Heather Ford
Heather Ford

Getting those creative copyrights right

Creative Commons licences are a set of copyright licences that enable copyright holders to mark their creative work with the freedom they want it to carry. By specifying what kinds of reuse you will allow by default (non-commercial or commercial reuse, the production and dissemination of derivatives, translations etc) Creative Commons allows copyright holders who want others to share, remix or use their work to do so clearly and seamlessly.

Now relatively widespread, especially in the educational and developmental sectors, there still seems to be some confusion among local websites owners about the correct implementation of the licence.

Here are the top 3 misuses of Creative Commons (CC) licences that I’ve noticed while browsing local websites:

Detailing the relevant rights for each element on your site

You must specify the copyright status of every single work on your site. A common problem with CC-licensed websites is that people state that “unless otherwise specified” the website is licensed under a particular Creative Commons licence but then don’t specify when they’re using images or video etc from a third party.

If you hold copyright over the text of your website, for example, but use photographs from Wikipedia or Flickr, you must comply with the requirements of every one of those photographs, videos. This includes attributing the picture, video and providing a link back to it (and checking to see whether the copyright holder has given any additional information about how they wish to be attributed).

Wikipedia does this really well. Go to a page like the one on South Africa and you’ll notice how every single image is attributed with details about the copyright status of each work (ie whether it is in the public domain, released under a Creative Commons licence etc).

Specifying which Creative Commons licence is in use

Another strange misuse is that some website owners state their website is licensed under a Creative Commons licence but do not specify exactly which licence they have chosen. Simply stating that they have licensed their site under CC is meaningless unless you state the conditions under which you’re making your work available and link to the full code of the licence on creativecommons.org.

This isn’t only important for the sake of clarity. It is also important because it enables Creative Commons search engines to discover your content. CC search tools such as those found on the Mozilla browser use a link back to the licence on cc.org as the indicator of cc-licensed content. This means that if you don’t provide a link to the specific licence, then you’re not going to come up in any searches by people who are trying to find material that they are free to republish or re-purpose.

Knowing when people need permission

You do not need to grant permission for uses within the Creative Commons licence that you’ve specified. For example, if you’re using a Creative Commons licence and you’ve specified that you’re allowing “non-commercial” use, then people wanting to republish the work for non-commercial purposes are free to download the material and publish it on their own site with a link back to your site (plus any additional attribution requirements that you’ve specified) without asking for permission. For people who want to republish the material for purposes outside of those you’ve specified, eg for commercial use when you’ve used a Creative Commons non-commercial licence, it’s good practice to provide a contact link to someone who can give permission and/or provide a quotation for the licensing costs.

If you’re unsure when implementing your CC licence, be sure to first read through the great FAQ on creativecommons.org or the Marking page, or think about signing up for a course on copyright licences such as those being offered by iHeritage locally.

Creative Commons is not meant to be complicated but it does require a little bit of time and effort for you to understand your rights and responsibilities under copyright law.