Sharing for the common good: the Creative Commons

from Wikimedia Commons – license public domain

Once upon a time, people thought it was great to share stories, music, painting. They’d listen to others, tell their own, and spread creativity around. Shakespeare used others’ ideas to craft new plays that were highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Mozart took other tunes and weaved them into new works. Sculptors, painters, and other artists learned from each other and crafted artwork that incorporated themes and elements from others.

In this age of commercial entertainment, however, copyright is king and those who would like to incorporate elements of songs, stories, or videos that they enjoy into their own work are threatened with the strong arm of the law. Videos get taken down from YouTube, teens get threatened with lawsuits for piracy, and famous writers get stricken off lists for “stealing” from others’ books.

In an effort to restore the idea of the common good and encourage creativity and sharing, Creative Commons was founded with a system of licensing creative works that preserved the creator’s rights but allowed for others to, share, re-use and re-mix artistic works. Today, millions of creative works (books, articles, photographs, artwork, music, videos, etc) are licensed using Creative Commons licenses that allow anyone (you!) to download them freely and use them yourself in your own work.

Why would an artist want to do that? Doesn’t it promote stealing?

A. David Holloway – Wikimedia Commons – CC-BY

Many artists and creators do want to use free Creative Commons licenses because those licenses preserve their rights to be credited with their work but also allow others to share and remix the work. This not only encourages more creativity, it also promotes their work. Musicians get heard when people watch videos using their work. Photographers get seen when people see their photos in a blog post. And this increased exposure helps them get more widely known and, ultimately, more successful.

All Creative Commons licenses include a requirement to attribute the original source of the work. People who use CC-licensed works respect that and give attribution …and this promotes the original artist. And this isn’t stealing: it’s freely sharing.

Watch this video to get an idea of how Creative Commons licenses work and why artists would want to use them.

So I can use these things as I wish?

by Foter – licensed CC-BY-SA

No. The key phrase for Creative Commons is “some rights reserved.” CC licenses have different elements that put particular requirements on how the work can be used. Different licenses can combine different elements, but there are four basic components:

  • Attribution: all CC licenses (except CC0/public domain) require you to say who created the original work that you used. This preserves the original creator’s ownership of their work.
  • Share-Alike: this element means that any work that incorporates this piece must use the same license. This expands the use of CC licenses.
  • No Derivatives: this element means that the work cannot be modified but must be used as it was originally created. This preserves the integrity of the original piece.
  • Non-Commercial: this element means that any use of this work must not be for sale.

This means that an artist can decide exactly how other people can use his/her work. It gives control and freedom to the creator while also letting others share and use their creations.

If you want a more detailed explanation, watch this video about CC licenses that explains the different elements.

Where can I find CC-licensed work?

flickrlicensesearchThere are many sources of CC-licensed work around the internet. Here are some places to start:

  • Use the Creative Commons search tool (you can even add it to your browser)
  • Some of my favorite sources for images:
    • Pixabay: An edited site of photographs and illustrations, all licensed CC0/public domain. Some beautiful photographs!
    • Flickr: Use the advanced search to find photographs with CC licenses or public domain works.
    • Wikimedia Commons: This is the source of media (photos, music, etc) that Wikipedia uses. They all have various open licenses.
  • Some of my favorite sources for music:

How about my work? How can I protect my own work with a CC license?

Licensing your work with a Creative Commons license is as simple as choosing which license you want to use, and then labeling your work with it. It’s that easy!


Cross-posted from my school blog.

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