Copyright vs. Creative Commons licenses

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This week on Learning for Life Online, we’ll take a quick look at the idea of copyright, and how the idea of protecting your creative work has been changed by the internet.

What is Copyright?

In the United States, copyright exists to keep people from copying someone else’s work and either claiming it as their own work or making money from selling or licensing that work. There are exceptions for fair use for commentary, criticism, and research and educational purposes, but in general if something is protected by copyright, you can’t copy or reuse that content. Copyright was intended to protect the ability of writers, artists, filmmakers, and other creative professionals to make a living doing what they do.

The U.S. Copyright Office has a great Frequently Asked Questions page to explain the basics; you can also read the entirety of U.S. Copyright Law online. Students and teachers can learn more about copyright and education from the Library of Congress.

What is Public Domain

Creative works that are not under copyright are in the public domain. This means that it is okay to use or reuse any part or whole of that work however you’d like. Most texts or images created before 1923 in the United States are in the public domain and are freely available, but there are many rules about what is and isn’t in the public domain.

What is Creative Commons?

Making text, audio, video and photos available on the Internet has made it easier for creative professionals to share their work, and it also makes it easier to copy and reuse that work. Creative Commons is an organization created to find ways to let creative professionals maintain ownership of their work and give permission for others to use or remix that work in specific ways. They do this by writing up Creative Commons licenses – legal documents that spell out what other people can and can’t do with content. A creator putting their work up on the internet can choose which Creative Commons (CC) license they want to use, and link to it from wherever they’ve put their content. Then, if someone else wants to use that content, they can click through and read the license to know what’s okay.

To understand what CC licenses will and won’t allow, there are a few terms that need explaining. Flickr provides some good definitions:

  • Attribution means: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work – and derivative works based upon it – but only if they give you credit.
  • Noncommercial means: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work – and derivative works based upon it – but for noncommercial purposes only.
  • No Derivative Works means: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.
  • Share Alike means: You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that you released your work under.

You can also watch and hear what Creative Commons means to creators in their own words. For more, check out an entire page of videos that explain Creative Commons and the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions page.

Why Does It Matter?

Why does all this matter?
Because ignoring copyright – using someone else’s protected work without their permission – is wrong and illegal in the U.S.
Because getting permission from creative professionals who want to give it should be easy and obvious, to encourage sharing and remixing whenever it’s allowed.
Because some excellent things come from sharing and remixing content online: music mashups combining different songs, video mashups that bring together different television and film snippets (for instance, an alternate ending to Back to the Future), tools like Tumblr and Scoop.It, and more.
Because as you learn how to live a life online, understanding these two points of view make it easy to be a respectful, ethical, law-abiding online resident. Whether you create content, reuse it, or simply enjoy it where it is, it helps to keep everyone on the same page – virtual or not.

Help & Resources

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4 Responses to Copyright vs. Creative Commons licenses

  1. Great post. Many thanks. Here is another resource your readers my find useful: ALA Copyright Tools

  2. Melissa says:

    Great post! We also created a little video about copyright at Brooklyn Public Library (the other BPL): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7pUclp9kBs

    • Jennifer K says:

      That video is so very much clearer than the one CC made. ;^) Thanks for the share, and I’ll send it out to our Facebook and Twitter followers, too. Cheers!

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