SCOOP: Not All Rights Are Reserved, Understanding Creative Commons Licensing/
April 12, 2019
Under the statutory letter of the U.S. Copyright Act, creators of works eligible for copyright protection are afforded a number of exclusive rights, including the right to make copies of their works, to perform or display their works, and to produce new works that are derivatives of the original creations. This “all rights reserved” scheme of copyright protection, in the absence of an applicable statutory exception, produces a system that is overly rigid and does not promote the creation of new knowledge or encourage sharing of one’s creation among those who would benefit from its content.
Enter Creative Commons.
Almost 20 years ago, inspired by work in the free software community, a group of individuals led by Lawrence Lessig founded Creative Commons. They devised a set of licenses that the general public could use to create a larger public domain by providing an alternative to the statutory “all rights reserved.” With these licenses, Creative Commons unlocks the barriers posed by the Copyright Act and allowing creators, by license, to reserve only some rights and to grant permission to the public to otherwise reuse and share copyrighted works pursuant to the terms of the license selected.
Creative Commons Licenses Explained
Under the Creative Commons license scheme, there are six licenses and a public domain dedication. All six of the Creative Commons licenses require giving appropriate credit (so long as not in a way that signifies endorsement), are irrevocable (so long as the license is being used correctly), and are applicable worldwide; however, not all licenses are favorable. Some are confusing to apply or have restrictions that do not promote the goals of the open access movement.
The licenses are as follows:
- CC-BY – the most permissive of the six licenses, this one requires anyone using the work to provide credit to the creator. Users are allowed to make changes, use the work commercially, share it freely, etc.
- CC-BY-SA – this license requires attribution to the creator and prohibits the user from imposing any restrictions on modifying or sharing the new work that is created as a result of the use of the original. This license is confusing for most users and is also challenging to implement and enforce and therefore is discouraged from being used, particularly by those in the Open Educational Resource community.
- CC-BY-ND – this license almost behaves opposite of the CC-BY license. You are free to share the work commercially or non-commercially–wherever you please, but you cannot change the work in any way. Want to crop it? Nope. Change it from color to black and white? Can’t. Translate it into Spanish? No can do.
- CC-BY-NC – this license prohibits any modifications or sharing of a work that would be considered as being for commercial purposes. This license has also proved to be a challenge to interpret due to confusion over what “commercial” means. Under the terms of the license, “commercial” is defined as “primarily intended for commercial advantage or monetary gain.” However, the online world looks very different than it did 20 years ago when this definition was written in the license code. We didn’t have the plethora of social media platforms then that we do now and some would argue that sharing photos through Twitter may operate as a commercial activity as would sharing a photo on a web site where you have paid-for advertising or where you are asking for donations. So, be very cautious about how you are using works licensed in this way.
- CC-BY-NC-SA – this license imposes a non-commercial restriction upon the Share Alike license defined above.
- CC-BY-NC-ND – the most restrictive of the six licenses, all that is permitted by this license is noncommercially sharing the work with attribution and as it is presented with no modifications
- Public Domain Dedication CC0 – allows creators to dedicate their otherwise copyrighted works to the public domain, meaning the work, though copyrighted by law, exists as if free from all copyrighted restrictions.
Benefits of Creative Commons Licenses
The benefits for users are easy to articulate. Here are just a few:
- You can reuse copyrighted works without worrying about permissions or whether the way you are using or the amount of the work you are using qualifies for any statutory exception. Just always be sure that you provide attribution and that your use complies with the license selected!
- Creative Commons licensed works are usually freely accessible and discoverable online using a variety of search engines or tools of discovery.
- Where allowed by the license, you can modify, build upon, translate, duplicate, and even share licensed works commercially–allowing you to further contribute to a growing openly available body of knowledge and resources.
While the benefits for users are more identifiable, the benefits for creators may not be as obvious. But here are some of those benefits:
- Gives creators increased exposure and attribution, as others are freer to legally reuse and share their work.
- Provides creators with the altruistic satisfaction of knowing that they are contributing to the greater good. A larger community of users, particularly those in the education community, benefit from the open availability of resources.
- Allows for the creation of new knowledge, exposes original ideas to new audiences, and promotes collaboration. Certain of the Creative Commons licenses allow others to build off a creator’s original works to create something new and different or adapt an existing work for their own communities or purposes.
To learn more about how to select, apply, and interpret Creative Commons Licenses, visit the Creative Commons web site at http://www.creativecommons.org. The license chooser tool, as well as the FAQ are essential content to review.
- The Citizen’s Guide to Creative Commons is a fabulous resource for learning about and understanding Creative Commons licenses. https://www.newmediarights.org/guide/legal/copyright/licensing/creative_commons/citizens_legal_guide_using_creative_commons_licenses
- An insightful article from UKSG’s Insights that poses some interesting questions on Creative Commons licenses from the perspective of an open access publisher. http://0-dx-doi-org.librarycatalog.vts.edu/10.1629/2048-7754.107
- More on the potential barriers created when creators choose a Share Alike Creative Commons license. https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/347
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