing more in building the platform, or simply finding a new revenue model. The Marketplace operated through June 30th, and now, photographers who have signed up for distribution will have their images transferred over to either Visual China Group (if they’re in China), or to Getty Images (if they’re anywhere else in the world). 500px notes that the royalty rates for photographers won’t change, and that its users will reach a much wider marketplace. Photographers who want to opt out of global distribution have the option to do so.
There’s other drastic changes as well: photographers who post their photos to Marketplace under a Creative Commons license — i.e., a structure that allows creators to set a variety of terms on their work — won’t be able to do so anymore. The company says that it also isn’t providing a migration plan for contributors with existing Creative Commons images, and that users won’t be able to download or search for such images. A 500px spokesperson told The Verge that they could change course in the future, based on what their users’ response is like, saying that “there may be an opportunity to integrate Creative Commons back into our platform in the future.”
The company says that it won’t “offer another public copyright license option,” but notes that photographers can select a royalty-free 500px license, which will allow the company to distribute those images through Getty or VCG.
500px says that it reached out to Creative Commons in May, and explained at the time that the reason for the shift was that they weren’t seeing a lot of activity with Creative Commons images, that they still had a number of bugs when it came to searching for such images, and they only had outdated licenses for photographers. In short, there’s not enough activity for 500px to justify continuing it.
But the changes have concerned open-internet activists and online archivists, who say that access to freely available images is important to the larger internet community. Jason Scott, who works with the Internet Archive, noted on Twitter that the change comes with little warning, and that with more than a million Creative Commons licensed images on the site, getting them transferred off before they became inaccessible was a tall order, and launched an effort to grab what they can. Scott says that they were able to archive 3 terabytes of photos in 48 hours.
Scott isn’t the only critic of the company’s change in strategy: 500px’s founder, Evgeny Tchebotarev (who left the company in 2016), tweeted that “Creative Commons is critical to the growth and support of the open web,” and that the company’s decisions in recent years have perplexed him greatly.