Friday, 25 April 2014

Update yourself on ‘Creative Commons’ licensing

Legalities were left outdated when the digital revolution took hold of electronic communications. Legal additions or changes to laws on copyright, attribution and ownership etc. have been slow to emerge. The world-wide nature of digital conflicted with country-specific laws. Legal traditions across countries restricted and controlled the use of media – using the equivalent of the ‘all rights reserved’ statement.

Enter ‘Creative Commons’ licensing (CC). This was seen as a breath of fresh air in a murky environment. It grew out of the ‘free access to assets’ mind-set that was prevalent in the online community.

So, what exactly is ‘Creative Commons’. Since it was introduced in 2001, it has grown to include all types of communication: audio, visual, and text. The definition is:
An organization that has defined an alternative to copyrights by filling in the gap between full copyright, in which no use is permitted without permission, and public domain, where permission is not required at all. Creative Commons' licenses let people copy and distribute the work under specific conditions, and general descriptions, legal clauses and HTML tags for search engines are provided for several license options.’
(From PC Magazine Encyclopaedia)

There are other definitions you may care to look up, but this introduces several concepts worth noting.

The definition mentions an organisation and this is Creative Commons itself, where you can get the best understanding of how the licenses developed, what they cover and how to use them. See creativecommons.org. The other concept worth noting from the definition is that these newer licenses work alongside, to complement, existing laws on copyright. They do not supercede them. They fill in the gap of use that digital access created.

Because CC licenses have grown to define various types of use and media, it is handy to get an overview of what is available so you can decide what might suit a particular client for a particular set of circumstances if they and you create new assets. Alternatively, Creative Commons allows you to search and use a variety of assets freely in your projects and this might be of value to you too.

Emma Crowley in the BU Blog, Getting to Grips with Creative Commons Licensing (15.4.14) summarises the current set of licences from Creative Commons using infographs. This gives you a great overview and will help you match the right type of license for the proposed use of your own and your clients’ assets. She defines the common features of all the licenses as allowing: copying, distribution, display, digital use, reuse in digital format, worldwide application, and lasting for the duration of copyright, but not allowing, revocation or exclusivity. She defines each type of the six licenses that form the Creative Commons group of licenses too from the most freely useable to the least free. You embed these licenses freely into your code where they are recognised by digital means.

You might be comforted to think that all your asset use problems are solved now: but not so. You really need to think through exactly where and how people might like to use your assets. Hugh Rundle in his recent blog, Creative Commons, Open Access and hypocrisy (23.3.14), notes a difficulty created for him by a request from a commercial publisher for use of one of his blogs. He chose to rethink and change the license, and in his post explains his thinking about just what non-commercial means to him. We have looked at the commercial/non-commercial divide in an earlier post, and it is one of those things that gets fuzzier the closer you look at it.

Another thing to remember about CC licences is that they can't be revoked and last for the duration of copyright. There may be circumstances where this isn't appropriate. For example you might offer free access to something as a 'loss leader' with the intention of commercialising it later ... or even just change your mind. CC doesn't let you do that because even if you change the licence type there is no way of knowing which licence your end user was subject to when they downloaded the material. None of this is a problem as long as you understand the licence.

So, maybe more types of license have to be created to cover more ‘use’ cases. Keep tuning in to creativecommons.org!

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