New technology and the increased span and usage of social networks have opened up new possibilities to share and document opinions, analysis, local developments, and events, and facilitated access to much wider audiences. Despite these developments, sharing is still limited by copyright laws, and the solution to this lies in labeling our work under the many options offered by the Creative Commons.
How does copyright law function?
Every time the author of a text, music, photos, etc, shares their work, it is automatically copyrighted by law, and all the rights are reserved to their original owner. Perhaps the author does wish that their work is shared or promoted by others, but without mention of a license, assuming this is not enough. For the rest, promoting an idea, or sharing photos that are unlicensed, is an issue as in certain cases, owners can take legal action for copyright infringement, or at the very least, ask those who shared the work to remove it. In this case, what are the options for sharing?
- Trying to find the original author and ask for permission
- Illegally copying and redistributing someone else’s work
- The work will not be shared or redistributed because a) the original author cannot be identified b) it takes too much time and effort to go through the process
What are Creative Commons?
Creative Commons is more than just an organisation, it is a concept that was developed as a result of restrictive copyright laws. As a solution to the multiple issues this led to, including the increasingly enclosed space for creative work, and limitations to redistribute and promote ideas, documentation of events, opinions, and much more, multiple forms of licences were developed. These licenses stand for a negotiation, or agreement between the author of the work and the person who wishes to redistribute the materials. The licenses can be added in the form of text or an icon. In some instances, if the author has a website or page where they post their work, they can add a mention of the specific license they wish to choose for all of the published material.
The choice of licences, as listed by the Creative Commons organisation is wide and flexible:
Public Domain (CC0) Distributing content with no restrictions
Attribution (BY) All CC licenses require that others who use your work in any way must give you credit the way you request, but not in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.
Share-alike (SA) You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.
Non Commercial (NC)You let others copy, distribute, display, perform, and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially unless they get your permission first.
No Derivatives (ND) You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.
Common Combinations of Licences
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
Sharing works best on one specific network, but challenges still exist when we consider cross-posting on multiple social media platforms or websites. For example, if a person took photos at an event and wishes that they are widely shared, the lack of a licence can limit the sharing.
Sharing on Social Networks
One advantage of Facebook is that if the post is original, the description on the post should remain embedded in the shares, as well as the name of the person who posted their work. In this way, even without the license, the photos would have context, and the original author is easier to find and be contacted. On the other hand, without a licence, it is also possible that instead of sharing, people can just save the images and repost them on their own profiles, without any attribution (which creates an issue if the author would otherwise want credit for their work). With a CC license, it is more likely that authors will have their work shared on their own terms.
On Twitter, an image that gets retweeted will carry the original post and author. It is also however possible for another user to just download the image and tweet it from their own account without attribution or the original description.
On Instagram, it is not possible to directly share images or videos, as the app does not have this function. Many do this, but it requires additional steps which are burdensome. Instagram also does not allow users to download content on the website. In order to share an image posted on Instagram, one would need to send a direct message to the owner and ask for permission. However, a user will only see the direct message if the author is among their followers, which makes it more complicated to obtain permission. Posting a license, and/or a source where people can download the image is best to increase the possibility that others will share and promote someone’s work, with attribution if the author chooses the option.
Cross-posting from one network to another is still problematic. Although one can copy links these are often not as appealing as posting the work of an author with the best functionality for each social network. It is for this reason that licensing photos will allow another user to download the work and post it in the format that is best suited for the platform they use.
Whether you have good photography skills, or simply took some photos or a local problem or event you want to promote, several websites allow you to upload your media, choose a license, and help spread the word.
For photos, Flickr is one of the best, free platforms which allow that. Users can upload up to 1 terabyte of photos, and they can either individually set a licence for each photo, or set one for all uploads in the account settings. The chosen licence will then be displayed on each photo, with a link to the rights allowed in regards to redistribution. Images can be freely downloaded as long as the person seeking to do so is registered on the platform.
Wikimedia Commons: Images allows users to upload media files and choose a CC license. The website allows other users to download, share or embed images on other platforms and websites.
Pixabay is a free stock image website that allows authors to share their work on the public domain. This means that you can only upload your images if you agree to give up all rights and choose CC0. Those who wish to use someone’s photos have the option to make a donation, so financial compensation is optional, unlike other royalty-free websites that request payment for media work.
Youtube allows their users to share videos under only one CC license: CC-BY (Attribution). This means that if one chooses to licence their work as creative commons, others will have to give the original author credit, but they will be free to modify and re-use the content for any purposes, even commercial ones. On the other hand, Vimeo allows users to choose any CC license, and also to search videos by the CC license another user might need. Videos on these two websites, however, are also much easier to embed and share as posts which keep the original source so they allow for more flexibility in sharing, including on websites.
Tagging (multi)media work on all of these platforms, as well as adding (short) descriptions is very important for people to find and share someone else’s work.
Benefits of Creative Commons Licensing/A Personal Experience
Licensing photos will immediately make them available for all sorts of dissemination, for example, on small online media portals that do not have the resources of big media outlets, but also who are challenging the often captured media channels. Bloggers, avid Twitter users or activists who generally use social media platforms will be able to advance message in a more appealing way, through the use of images, videos, etc. The dissemination will become faster, more efficient and as far as authors are concerned, on their own terms and conditions.