The White House is making unprecedented use of consumer web technologies but those technologies aren't always well suited to fit the government's needs. They aren't always well suited to fit anyone's needs - but maybe if Obama leans on them a little bit things will change.
Today the White House launched an official collection of photos depicting Obama's first 100 days in office on Flickr. The Creative Commons Foundation asks why these photos are licensed as Creative Commons Attribution (meaning you have to credit the source) instead of being in the Public Domain free for use in any context, as data created by the Federal Government usually is.
The answer to the question? The photos aren't Public Domain because Flickr doesn't offer Public Domain licensing as an option. That's a shame for every photo publisher, not just he White House. Creative Commons licensing makes it really easy for people who want to re-use photos to do so quickly and easily by allowing content creators to communicate their conditions for re-use ahead of time. If you just want to get your photos out into the world with absolutely no restrictions, though, Flickr doesn't offer that option. Or, if you're a government agency that wants to publish photos on the best photo sharing site on the web and make them Public Domain like you ought to - you're out of luck.
We're going to guess that the White House will be added to the list of selected partners participating in the Flickr Commons, where organizations like the Library of Congress have photos posted under a special "no known copyright" license. That won't solve the problem for the rest of us, though, and it's probably not a scalable solution for every government agency that would like to publish to Flickr.
Hopefully Flickr will be prompted to change its licensing options; other users have asked for Public Domain as an option for some time. We've asked the company for comment and will update this post if we get a helpful reply. Flickr's support for Creative Commons has been fabulous. The next logical step is to support publishing photos to the Public Domain.
UPDATE: Since posting this we've been pointed to an active conversation on Flickr about Public Domain, where we found a link to site co-founder Stewart Butterfield's explanation four years ago for not offering Public Domain as an option.