Creative Commons:
What's the point?

Introduction

What's the point?

How to licence your content

How to use Creative Commons content

What determines 'commercial use'?

What does 'sharealike' mean?

What kind of content is available?

Why worry about copyright in the first palce?

Sources of Creative Commons-licenced content

The final word

The whole point of a Creative Commons license is that it means you don't have to ask permission to use something, because permission has already been granted, with any restrictions stated up front.

This is radically different to traditional copyright, where the legal assumption is that all rights are reserved and no permission is granted unless you seek out and obtain explicit approval for any kind of use. Even if the copyright holder is happy for their work to be used in certain ways, there hasn't been any mechanism for them to make this understood - until now. The Creative Commons concept turns this on its head by offering a legal, lawyer-proof way for any copyright holder, which normally means the designer, author, or musician that creates the work in question, to make it clear that certain kinds of reuse are permitted.

One thing that many people misunderstand at first is the fact that going with a Creative Commons license doesn't mean giving up control of the work. It isn't about throwing away your rights by putting your work into the public domain. The legal copyright of your work still belongs to you, and it is still as fully protected by law as it would be without a Creative Commons license. The license you choose determines the level of use that you allow.

In a nutshell, the two most important options available within a Creative Commons license are allowing or blocking commercial uses of your work, and allowing or blocking modifications of the work, or allowing only if the results are also shared using a Creative Commons license.

These different combinations have been given names. In every case, by using a standard Creative Commons license you assert your right to be attributed as the originator of the work; the license is an 'Attribution' one. If you don't want others to use your work in commercial contexts then license title includes, logically enough, 'NonCommercial'. If you allow others to use your work as part of their own but want to ensure the result is made available under the same Creative Commons license the title has 'ShareAlike' added, whereas if you don't want others to modify your work but just use it as is, that's 'NoDerivs' (no derivatives) instead. For example, a photo made available for non-commercial use which can't be reused as part of a new work is Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. These are presented even more simply as icons derived from the original copyright circle.

There's also a Sampling license, which was developed in specific response to the needs for flexible control in the music industry, but which can be applied to other kinds of work as well. In short, this license allows work to be sampled or collaged in other work, but not distributed unchanged. The Sampling-Plus license adds permission for non-commercial sharing of the original work

There are a few other variations on the Creative Commons theme, such as the Public Domain Dedication, where you put your work squarely in the public domain for all to use with no restrictions whatsoever, and the Founder's Copyright, where you sell the copyright to Creative Commons for a nominal sum in exchange for exclusive rights to the work for 14 or 28 years. This provides a less restrictive alternative to the standard copyright length, which is usually 70 years after the death of the creator.

If you don't want to allow others to use a work at all, then Creative Commons isn't for you, at least for that item. As Creative Commons is all about letting people know, up front, what they can do, just leave things as normal without any Creative Commons license and your work is assumed to be published with no predefined permissions.

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