Tag Archives: Creative Commons

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.

Sharing a good read

by Joy Ito - CC-BY
Cory Doctorow by Joi Ito CC-BY

Reading books is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Losing yourself in a story and coming out with a sense of joy and wonder is fantastic. If you can learn something along the way it’s even better. (I love reading nonfiction, so if fiction can teach me something I’m really grateful.)

An author who brings me much happiness and satisfaction is Cory Doctorow. I find his books (both fiction and nonfiction) thoroughly enjoyable as well as rewarding. What’s more, I greatly admire how he markets and distributes his work.


The most important thing about any book is, “is it any good?” If it’s not an enjoyable read, then whatever it says doesn’t matter at all. I thoroughly enjoy Doctorow’s writing and find it gripping and engaging. I really can’t put his books down: once I get stuck into a story, I want to keep reading and find out what happens next.

I was sick of cars driving right past me. The next time a car appeared down Market Street, I stepped right out into the road, waving my arms over my head, shouting “STOP.” The car slewed to a stop and only then did I notice that it wasn’t a cop car, ambulance or fire-engine.

It was a military-looking Jeep, like an armored Hummer, only it didn’t have any military insignia on it. The car skidded to a stop just in front of me, and I jumped back and lost my balance and ended up on the road. I felt the doors open near me, and then saw a confusion of booted feet moving close by. I looked up and saw a bunch of military-looking guys in coveralls, holding big, bulky rifles and wearing hooded gas masks with tinted face-plates.

I barely had time to register them before those rifles were pointed at me. (Little Brother)

I’m a fan, but I’m not a fool. I realize that his style wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. My wife would not enjoy his work. (Fair enough. Much of what she reads doesn’t appeal to me either!) You might not either. There’s really only one way to find out: pick up a book and try it out.

For me, any writer who describes a character as a “sucking chest wound of a human being” is well worth reading.


Besides my admiration for the man being able to create terrific literature, I also love the theme of creating that runs through his books. Many of his main characters are artists or creative types, building or making or composing. He’s got one book, Makers, that’s all about the creation process but his other books abound with movie makers , programmers, and more.

Apart from making his books more fascinating, the different takes on the creative process also makes creativity more real and more reachable. Doctorow writes many books for teens. By making his protagonists artists and creators, he encourages his readers to do the same.

That idea came from me. I created it. It wasn’t lying around, waiting to be picked up like a bunch of pebbles on the beach. It was something that didn’t exist until I made it, and probably wouldn’t have existed unless I did. That’s what ‘to create’ means: to make something new. (Pirate Cinema)

If just one teenager reads one of Doctorow’s books and decides that her own creative impulses are worth pursuing and makes something new and original, I’d say that he has achieved real success.


Doctorow goes into a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas in his books, and he explains them well. I’ve used this section from Little Brother in my programming classes to get students excited about the thrill of building programs:

If you’ve never programmed a computer, you should. There’s nothing like it in the whole world. When you program a computer, it does exactly what you tell it to do. It’s like designing a machine – any machine, like a car, like a faucet, like a gas-hinge for a door – using math and instructions. It’s awesome in the truest sense: it can fill you with awe.

Whether it’s creating programs, editing videos, using 3D printers, encrypting email, hacking security systems …or cold-brewing coffee, taking over abandoned buildings, finding free gourmet food, or any number of other interesting and fascinating real-life tasks, Doctorow’s books always leave me knowing more and wanting to try new things.


What really sets Doctorow apart from other good writers is how he distributes his books. He gives them away for free.

Yes. That’s correct: he gives them away for free. All his books are licensed with a Creative Commons license that retains his rights as author but gives permission for you (and me!) to download his books for free and share them with friends. He recognizes the reality of today’s internet-fueled sharing economy:

I can’t stop you from copying this book (even if I wanted to). I can’t force you to buy it in order to read it (even if I wanted to). All I can do is ask you to consider purchasing it if you enjoyed it. (Pirate Cinema)

To make a living from his writing, he encourages …no, he exhorts the reader to purchase a copy of the book. All his ebooks have “commercial interludes” between chapters with links to online bookstores and calls to buy a copy. (Sometimes – particularly in Pirate Cinema – these commercials are enjoyable enough to read in their own right.) He also encourages people to buy and donate copies of the books for people (usually teachers and librarians) who lack the budget to buy a copy of the book themselves.

These are effective commercial techniques. I’ve bought many copies of his books for others …and if you look at his “donate” pages, there are plenty of people out there like me.

Anyway, time to stop reading my thoughts about Doctorow. Go read one one of his books.


Sounds Free

cute-15719_640This holiday, I was invited to a “Secret Santa” gift-giving exchange. The only rule was that the present had to be a made one, not a bought one. An obvious choice was to make something edible – always appreciated, but also very common – but then I thought about one of the things that I enjoy the most: listening to music. A mix of holiday songs burned onto a CD with a printed case would be a welcome present for anyone.

To make it more interesting, I decided to share free music: songs that were either in the Public Domain or released with a Creative Commons license. That way, my gift recipient could find more music that she could download and listen to for free …legally. So I went to my favourite sources of free (and legal!) music.


fmascreenshotThe Free Music Archive is a great source of all types of music and podcasts. I often find interesting artists and good music to listen to. The music all has different licenses – mostly some version of the Creative Commons licenses. (One of my favourite finds here is the Debo Band – an American/Ethiopian band that plays some great funky versions of Ethiopian music.)

I went searching for Christmas songs and found all kinds of eclectic songs. The ones that I liked the most were from Badgerland, a label out of Canada that has released some eclectic, mostly folksy versions of traditional Christmas carols and other songs. (There are additional releases on their website.)


jamendoscreenshotJamendo is another place I go to find interesting and free music. There are all kinds of independent bands that release music on the site, with all kinds of styles. (I recently found and got hooked on the band I Am Not Lefthanded – featured on the website screenshot.)

I searched for Christmas music and again there were all kinds of interesting music. I was really drawn to Ronny Matthes, a German pianist who has released a number of albums of holiday music, mainly instrumental.


I looked at MusOpen, which has some beautiful classical music – all in the Public Domain. They also have sheet music and educational resources …it’s a great site. I thought about downloading Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, but I figured it would take too many CD’s. (I’ll do it for my own listening pleasure! MusOpen did remind me of the music of the US Air Force Band and they have several holiday recordings on their website free for downloading. (I must admit to being a little uncertain of the license for their music. I know that works by government agencies are in the public domain, but the music is often copyrighted. The USAF Band says the music is free for “educational purposes.” I’ll take it!)

Giving a free gift

gift-553139_640Finding the music, putting together a playlist, burning a CD and printing out the cover and track information (including CC license info and a link to the website, of course!) all made it a personal present for my “Secret Santa.” My work was my time and effort.

But I also like to think that I’ve given another gift: the knowledge of sources of freely shareable music. It’s too easy in this day and age to pirate music, breaking the law knowingly or unknowingly. Using Jamendo or FMA or MusOpen or any other free sources of music works against that. And it spreads the knowledge of otherwise unknown recording artists. I hope that my gift’s recipient will explore other musicians on these sites …just as I hope that you will too!

Merry Christmas!

(note: images are either screenshots or pictures from Pixabay – a source of excellent free photos released in the public domain. They’re free to use!)


free as a bird

How freely should you share your work?

free as a birdI’ve been thinking about creativity and licensing this weekend. It all comes from making a video.

The Project

I made a short promo for the upcoming Learning 2.014 conference to show in a faculty meeting about all the great presenters we had lined up. It was fun and lively and I figured that I should publish it publicly. And that’s when the issue of copyright reared its ugly head.

I had to dump the music I’d used – it was perfect, but commercial. (I gave credit in the video – fine in a closed meeting, but no good for publicly sharing.) I surfed over to Jamendo and in ten minutes found a great replacement. (Check out Rafiqi’s music – it’s terrific!) With a Creative Commons license, I had permission to use and share. Rafiqi had licensed their song with a share alike (CC-BY-SA) license. So I’d have to publish my video with that license. No problem …I thought.


I realised that the photos from last year’s conference that started the video were mostly licensed with a non-commercial sharealike (CC-BY-NC-SA) license. That was in conflict with CC-BY-SA.

For a moment I thought I’d just live with that. The photographers wouldn’t mind. I wasn’t making a commercial video & I was using the photos in a way they’d approve. But it really wasn’t the right thing to do. The licenses were chosen for a reason by the creators of the work. It really isn’t up to me to guess their intentions. I could write to the photographers and ask for a release …but that’s what CC licenses are meant to avoid.

So I headed to Flickr to find other photos. Sorry, Jeff and Kim: Your photos are nice, but your licenses are too restrictive. Fortunately, Brian and Thomas (and I) use a simple CC-BY license. So I could use their photos with a simple attribution, and no conflict with the CC-BY-SA license of the music. Problem solved. I added the new photos, tidied up the video and published on YouTube. Voila!

Why choose a particular license?

What were the reasons for the choices these artists made for licensing their work? The musicians chose a license that allowed me to sell my video as long as I also published it with a CC-BY-SA license. The photographers didn’t want me to sell my video. They also wanted me to share in the same way. Why the different choices? What’s the right way to choose?

Now, I don’t want to guess at the other photographers’ thinking so I’ll go through my own. I am a teacher. I take photographs. Some of them are good, most are just ordinary. I’m never going to sell my work. If someone else likes one of my photos and wants to sell something using it, good for them. They’re more entrepreneurial than I am. If I get credit, then that’s enough for me.

This is especially true when I’m doing something like taking photos at a conference. I am never ever going to sell or commercially publish one of those photos. And the chances that someone else will is very small.

So I use the CC-BY license. Go ahead and use my work, just give me credit.

And it seems to me that this is the right path for most of us. As teachers, we constantly borrow and share. (And some of us are lazy and don’t think too much about copyright or attribution – I’ve written about that before.) We should make sure that others can borrow and can share our own work.

That’s the idea behind “Free Cultural Works” – things that are put out in the open and available to all. As teachers, we want to promote this – to make sure that there are photos and writings and music and such in the digital commons that all of us – teachers and students and all – can access, use, remix, etc. We want this for ourselves. We want this for our students. We have to help in building it by creating and contributing.

I don’t propose that this be a hard rule. That would be unreasonable especially for teachers who are also professional or pro-am creators. Poets like Bob or photographers like Dave are definitely entitled to protect their creations as much as they like. However, all of us – including the pro creators – can and should choose our licenses with care. If we can publish more freely, then we should. If I’m particularly proud of a photo, then I’m entitled to license it more restrictively. But the more I can make things available for others, the more I’m contributing and helping others create.

To paraphrase Einstein:

Everything should be published as freely as possible, but no freer.

Use me!

As part of a project-based learning week for our grade 9 students, I gave a presentation on copyright, Creative Commons and remixing work. I put together a few resources for the students, gave them a talk and sent them forth. (Based on the number and kinds of questions I got from many of them, they heard!)

I also wanted some posters to hang around school to remind students to look for things that they had permission to use. I found several explaining what the different types of licenses were like (including this very good infographic by Shihaam Donelly), but what I really wanted was something interesting and exciting that tells the students that they can use CC-licensed work. (One of the things I love about Creative Commons licenses is that they are permissive – just as I like rules about what students can do and not lists of “don’t”s.)

So I made one. I used Inkscape (I am really getting to love that program!) and got some advice from our Yearbook teacher about graphic design and put together a poster in about an hour. Here it is:

I’ve added a CC-BY license …if you’d like to use it, please do! You already have permission.

Want a PDF? Click here to download. 

Best online maps? Surprise!

Want to find a place online? Want to see a map? Where do you go? Google’s maps, right?

Guess what? It’s not the best – at least not for Addis!

Take a look at these two maps:

Which one looks better? Which one has more detail? The top one is from Google Maps while the bottom one is from OpenStreetMaps.org

What’s OpenStreetMap?, you might say. It might not be as famous as Google’s work, but it’s well worth a look. OpenStreetMap is an open and freely accessible collection of map data that anyone can contribute to. Consider it a “Wikipedia” for mapping. As such, it has a wealth of information about all kinds of places. Certainly there is more detail about Addis Ababa than on the Google map.

Don’t take my word for it: the Guardian has written about it for quite some time. Here’s an article from a year ago comparing the two services in various places.

One of the greatest things about OpenStreetMap is that it is completely editable. Go ahead, give it a try! It’s not hard. (Do you see the new location of Aba Guben on the OSM screenshot above? That was me!) Plenty of people in Addis are adding data – and the more who do, the better the maps will get.

Google has recently launched its MapMaker service – so you can add to a Google Map as well. It’s not hard either, but there are some differences. Probably the biggest difference is that the changes you make to Google Maps are owned by Google. You’re doing their work for them. OpenStreetMaps data is all freely licensed – if you want to use their data, you are allowed. This may not mean much to individuals, but for businesses with high-volume websites, they have to pay (and pay quite a bit) to use Google’s maps. They can freely use OpenStreetMaps. Again, don’t take my word: here’s one map-contributor’s comparison of the two services.

So go ahead: use OpenStreetMap. Add your favorite places to it. Show off Addis! (If you want more guidance, here is a good place to start.)

Seeing is stealing

photo by me – go ahead and take it!

A colleague asked me to find out about a photograph she found on the internet. It was a photo of the word “teach” spelled out in blocks, with a wooden heart pendant inserted into the word. (Think “teaching with heart.”) She liked the photo and wanted to know if she could use it.

I did an image search for the photo (Google’s image search was more useful than TinEye in this case) and found a number of sites that were using the image. Most of them had it unattributed, but one cited the photographer and the source of the image.

The photograph is on Flickr: it’s a photograph by Susana (susivinh), who has a large collection of excellent photographs. The “teach” photograph is licensed by Getty Images – you can use it, but you have to pay for it.

I wrote to Susana – she was very happy to answer my questions about the photo. She can’t override the Getty license, but she’s made a lot of her other photos available with a CC-BY-ND license. (Do check them out – they’re beautiful.) She’s a little disappointed that people are using her work without permission and without license. (She told me that nobody has paid to license that image.)

The funny sad thing is that Susana’s photo is used by a number of teachers as part of their blog/portfolio …and they’re violating the photo’s licensing terms. They’ve stolen it.

Teachers: we have to set an example for our students. Every school has an “Academic Honesty” policy …it needs to apply to teachers as well as students. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our students to do the right thing. There are plenty of sources of freely licensed material (I’ve written about some before) – teachers should seek those out and use them.

Any beautiful photograph you find on the web was created by a human being. Even if she is not a professional photographer, she bought her camera and lenses, and she has spent time in thinking up and composing the photograph. If you want to use it, you owe it to her to at least get her permission if not pay her for her time and creativity.

(The photo on this post was taken by me. Go ahead and steal it. You have my permission.)

A picture is worth 1000 words – even if it’s free

Today I read an article about the importance of using images in a classroom. I also have been doing some work with various teachers on finding Creative Commons-licensed work for reuse. As this is Open Education Week, I thought it timely to post something about a few tools I use and find helpful.

Note: I’ve also seen a list of tips that stresses that students should be creating their own images instead of using others. I agree completely – and am working on some photography lessons for students and teachers (not by me!), but it’s still important to find others’ work.

So, here are three tools that I find useful for finding pictures that can be reused (plus a couple of extras):

Creative Commons Search

Creative Commons allows you to search a variety of sources of images (Flickr, Europeana, Fotopedia, Google images, etc.) as well as search repositories of music and other media.


This search engine allows you to search through Flickr‘s images, including choosing Creative Commons licenses. The very useful thing about this search engine is that it gives you quick access to downloading the image and a copy & pasteable HTML snippet to insert an image and give credit.

Here’s an example of pasted credit (copied from above): Photo Credit: babasteve via Compfight cc


Pixabay has a large and growing database of beautiful photographs in the public domain.

CC0All images are licensed CC0 – the Creative Commons public domain license.

Here are a few other sites I regularly use:

  • Wikimedia Commons – searchable through Creative Commons’ Search (above), but well worth listing as a source of photos and more
  • Open Clip Art – not photographs, but vector clip art, all licensed CC0