In a previous post, I explained the importance of embedding copyright in your images.
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time. Generally, it is “the right to copy”, but also gives the copyright holder the right to be credited for the work, to determine who may adapt the work to other forms, who may perform the work, who may financially benefit from it, and other related rights. It is a form of intellectual property (like the patent, the trademark, and the trade secret) applicable to any expressible form of an idea or information that is substantive and discrete.
By default, copyright means “all rights reserved”, that you as the copyright holder reserves the right to limit use and visibility. In other words, that no one else has permission to use your work – or even just display it – without your expressed permission.
This type of restriction may not be what you want as an artist trying to get exposure, and there is a better way.
Use of a Creative Commons license will not invalidate your original copyright, but will give others (if you choose) the ability to use or display your work, thereby enabling the viewing of your photography by a much wider audience.
What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These are legally enforceable licenses that allow creators to mark a work with permission to make a variety of uses, with the aim of expanding the range of things available for others to share, quote, adapt, and build upon. Creative Commons licenses do two things: They allow creators to share their work easily, and they allow everyone to find work that is free to use without permission. As long as you obey the terms of the license attached to the work, you can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing someone’s copyright. I encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses because they effectively help communicate information about copyright-holders’ intentions and thus help everyone know with clarity what may be used and how – and what requires permission. They help authors and creators manage their copyrights and share their creative work without losing control over it.
Why use a Creative Commons license?
Creative Commons licenses help creators share their work easily and they help everyone find work that can be used without permission. As long as people follow the terms of the license attached to the work, they can use Creative Commons licensed material without fear of accidentally infringing copyright. I encourage the use of Creative Commons licenses because they effectively help communicate information about copyright holders intentions and thus help everyone know with clarity what may be used without permission and how – and what requires permission. These licenses help authors and creators manage their copyrights and share their creative work without losing control of their rights. Creative Commons licenses facilitate creators’ rights by communicating clearly a contact for permission when appropriate. It’s easy to find Creative Commons licensed material especially through search engines like CCSearch and CCMixter. In the academic community, Creative Commons licenses can make it easier for people to find your work, legitimately build on your ideas, and increase citation to your work.
What do the Creative Commons licenses mean?
When you apply a Creative Commons license to your work, you are telling the world, as the copyright holder, what uses you are willing to permit – and which you are not. The licenses can be applied to any work that is covered by copyright law including photographs.
Some explanation: A work of authorship is protected by copyright from the moment of creation (fixation), and those rights are owned by the author of the work. So, the starting assumption – or the default status – for a work protected by copyright is “All Rights Reserved.” Copyright is often referred to as a bundle of rights because copyright includes a whole range of rights including the right to authorize (or not) copying, performance, display, distribution of copies, or making derivatives; effectively anything other than just viewing the original copy. There are some exceptions like fair use, but these are applicable only in certain circumstances. Unless you as the copyright holder indicate otherwise, you are assumed to control all of the rights in that bundle. This means that anyone who wants to make any use of a work needs to get permission from you. You can license some, all, or none of those rights depending on your goals – that’s where Creative Commons licenses can help both copyright holders and people who want to use copyrighted materials.
There are six main licenses to choose from; these vary in the amount of freedom users have with respect to a work. The licenses can be applied to any work that is covered by copyright law including books, scholarly articles, movies, musical arrangements, and artwork. However, please note that Creative Commons licenses are not to be used with computer software.
The six core Creative Commons licenses of vary in openness/restrictiveness. They are (in order of increasing restrictiveness):
Attribution – “CC BY”
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work, even commercially, as long as they credit the original author for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with a work licensed under Attribution.
Attribution ShareAlike – “CC BY-SA”
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit the original author and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on a work licensed this way will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
Attribution-NonCommercial – “CC BY-NC”
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge the original author and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike – “CC BY-NC-SA”
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, as long as they credit the original author and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute this work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on the work. All new work based on the original will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.
Attribution NoDerivatives – “CC BY-ND”
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the original author.
Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives – “CC BY-NC-ND”
This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download works and share them with others as long as they mention the original author and link back to them, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
Applying a license to your work…
After you have chosen the specific Creative Commons license you wish to use, it is simple to apply the license to your work. The license options are the same for all types of media.