The Commons touch

Many people assume that because the web is open, any and all content is open for copying and reuse. It is not. Use some content and you could well be breaking copyright law. Many sites host copyrighted material, and many people are confused about what they can reuse or copy. My advice is this - assume that all content is copyrighted unless otherwise indicated.In the last few years, the introduction of Creative Commons licensing has ensured that a lot of web based content is now open for reuse, repurposing and even commercial use. The Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig is one of the prime movers behind this initiative. Essentially, Creative Commons has established a set of licences that enables content creators to waive their right to receive any royalties or other payment for their work. Many are sharing their content for free, in the hope that if others find it useful, they will feel free to take it and use it. Creative Commons is a significant part of the Copyleft movement, which seeks to use aspects of international copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work for free, as long as it is attributed to the creator. Any subsequent reiterations of the work must also be made available under identical conditions. In keeping with similar open access agreements, Copyleft promotes four freedoms:

Freedom 0 – the freedom to use the work,
Freedom 1 – the freedom to study the work,
Freedom 2 – the freedom to copy and share the work with others,
Freedom 3 – the freedom to modify the work, and the freedom to distribute modified and therefore derivative works.

Finding free for use images on the web is now fairly easy. Normal search will unearth lots of images. But these are not necessarily free images. Many will have copyright restrictions. To find the free stuff go to Google and click on the cog icon at the top right of the screen. S
elect the Advanced Search option. Next, scroll down the screen until you find the drop down box labelled 'usage rights'. You will be presented with four options:

Free to use or share
Free to use or share, even commercially
Free to use, share or modify
Free to use, share or modify, even commercially

Whatever option you choose, you will be presented with a reduced collection of images that still meet the requirements of the search, but under the conditions of that specific licence. Now you have a collection of images you can use under the agreements of Creative Commons. Use them for free under these agreements and you are complying with international copyright law. Don't forget the attribute the source!

So why would people wish to give away their content for nothing? I have previously written about my own personal and professional reasons for doing so in 'Giving it all away', but just for the record, I will summarise:

Giving away your content for free under a CC licence ensures that anyone who is interested in your work does not have to pay for it or worry about whether they are licenced under copyright law to use your content. In today's economic uncertain climate, it makes sense to be equitable and to give content away that others have a need to see and can make good use of. It also means that users will do some of your dissemination for you. Your ideas will be spread farther if you give them away for free, than they necessarily will if you ask people to pay a copyright fee or royalty. If you allow repurposing of your content, the rewards can be even greater. Some of my slideshows have been translated into other languages. Having your content translated into Spanish for example, opens up a huge new audience not only in Spain, but also most of the continent of South America. Many are now licensing their work under CC because they know it makes sense. Much of the content on Wikipedia for example is licensed under Wikimedia Commons - a version of CC. So look out for Creative Commons licensing - it's going to be very big news indeed for all web users in the near future.

Image source

Creative Commons Licence
The Commons touch by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Lejon said…
Ideas worth spreading, Steve!
I will "scoop" and retweet. Thank you
Tim Brook said…
In the main all most people want is simple politeness - credit for what they have done. Interesting incident some while ago... Daughter incensed that someone had used a facebook image she had posted as their profile and given her no credit. The picture was of a child's note posted on the Tate Gallery noticeboard. "Did you give the child credit" I asked. Silence...
Alan Tait said…
A good intro to a new and complex matter. Thanks.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks to Lejon, Tim and Alan for your comments. Glad you found this blogpost useful.
Here you have some articles very similar to this one, but in Spanish :-)

Enjoy it ;-)
Anonymous said…
Great message in your post!

re the statement "Much of the content on Wikipedia for example is licensed under Wikimedia Commons - a version of CC." -- on Wikipedia text is licensed with Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike (CC BY SA) licence not a version of a CC licence. See

& What is Wikimedia Commons:

Dominic said…
For people in the UK needing help getting their head around CC JISC Legal have some great resources. No need to wade through it either just email them for advice, handy if you have a large project.
Anonymous said…
For pictures you should have a look at Xpert . It searches Flickr for CC licensed images but will also embed the attribution into the image.
Great overview Steve!

We've evangelized Creative Commons within our company with great success - we're now driving all of our content (Help,Learning, Support) to this model.

The future is remixing and sharing!

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