Creative Commons – The Evolution of Copyright

3421327165_ddbf65fec7_zPhoto:  LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Giuli-O

Creative Commons (CC) is an organization that has developed a system of licensing of creative content (images, audio, video, animation and website) for distribution online. Content creators choose one of six licenses, delineating how their work can or cannot be used. Does the artist need credit? Can the work be used in a remix/mashup? Can it be reproduced on a blog? Other people online can search CC images and use them in their digital projects. This gives creators the opportunity to share their work in the way they want to, giving internet users the chance to legally use high quality media in their own projects.

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Photo:  LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by jorgeandresem

What I love about Creative Commons licensing is that it does not involve policy debate or legislation. It is something for content creators and users. Offering this alternative system to copyright takes out the interests of government and corporations. I become frustrated when large organizations with big money interests get in the way of what individuals can achieve. Creative Commons is a simple system to understand (if you can shed your traditional copyright-induced expectations) and provides more options than copyright law does about how to share and use content. Interestingly enough, CC accomplishes all of this while embeded within copyright protection. Technically, CC licenses are statements that qualify your copyright by communicating how the work can be accessed. The website has an easy to use tool to help you choose which license to use based on questions about the intented use of your work.

Ever since I first read about Creative Commons a couple of years ago, I have been fascinated by the concept and the benefits of the system as put into practice. I can speak about the practical side, because I use CC licensing as both a creator and user of content. In regards to photography, I would consider myself an amateur or “enthusiast.” I do not plan to make a business out of my photographs – I do it for the love of the medium and the challenges of capturing different types of images. This enthusiasm compels me to share my work with a wider audience, wider than what once was just my family and then Facebook friends. I share many of my photos under a Creative Commons license on Flickr.com. You can see how they look on this site, by clicking on any of my photos and finding the license information at the bottom right. I also feature some of these on my blog. I am now sharing my photos with a larger audience and giving that audience more options in how they may use that work. It is a rather democratic experience that I do enjoy. I think this system is balanced in how it values the rights of creators and is heavily informed by the philosophy of open access of information online.

Since I give to the community, I also take. When I write blog posts about technology, education, or other topics, I reach to Flickr and other collections of CC images to include in my blog posts. We know that pictures help us communicate ideas and hook our audience’s attention. When I use a CC photo, I copy the license type and link to the author’s page, and paste that information under the picture, as a caption. Not only is this legally and ethically sound practice, it also helps promote the work of other artists through attribution.

I understand that much of this can be compared to copyright law. Fair Use allows for work to be used in certain ways – does it not? The details of Fair Use are purposely ambiguous (according to a UPENN educational site), and unfortunately, the terms of use are determined by the government, not the creator. Creative Commons works around and within copyright law to make up for its limitations. So, although it revises and expands on copyright law, it is not completely separate from copyright. Despite its relationship with traditional copyright law, Creative Commons removes the influence of government and corporations from the equation, leaving it up to individuals to decided how they will share their work.

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