Header photo by Hamish Grant. Used with permission.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sharing Content in a Connected World (The Creative Commons Way)

It’s likely that you don’t spend too much time thinking or worrying about intellectual property, but maybe you should.  Creative Commons is here to help.

Copyright is everywhere.  You’ve certainly seen it around: the innocuous ©, which cheerfully graces all manner of content, sending a very clear message:  All rights reserved.  Ask permission. No trespassing.  

This little © has become problematic in a “Web 2.0” digital landscape because it defies social media’s greatest strength: the ability to share (usually user-generated) content widely. Social media has enabled us to take an idea, song, image, video or other work, re-work it and share it as a means of communicating a new idea. 

We see examples like this all the time, but seldom stop to think about their copyright implications.  This is the way that people are communicating. 

When you copy and paste an image or video onto your blog, are you guilty of copyright infringement? What about if you record a mix of two popular tunes and post them on MySpace?  Are you stealing someone’s intellectual property?

The mainstream understandings copyright assumes that these activities are illegal; however many people are happy to see their content duplicated, shared and mashed-up.

Enter Creative Commons, a “nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.”  It provides the tools and resources for people to declare, “some rights reserved” when it comes to their creative work.  Creative Commons has created a flexible copyright framework which allows users to protect their work while still encouraging sharing, free for certain uses.  It uses legal language to communicate the licence agreement; but also translates it to an easy-to-understand format

Here’s how it works:

So for example, if I wrote and recorded a song, I might include the following logo, which you could click to learn the details:

This particular logo means that anyone is free to share the work as well as remix and adapt the work on the conditions that they attribute the work to me and then share it only with the same license as this one.

Or, suppose I took some digital photography that I posted to my Flickr stream.  I might include this creative commons license:

It means that you are free to copy, distribute and transmit the work on the conditions that you attribute the work to me, that you not use the work for commercial purposes, and that you do not alter, transform or build upon the work.

Creative Commons gives the creator protection, and the potential users a clear understanding of what they can do with the content. 

Creative Commons opens the doors to the effective management of various open source and collaborative projects, such as Wikipedia, Mozilla Firefox, various Google applications and many more. Creative Commons is valuable for bloggers, casual internet users, webmasters, business communicators and PR practitioners alike.  Understanding what content can and cannot be lawfully used might just save you some legal headaches in the future. Conversely, by licencing your content appropriately, its spread can be made a lot easier.

Mom was right - "Sharing is caring."


As of April 19, 2010, the Montreal Gazette reported that the Conservative government plans on tabling new legislation around the issue of copyright, and making restictions more stringent.  This represents a debate between major media corporations with the interned open-source community.  These types of changes have the potential to threaten the availability of open content.   

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