Copyright, Publishing Contract Clauses, Image Use And Avoiding Getting Sued With Helen Sedwick

There are questions that come up over and over again in the self-publishing world: What does copyright even mean? How do I write about real people and not get sued? How can I protect against piracy? Today, I interview lawyer Helen Sedwick about these and many other legal issues.

In the intro, I talk about the new Kindle Voyage, heading to Frankfurt Book Fair and what I’m learning from Dean Wesley Smith’s productivity course that has resulted in 20,000 words done for Gates of Hell, my next novel in the last 9 days.

99designs-logo-750x200pxThis podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to:

helensedwickHelen Sedwick is a California attorney with 30 years experience representing a diverse range of businesses and entrepreneurs. She writes historical fiction and has also written the Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook to help writers self-publish while minimizing legal risk.

You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher, watch the interview on YouTube, or read the notes and links below.

We discuss:

  • legalhandbookHow Helen studied creative writing, but eventually went to law school when she wanted to earn more money, but she continued to write on the side. 30 years later, she self-published her historical novel, Coyote Winds, and learned so much about the process. She wrote a guide to help other authors based on her legal perspective.
  • What is copyright? When does it come into existence and how do you register it? Using the metaphor of a house you own, Helen explains how each room represents a certain right, and how you can best exploit those and protect yourself.
  • Some key publishing contract clauses to watch out for. Limit the rights by length of time, or the format asked for. Make sure that a publisher will actually exploit any rights you sell. How the end of the contract is managed and when you get your rights back. Defining ‘out of print’ in a digital age.
  • On writing memoir and real life people and events – without getting sued! Considering privacy issues and country differences.
  • On piracy and enforcing copyright. How to use take-down notices. But basically, obscurity is more of a risk than piracy, and some authors use piracy as a form of marketing these days.
  • Avoiding scams in the shark-infested waters of self-publishing. Check out Writer Beware. We also discuss competitions and which are worth entering.
  • Collaborating with other authors, translators and other professionals. What you need to consider if you want to work successfully with other people.
  • On working with attorneys and lawyers – if you need one.
  • How setting up a business can be great for optimizing your finances.

You can find Helen at and on twitter @HelenSedwick. I highly recommend you read her amazing blog, buy her books and email her if you have legal questions. You can also leave comments or questions below.

Q&A Time: My Journey, Writing Routine, Author Platform Tips, Global Publishing And Mistakes

I recorded this video for the Gulf Coast Writer’s Conference recently and I thought you might find it interesting as well. It’s 26 mins long and contains slides and images as well as my talking head :)

Thanks to thriller author Michael Lister for the invitation! I also recently interviewed Michael about his religious thrillers, if you like similar fiction to me.

I answer the following questions:

  • To me you are the epitome of an indie author and entrepreneur. Can you share with us the journey that has gotten you here?
  • What percentage of your time is spent being an author and what percentage an entrepreneur? What do you think a person needs to be both?
  • What is your writing routine? How long does it typically take you to write a novel?
  • Can you touch on author platform for us?
  • Can you tell us what you think works best for indie authors, what those who are experiencing success are doing best?
  • What are the biggest mistakes you see authors making?
  • Can you touch on what you’re doing in foreign markets and translations?
  • Write. Publish. Repeat.   Respond   :-)

 I’d love to know if you like these type of videos, as I could do more of them to answer more of your questions. So please do let me know in the comments a) if you like this style of video post and b) what are the questions you’d like me to answer.

How Has Self-Publishing Changed In The Last 2 Years? Interview With David Gaughran.

Today I interview David Gaughran, author and outspoken commentator on all things indie.

lets get digitalDavid has just released the second edition of his fantastic book, Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

This book is one of the reasons I decided NOT to write my own book about how to self-publish. When it is done so well by a fantastic author, why reinvent the wheel! I highly recommend grabbing a copy and even if you know what you’re doing as an indie, you’ll certainly learn something from the interviews in the last section.

What are some of the big changes in the publishing industry between the two editions of your book?

That was probably the most interesting part of writing this new edition, charting all the changes. It’s only when you take a step back that you realize how much has happened in the last three years. A lot of what was theory in 2011 has become fact.

Self-publishing has gone mainstream, with indies grabbing around 25% of the US e-book market – from scratch! Borders has gone out of business, taking its 600+ stores out of existence (and costing 12,000 people their jobs). Publishers are merging to try to weather the storm, but they still haven’t become that much smarter about how they approach e-books, digital marketing, or this thing the kids are calling “the internet.”

For self-publishers, the amount of change has been equally breathtaking.

When I wrote the first edition, selling 1,000 books in a month was a big deal. A really big deal actually. But now you can sell that much in a day with a BookBub ad. Authors tend to focus on how much competition has increased (there are 3 million books in the Kindle Store today versus maybe 1 million in 2011), but they forget to factor in how much the digital market has swelled and that we now have much more sophisticated tools to reach readers.

On top of that, self-publishers are constantly innovating and sharing. While I’m glad I started when I did, I wouldn’t be afraid of starting today or thinking that I’d missed the boat. Not at all. I think we’re still at the beginning of this revolution that’s reshaping our industry.

How has the public perception of self-publishing changed, and are we past the ‘stigma’ label?

I’m skeptical about how much that stigma ever existed among the people that really count: readers. It definitely existed in the industry – among agents, editors, and traditionally published authors – and still does in certain quarters. But, really, that’s their problem. It doesn’t affect me reaching readers, building an audience, and selling books.

I think most agents and publishers are very open to signing indie authors. Out of those that aren’t, ask yourself this: do you really want to do business with someone with such an outdated view of the marketplace?

The market does feel like shark-infested waters these days with so many companies out to take money from authors.

How can people tell the difference between good and bad services? What should they definitely NOT spend their money on?

It’s pretty tough because a lot of these scammers are so slick. What I would say to authors, especially those starting out, is that there are no shortcuts, and that goes for publishing books as well as selling them.

If someone is offering you an easy way to publish, or simple trick for selling more books, you should be automatically skeptical. Lottery winners aside, success usually requires hard work. If someone claims to be an expert who can put together a social media campaign that will lead to hundreds or thousands of sales, be automatically skeptical.

If a company offers you a hassle-free way of publishing your book, where they will take care of everything, be automatically skeptical. And if the company is owned by a traditional publisher, be very skeptical.

The biggest predator out there is a company called Author Solutions, which is currently subject to a major class action in the US for deceptive business practices. I’ve been campaigning against the company for a few years now, but this post is a good place to start if you don’t know much about them.

The saddest thing is that Author Solutions is owned by Penguin Random House – which has done nothing to clean up those predatory practices since buying the company for $116m in July 2012. So when I hear publishers talking about re-imagining the industry, placing the author at the center, and treating writers as true partners, I always think to myself: talk is cheap.

Scammers aside, I go into some depth in Let’s Get Digital about what authors should do and not do in terms of marketing (and that goes for the time you spend, as well as money), but you can get the basics of the approach I suggest in this post.

You have a load of success stories in the book and what’s encouraging is that it includes people who are NOT ‘big indie names.’

What are some of the common threads you see between these authors & how can people model their success?

I’m glad you liked that because I was doing something very deliberate with that section. The media tends to focus on the very biggest sellers: Bella Andre, Hugh Howey, HM Ward etc.

But this revolution is far deeper and wider than that. I think the real story is the hundreds and thousands of authors who maybe aren’t selling millions of books, but are making a living off this for the very first time, or paying their mortgage with royalties for the first time, all thanks to self-publishing.

I tried to select a range of authors from different backgrounds and genres, and with different paths to success. You have people like Bob Mayer who had millions of books in print when he was traditionally published, but his experience turned sour and he decided to self-publish and became a huge success (again) – with those very same books that publishers said were finished.

At the other end of the scale you have someone like UK author Mel Comley who never had a traditional deal, decided to self-publish in 2010, and took six months to make her first $100 on Amazon. Today, Mel has sold hundreds of thousands of books and is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, and she did that all on her own. I wanted to show there are multiple paths to success and each story is quite different, and I hope the overall effect is inspiring.

Authors are always looking for magic bullets, but here’s the real secret.

All of these writers decided to pick themselves instead of waiting to be picked.

They were all determined enough to keep at it until they were a success. And they all worked bloody hard at it too. You need a bit of luck, but you need to put yourself in a position to get lucky by honing your craft, putting your work out there, and being smart about how you reach readers. And you need to hang in there and keep at it. Again: there are no shortcuts, but success truly is attainable.

It’s not easy, but it is much more of a possibility than it ever was before. In other words, it’s down to you.

david gaughranvisible300pxDavid Gaughran is an Irish author, living in Prague, and he blogs on writing and the publishing business here. You can pick up the updated, expanded version of Let’s Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for $4.99/£2.99.

To celebrate the launch, he’s also running a sale on the companion book Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books which you can grab for the reduced price of 99c/79p, also from Amazon, Amazon UK, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

If you have any questions for David, please leave them below, and join the conversation!

The Pros And Cons Of Exclusivity

Should you self-publish exclusively on Amazon? That is the question many authors consider whenever they put a book out.

side of the fence

Which side of the fence are you on?

Which side of the fence are you on?

The benefits of exclusivity

Here are my thoughts as to why you should consider exclusivity with Amazon, which basically means that you cannot publish a particular work anywhere else BUT Amazon for a 90 day period when you opt in with the checkbox on the KDP publishing page.

KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited

The KDP Select help page describes the benefits to opting in as:

  • Earn your share of the KDP Select Global Fund amount when readers choose and read more than 10% of your book from Kindle Unlimited, or borrow your book from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Plus, earn 70% royalty for sales to customers in Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico.
  • Choose between two great promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals, time-bound promotional discounting for your book while earning royalties; or scheduled Free Book Promotion where readers worldwide can get your book free for a limited time. [Note: you can still make your book permafree if you publish on multiple platforms, pricing free and then reporting the cheaper price to Amazon.]
  • kdp selectHelp readers discover your books by making them available through Kindle Unlimited in the U.S. and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) in the U.S, U.K., Germany, France, and Japan. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription program for readers that allows them to read as many books as they want. The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is a collection of books that Amazon Prime members who own a Kindle can choose one book from each month with no due dates. When you enroll in KDP Select, your books are automatically included in both programs.

Ease of changes

One of the big pains when you go direct to all platforms is the timing of price changes for sales. You can schedule a price change on Kobo and iBooks, but Nook can take a few days and Amazon’s speed of change vary between 4 – 72 hours. Similarly, if you want to change back matter or fix a typo, you have to do it multiple times. Of course, you can use services like Smashwords, BookBaby or Draft2Digital and update once for all platforms, but I prefer to publish directly for the extra metadata fields I get on the various platforms.

If you are exclusive to Amazon, you only have to manage one site and one set of changes.

The drawbacks to exclusivity

There are several reasons why you shouldn’t be exclusive to Amazon.

Global growth of digital markets. Don’t miss out!

kobo sales

My Kobo sales in 58 countries

Amazon may be the biggest player in the US and the UK, but there are other retail stores and devices that dominate in other countries.

Germany, for example, is possibly the next big market for ebooks, and Amazon has 40% of the market. Apple iBooks and Tolino, an ebook reader and associated stores that are run by a group of German publishers, have the rest. I have found that my sales on the other German platforms match Amazon almost exactly.

My sales in Canada primarily come from Kobo, and both Kobo and iBooks break sales down into 50+ countries. We haven’t even got started in the massive Asian markets yet!

The Compound Effect

I’ve found that by going direct to iBooks, Kobo and Nook, I have started to grow an audience there, and my income ticks up every month as their compound effectecosystems discover my books. The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy is a fantastic book that describes how little actions taken every day can add up over time to massive change, or massive impact over years. You can’t expect to load your books up on Kobo and expect them to sell straight away, you need time in that market.

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, says in his post on exclusivity that,

“It can take years to build readership at a retailer.  Authors who cycle their books in and out of KDP Select will have a more difficult time building readership at Amazon’s competitors.”

I have seen the Compound Effect on my blog, my online platform and my book sales over the last six years. I know things take time to build, and a few hundred dollars a month now may grow if I stay my course.

Independence and possibility of disruption

I’m an independent author, so I don’t want to be dependent on any single income stream.

I love Amazon as much as the next indie author, as much as the next Amazon Prime junkie and happy customer, but in early 2008, I was laid off, along with 400 other people in one day from my department.

gfcMy one source of income disappeared very fast.

Few people saw the Global Financial Crisis coming, and we all had to adapt. Change is inevitable, so I choose to spread my bets amongst the retailers as well as selling directly from my own site.

In Jeff Bezos’ interview with Charlie Rose in Dec 2013, Jeff said that at some point, Amazon itself would be disrupted. He just hopes it happens after he is dead!

I think about the future of this business a lot.

I’m 39, and I am not just building for the next year, I’m building for the rest of my life and hopefully leaving something for my family when I’m gone. As Amazon continues to rise and rise, we see the push back of many different industries against their domination. Who knows what the next 5 years will hold?

Conclusion: My personal choices around exclusivity

One of the best things about being an indie is personal choice, but of course, this can make it harder as well. I can’t tell you what to do with your books, I can only say what I do myself.

  • For anyone with one book and no platform, exclusivity seems to be the best way to get your book moving, at least in the initial period. I helped my Dad self-publish his historical thriller, Nada, last year, and put that in KDP Select. There was no point in going with the other platforms when the majority of his sales would be Amazon, and he had no intention of doing any ongoing marketing for the book. Free books allowed us to get the sales started and get some reviews.
  • For translations, in a new market, with little ability to do other forms of marketing, exclusivity is also a good idea. I’m using KDP Select for my Spanish and Italian books, and the free promo days have enabled us to get the algorithms moving and get some reviews.
  • For an established series that you are building over time, using more than one site is my personal choice. The compound effect will mean that over time, as I add books onto the platforms, and reach readers one by one, my sales will grow on the other sites. I also like spreading my income streams so I am not dependent on one platform for my livelihood. That’s why the vast majority of my English language fiction and non-fiction is on all the major platforms.
  • Trying new things is important! For this year’s NaNoWriMo, I’ll be writing a stand-alone novella that I will put on KDP Select in order to try out Kindle Unlimited. As a reader, I love the idea of KU. I already utilize borrows on Prime and I consume a lot of books. I also love to play with the available options we have.

So basically, when you have multiple books, you can adopt multiple strategies. Fantastic!

What are your feelings around exclusivity? Do you keep all your books on Amazon only, or do you spread your books on multiple sites? Have you started selling direct, and why? Please leave a comment and join the conversation below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons fence by John Curley, solving the GFC by Cathrin Idsoe

Digital Only Deals, Translating Into German And The Launch Of Desecration-Verletzung.

The adventures in translation continue apace … and this one is a little different!

Desecration VerletzungToday, I’m excited to announce the launch of Desecration-Verletzung in German, which is part of a debut set of crime/thrillers from a new German digital-only imprint, Midnight by Ullstein. This article includes my thoughts on working with a publisher as well as an interview with my translator.

Digital Only Deal for Desecration with Ullstein Midnight

As part of my 50:50 royalty split deal with my translator, Hans Maerker, we discussed the possibility of pursuing a traditional deal as well as self-publishing. When the opportunity came up to work with Ullstein Midnight, a new digital imprint of a well-known German publisher specifically for crime and thrillers, we decided to go for it. I can’t go into specifics on the contract but here are some thoughts from the process:

  • midnight ullsteinWhile I wouldn’t necessarily be interested in a digital only deal for English language, it makes sense to work with an established publisher with great relationships and merchandising opportunities in a new territory and language. After talking with the great team at Midnight, I was keen to work with them to see what we could accomplish, given that J.F.Penn is unknown in Germany. I believe being an indie author is about making decisions that benefit your business, and partnering with publishers can definitely be worthwhile. I’ve had several skype calls as well as email conversations with the Midnight team and I’m impressed with their energy and willingness to try new things. That’s the kind of partner an entrepreneurial indie wants!
  • The process involved an extra layer of editing, which was great in terms of quality control and also made sure the book fitted the ‘voice’ of the new imprint. You can never get enough editing imho :)
  • The title is interesting as it is an English word and a German word together. Germany has copyright on book titles, so many international books use English words in titles. Verletzung can mean ‘violation’ which was my original title for the book anyway, so I’m pleased with it.
  • The cover design was redone and I did have some input into the process. I actually like this cover a lot!
  • Lesson learned: When I self-publish for free on the digital platforms, I just click ALL when it comes to countries for distribution. Traditional publishers don’t have the easy choice to just click the ALL button as there are more costs involved, so although Midnight have all the digital rights to German, the ebook isn’t available in Canada, or Australia for example. The thinking is that there aren’t enough German readers in those countries to warrant the cost of distribution. This surprised me, as of course, this is all free for indie authors and distribution has no overhead for us. How lucky we are!

With all these translation adventures, the view is more long term and I would expect to report back on how it’s all gone in a year’s time. Still to come in 2014, the Italian version of Desecration and possibly the Spanish Desecration.

Interview with Hans Maerker – translator for Desecration-Verletzung

You can also read this interview in German on Hans’ site here.

Hans Maerker

Tell us a little about yourself and your writing & translating background

I was raised in Germany, but my grandmother’s sister – who lived in the same house with us – was British. She exposed me to English when I was a little boy, and so I grew up with both languages. It helped me tremendously during my engineering career in aviation later on. Aviation requires precision, and I never liked to do things half-hearted anyway. It was a perfect combination. I was all over the globe, needed to immerse in English whenever I was outside Germany, and one lead to another. Prior to Airbus, the civil aviation scene was dominated by American aircraft manufacturers. So, I went to Berlitz, perfected my English, and focused on American English ever since. My passports looked like impressionistic paintings with all their stamps over the years.

Being in Quality Control shaped my ability to write precise reports and to do in depth research. I had friends in Singapore, Australia, and America over the years. I lived like a cosmopolitan, but that changed when I finally left Germany and moved to America. That’s where I met my wife, and worked as an avionics instructor for an US airline. The airline changed their aging fleet at that time, and that required not only teaching aircraft systems in a classroom, but those maintenance technicians needed training manuals for the new aircraft types as well. It was a totally different ball game but I had the knowledge, and felt the satisfaction, writing gave me. Even if it was technical writing and editing. It never changed from that moment on, and shaped me as a writer.

Returning to Europe after so many in the States happened just at the time when Germany changed the grammar and punctuation rules. I was thrown in the middle of it and had to learn the new rules. It was sort of a forced brush-up course on my mother tongue, but definitely benefitted my knowledge about its correct usage. My wife’s mother tongue is American English, and so we stayed in Germany for a while, but eventually moved to an EU country where maltaEnglish is spoken and German needed. That’s how we ended up in Malta, where we currently live.

What are some of the particular challenges about translating from English into German?

It depends on what needs to be translated. Technical instructions, actually any non-fiction, is more or less cut and dry translation, where you have to be precise in every shape and from. There is not much room for interpretation.

That’s completely reversed when it comes to fiction. Every language has its own special phrases and usage, to express the same thing. You need to be aware of the country, the habits of the people who live there, and more. Fiction lives off emotions and tension, created by the author. Having a dictionary next to you, or on your computer, doesn’t cut it as a translator. Sure, you can translate any fiction that way, but you risk to have a dull and boring story.

The ideal situation for fiction and non-fiction is, to have lived in this environment yourself. That you’ve talked to the neighbors, waited in line at the post office, or got stuck in traffic on an highway. The feeling and understanding for this different environment, its people, and their use of the language is something that shows in your translation of a story. No language school and no dictionary can teach you this experience. In my opinion, a good translator should have global experience, and not just doing the job after learning the ropes at school.

Why did you want to translate Desecration? And were there any surprises on the translation journey?

I think it was a combination of several facts. One was that I like crime or thriller stories. It’s because of the puzzle that needs to fit logically together. The other fact was that dark and extraordinary mood. The way how Jamie coped with her own emotions and problems.

As for surprises, yes, there were a few. However, they were more on the intellectual side, and not technically related. Pretty soon, I was deeper in this story than I expected. I basically immersed in the story, lived through Jamie’s emotions, and felt them while translating.

Why did you want to do a royalty split deal with an indie author? What are your tips for translators who want to do this kind of thing?

Two good questions. The first one is based on an emotional decision. I believe in myself and feel confident to tackle difficult situations. Those are the benefits when you’re around the block for a while. You know, you’re not only willing to give your best but you’re capable of doing it. If you do any work without really standing behind it, then it can turn into a disaster. No success, no payment. You work on a profit base, and that’s a challenge. It’s fair to your client too, but requires that both ‘click’. It’s based on trust and confidence on both sides. The chemistry between author and translator need to match. That’s not always given.

As for some ‘how to’ tips for other translators, I would say to them, ask yourself first whether you’re an entrepreneur type. Full time freelancers usually are, otherwise they wouldn’t make a living. Go for those authors who write the stories that you would like to write yourself. Look at the author’s website or blog. Read up on their history, and see whether you both have something in common. Trust your feelings in such a case, and approach the author. The final decision comes when translator and author communicate with each other.

How should indie authors find a good translator for their book? How do they evaluate it when they don’t speak the language?

That’s the most tricky part. Not so long ago, I read an article about the small world of translators. Never really thought about it until then. Usually it goes the other way round, and translators are approaching authors or work through word of mouth reference.

The worst part is probably the evaluation. References don’t mean a thing, as every non-fiction translation is different because of the author’s different style. Best evaluation might be the route similar to editing. I would ask for roughly five pages of a translation sample, and hand the translator a more difficult passage of my manuscript. If you don’t know the language, then you have to hand those translated samples to some experts for an evaluation, and rely on their opinion. If the difficult passage got translated to your satisfaction, then the easier ones will pass the test anyway. However, this can be an iffy situation already. Hand the same [fiction] translation to three experts for an analysis, and you will get three different opinions.

How do translators work with authors during the translation process?

It depends where they are located. Most of the time, author and translator live far from each other. Yet, in our digital world, this is no problem anymore. The standard communication routes are email and Skype. The more important one is probably email, as it is quick, can be sent at any time, and allows attachments.

You can find me at and on twitter @h_maerker


Hans and Joanna both use Filofax diaries!

Note from Joanna

I found Hans brilliant to work with as he has a strong work ethic, translating faster than anticipated to meet the launch deadlines for Midnight. He’s also very organized and responds promptly to emails and work requests. I’ll admit to a little control freakery in my approach to my business, but our emails and skype calls made me feel confident that this project would go well.

We have also kept honesty and openness as our guiding principle around feedback and money discussions. Critical in any business relationship! I schedule most of my meetings months in advance, and Hans was comfortable with that – we even share the same habit of using an old style Filofax as our diaries.


Der Tod ist erst der Anfang!

desecration germanDie junge Frau ist reich, schön – und tot. Inmitten der alten medizinischen Ausstellungsstücke des Royal College of Surgeons liegt ihre sezierte Leiche sorgsam aufgebahrt. Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke sucht einen ungewöhnlichen Mörder und ahnt, wieder einmal muss sie bei ihren Ermittlungen ungewöhnliche Wege gehen. Denn sie hat nur eine einzige Spur: Eine kleine antike Elfenbeinfigur, die neben der Toten gefunden wurde. Nur Blake Daniel, Hellseher wider Willen, kann Jamie jetzt noch weiterhelfen.

Als ein schrecklicher privater Schicksalsschlag Jamie zeigt, wie nah der Mörder ihr mit seinen makabren Phantasien schon gekommen ist, ist es beinahe zu spät. Denn je tiefer Jamie und Blake in eine dunkle Welt aus Grabräubern, Missgeburten und rituellen Zeremonien tauchen, desto gefährlicher wird es für ihr Leben …

Jetzt kaufen

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Midnight Ullstein

Do you have any questions or comments about publishing in German or any suggestions for marketing ideas? Please do join the conversation and leave a comment below.

Filofax image: Flickr Creative Commons Heudu