helenlt on August 9th, 2013
We’ve been promoting Creative Commons material as a great source of copyright compliant material that can be reused for a range of University purposes and activities. The message must be getting through because we’ve received a number of queries about using Creative Commons material. A few of you have discovered one of the problems with Creative Commons – the catch, if you like.
You see Creative Commons’ greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. Creative Commons licences are designed to be easy to use. Any author, photographer, artist, musician, film-maker can apply a Creative Commons licence to their work. All they have to do is include “this work is licensed under Creative Commons licence….[enter the specific licence type]” or the icon for one of the Creative Commons licences and their work is licensed under Creative Commons. It’s that simple. They don’t have to talk to a lawyer or register it with Creative Commons. Choose a licence and include information that shows the work is licensed under Creative Commons where people can easily find it. The ease with which creators can apply a CC licence is part of the reason why Creative Commons have become so widespread – it’s available to anyone and everyone!
But in choosing to use Creative Commons, creators must make sure that they only licence work for which they hold the rights. This means it must be material that they’ve created and own copyright in. If a person chooses to license their work under Creative Commons, and it includes material created by someone else, the copyright owner of the third party work must give their permission to licence their work under Creative Commons. Unfortunately, not everyone choosing Creative Commons understands this requirement and some material has been incorrectly licensed under Creative Commons. One example that we’ve seen was on Flickr. Someone had taken a photo of a Brett Whiteley painting and licensed it under Creative Commons. Brett Whiteley is still in copyright and since the photo was a reproduction of Brett’s painting, the photographer needed permission from Brett Whiteley’s estate. It’s unlikely that the estate would have granted permission for the painting to be licensed under Creative Commons.
So how can you be sure that the Creative Commons content you’ve chosen is OK to use? Some things to watch out for:
- Images of other images or artwork . Although, the photographer or artist has created the photograph or image, since the photograph is nothing than a reproduction of an existing artwork, they would also need to get permission for the underlying artwork to be licensed under Creative Commons.
- Mash-up of clips from TV shows or images from popular culture. Again, because the creator of the mash up is reproducing existing material, they will need to get permission to licence the work from the copyright owners of the TV shows or images.
- Film footage that includes a popular song for background music. The film-maker will need to obtain a permission to able to licence the music under Creative Commons.
We don’t want to discourage anyone from using Creative Commons material – its still a great source of copyright friendly content – but we did want to try highlight that not all Creative Commons content is suitable and to give you some guidance on how to spot the unsuitable items.
A useful rule of thumb is be careful with Creative Commons material that incorporates images or extracts of popular cultural material, such as pop culture images, music or music. Remember, if you’re unsure about anything, you can always contact us for advice and a second opinion.
Image: SXSW Creative Commons Logo by Stef Lewandowski.