Dec 19, 2014 · 2 minutes

Flickr has pulled a 180 and decided not to use Creative Commons-licensed images to create posters it planned to sell to consumers. It has removed some 50 million images from the "Wall Art" program as a result, the Wall Street Journal reports, and apologized to its users.

The decision is a rare reversal from a technology company, many of which are used to profiting off users' activities, often through advertising networks. (The saying about users, products, and knowing the difference between the two applies here.)

Of course, most of those advertising networks don't involve a physical product being sold directly by a tech company, so this case is different. But the general principle -- taking user activity and turning it into a new revenue source -- is about the same.

This is even weirder because using the licensed images to print posters wasn't illegal. That's the point of the Creative Commons license: to make it clear what others can do with a work. And in this case, Yahoo was technically allowed to make the posters.

All of which leaves us with a tech company reversing a decision to open new revenue streams because some of its users complained and said it was unethical for someone as large as the Yahoo-owned Flickr to profit off their art without having to pay for it.

In the meantime it's going to work with Creative Commons to come up with a better solution for situations like this one, according to Flickr's blog post about the change:

We hear and understand your concerns, and we always want to ensure that we’re acting within the spirit with which the community has contributed. Given the varied reactions, as a first step, we’ve decided to remove the pool of Creative Commons-licensed images from Flickr Wall Art, effective immediately. We’ll also be refunding all sales of Creative Commons-licensed images made to date through this service.

Subsequently, we’ll work closely with Creative Commons to come back with programs that align better with our community values. Besides realizing this might be a problem before the Wall Art program debuted, it's hard to think of how Flickr could have handled this better. It's not screwing over its users, the decision didn't require any legal prodding, and it's apologizing to artists.

I mean, shit, this is almost as strange as Twitter's decision to sue the Justice Department for the right to be more honest with its customers about its actions.