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.


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