About Creative Commons

Introduction To Creative Commons

The aim of this article is to try and give a short introduction about the attempt to modify the copyright system by an organisation calling its initiative "Creative Commons" (also referred to by the initials "CC", for short).

This article talks about the organisation behind the CC movement and its creation of free legal tools for content publishers. It briefly covers the CC organisation's history, including how and when it came into existence, and its exponential growth since it was founded. And you'll also learn about the current set of six CC Licences, which come with various levels of permissions and/or restrictions, that tell others, through clear and simple terms, what they can and cannot do with your work (e.g. whether they can use it for commercial purposes or not), in a way that attempts to make it easier for you share your content with others.

One thing you need to be aware of is that Creative Commons Licenses, once applied to your work, are not revokable. The Creative Commons Organisation makes this explicitly clear in their full license details. All it means is you have to think clearly about what you want to allow others to do with your content, before you apply a particular CC license. And, if you're a content publisher and fear giving away rights to your content without seeing any financial gain for yourself, you may be interested in learning about the CC license used by Trent Reznor, and Nine Inch Nails. It didn't stop their band making $750,000.

The purpose of this article is to find out a bit more about Creative Commons, the organisation behind it, and what it means for content publishers thinking about applying a CC License to their material.

About the Creative Commons Organisation

The CC Organisation is responsible for producing a range of "free legal tools" to help content publishers tell their viewers - e.g. visitors to a website, or customers who've purchased an information product, such as an eBook - in a clear, standardised way, what they can and cannot do with their content.

The organisation's legal tools enable content publishers to give others permission to "share, use, and even build upon a work you've created". You can also state whether others can use your content for commercial purposes (to make money), or restrict them to non-commercial purposes (for instance, allowing kids to modify or use your work for a school project, while at the same time preventing others from using it to make money from your initiatives).

Using the CC Organisation's legal tools (particularly their range of Licenses) also frees other creative content makers from fears of being sued for infringing another's copyrighted material. They can quickly check your CC License terms and will immediately understand how they can and cannot use the material you created. It's a time-saving benefit, as it means you don't have to waste time responding to requests to use your content, and other creative publishers don't have to waste time waiting for a response that may or may not come. If the permission has been granted, by use of a specific license, they can use or modify another's work the very moment a spark of creativity is ignited in their minds.

Creative Commons Licenses

A Licensor ... is the person who creates material (content, articles, tutorials, images, audio, video, etc.) and then uses a CC License to tell people how they can use their work.

A Licensee ... is the person who wishes to use parts or all of a Licensor's work. They must abide by the permissions and any applied restrictions of the license (I've made a note of the different licenses, below). If they intend to publish another's work, in part or in full, they must credit the creator of the piece that they used.

When crediting someone for use of their material: If supplied, you must provide the name of the creator and attribution parties, a copyright notice, a license notice, a disclaimer notice, and a link to the material.

The CC organisation say that their licenses:

  • "are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs";
  • "forge a balance inside the traditional 'all rights reserved' setting that copyright law creates";
  • "ensure licensors get the credit for their work they deserve";
  • "work around the world and last as long as applicable copyright lasts (because they are built on copyright)."

At the time of writing (August 2014) the Creative Commons Organisation has six CC Licenses that publishers can apply to their work. I've listed them, below, in order from, what appears to me to be, the most flexible, to the most restrictive terms that others must abide by ...

License #1. CC BY
Others may "distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially", but they must credit the person of that original creation. So, others are able to "copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format", and they can adapt the material "for any purpose", even to try and make money. Also, if you wish to share or adapt the material, you must indicate if changes were made, when crediting the creator of that original piece you took. This license offers the most flexibility for others wishing to share or use your content for their own purposes.

Who uses this license. The Creative Commons Organisation (http://creativecommons.org), and the Public Library of Science (http://www.plos.org).
License #2. CC BY-ND
Others may redistribute content, both for "commercial and non-commercial" purposes. Where you see the "ND" symbol, it means "No Distribution": you can remix, transform, or build upon the material, BUT you cannot redistribute the modified material. If you wish to redistribute the content, it must remain "unchanged and in whole".

Who uses this license. The GNU and FSF web sites (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html#ccbynd), which prompted Cyrille Michaud to follow suit, with his blog, "Software in Medical Devices" (http://blog.cm-dm.com/pages/Creative-Commons-License-(CC-BY-ND) ),
License #3. CC BY-NC-SA
Others may "remix, tweak, and build upon your work", but, with the "NC" symbol present, they're not allowed to use it for commercial purposes. So, you can't create anything with the material in order to try and make money. The "SA" symbol means that, "if you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original" (in other words, you must allow others to modify your new creation, providing they're not intending to use your creation to try and make money).

Who uses this license. Trent Reznor, from the industrial rock band, Nine Inch Nails, made use of a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, for the band's Ghosts I-IV track, which eventually "netted $750,000 in profit for the band". Just from that one record. So, if you ever happen to read comments online that criticise Creative Commons for enabling others to rip-off content creators and depriving them and future content publishers from earning an income, just tell them about what Nine Inch Nails achieved with their CC license.
License #4. CC BY-SA
Others may "remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes". In addition, due to the presence of the "SA" symbol, they must allow others to modify their new creation, under the same license terms as the original material.

Who uses this license. According to the Creative Commons organisation, the CC BY-SA license "is the license used by Wikipedia"; they also say that this license is the one "recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects." By adopting this license, both Wikipedia and Wikimedia "allows content to legally flow in and out of the site with ease", which enables Wikipedia to "legally interact with an endless array of similar cultural institutions."
License #5. CC BY-NC
Others may "remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially", however, while their newly created material "must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial", "they don't have to license their derivative works on the same terms."

Who uses this license. Mapillary - a company that "builds tools and services for getting map photos for the unmapped parts of the world", by way of crowdsourcing - did initially use this license to allow others to use and adapt their photos, as long as their intentions weren't for commercial purposes. Six weeks after choosing that license, they changed their minds and switched to the CC BY-SA license, allowing others to both share and modify their content, even for commercial purposes, under the terms of the "ShareAlike" license. One has to assume they were trying to get people to share their photos, but nobody gave a monkey's about their website's service, because the majority were likely seeking photos that they could use to make money with. After switching to allow others to use or adapt their photos, even for commercial purposes, two comments appeared supporting the decision (Joakim Jardenberg said "Great work. Thumbs up!; Marscot said "Good Move"). Read their blog update for more details of their decision, (http://blog.mapillary.com/update/2014/03/17/mapillary-goes-creative-commons.html).
License #6. CC BY-NC-ND
According to the Creative Commons organisation, "this license is the most restrictive" of all of their licenses. You can download and share the original material (email it to others, post on Facebook, Tweet about it, etc.), but the "ND" symbol means you're not allowed to modify the original work, and the "NC" symbol prevents you from using it in any way to make money.

Who uses this license. According to the CC Organisation, Al Jazeera, the Arabic broadcasting network based in Doha, Qatar, decided to use the CC BY-NC-ND license when they launched Al Jazeera Blogs (http://blogs.aljazeera.com/), which consists of content written by "prominent journalists and correspondents from Al Jazeera television network", who would probably object to their carefully worded pieces of journalism being modified and the original message losing its purpose and meaning.

You can find Creative Commons-licensed works at the following Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/~Creative_Commons-licensed_works

Creative Commons, Summary

In summary. the Creative Commons Organisation is responsible for producing a range of "free legal tools" to help content publishers tell their viewers, in a clear, standardised way, what they can and cannot do with their content.

All Creative Commons licenses require credit to be given to the creator of the original work, where details are supplied. So, if you supplied your name, the applicable Creative Commons License and a link to your website, if I wanted to use your image, I would have to publish your supplied details when giving you credit.

If you're a content publisher, you need to think carefully before applying one of the CC Licenses, as the license cannot be revoked, once issued. However, as Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails proved, Creative Commons, if applied wisely, can be a way for publishers wanting to generate both widespread publicity for their work, as well as serious income for themselves.

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