WestLord & Associates

Understanding Creative Commons Licensing: Navigating Copyright in the Digital Age

The vast expanse of content available on the internet doesn’t grant you carte blanche to copy and share it without restraint. Copyright law casts a protective net over most online content, even if the elusive © symbol doesn’t adorn the material.

Photo by Antoni Shkraba

Unwittingly, you could find yourself infringing on someone else’s copyright if you reuse their work without permission or without a firm grasp of the terms of its copyright license.

For anyone publishing content online, whether through blogs, social media, newsletters, or other digital avenues, understanding Creative Commons licensing is pivotal. This nonprofit organization has devised a range of licenses that empower copyright owners to specify the level of protection they wish to affix to their work, beyond the standard copyright. These licenses grant others permission to use the works in particular ways without the need for explicit approval from the copyright holder.

Creative Commons, driven by the mission to “build a more equitable, accessible, and innovative world” and unlock the internet’s full potential for development and growth, simplifies the legal sharing of copyrighted works by providing broad permissions to those who wish to use the works within the bounds of the specific licenses.

Copyright Law Basics

Before delving into Creative Commons licensing, it’s crucial to grasp the fundamentals of copyright. Copyright safeguards original works of authorship that exist in a tangible format. This umbrella covers a diverse array of creative endeavors, including literature, drama, music, and art. Ideas, per se, cannot be copyrighted; however, as soon as you transcribe an idea into a tangible form—such as writing a script—you automatically acquire and retain copyright rights in that work.

Copyright grants its owner five fundamental rights:

  1. Reproduction: The right to make copies of the work.
  2. Derivative Works: The right to create new works based on the original.
  3. Distribution: The right to distribute copies to the public through various means, including sales, rentals, and lending.
  4. Public Performance: The right to publicly perform the work.
  5. Public Display: The right to publicly display the work.

If you wish to take legal action against someone who has infringed upon your work, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is essential. Registration can be pursued even after a suspected infringement, but the sooner you can establish ownership, the stronger your case becomes.

Exploring Creative Commons Licenses

Utilizing Creative Commons licenses with your creative work is not only cost-free but also harmonious with copyright law. This means that you retain the protection of your copyright and can take action against those who violate the terms of your CC license. Creative Commons offers six distinct licenses, often referred to as CC licenses, each delineating its own set of parameters for permissible usage:

Attribution (CC BY): This license is deemed the “most accommodating” by Creative Commons, allowing for maximum dissemination and use of the licensed materials. Under CC BY, others can “distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon” your work, even for commercial purposes, as long as they provide proper attribution.

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA): With this license, others can “remix, tweak, and build upon your work,” even for commercial purposes, provided they credit you as requested. New creations based on your work must carry the same license and its terms, akin to the “copyleft” concept in open-source software.

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND): This license permits others to share and reuse your work, even commercially, but only in its original form (hence the “no derivatives” provision). Proper attribution to the original creator is mandatory.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC): Under this license, remixing, tweaking, and building upon your work is permissible, but solely for noncommercial purposes. You must receive credit for the original work. Derivative works are not obliged to carry the same license, enabling others to impose noncommercial restrictions on their derived works.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA): This license permits remixing, tweaking, and building upon your work for noncommercial purposes, with due attribution. Any new derivative works must be licensed under the same terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND): As the most restrictive of the Creative Commons licenses, this allows others to redistribute your work only in its original form and solely for noncommercial purposes.

As a content creator, the choice of which license aligns with your intentions rests with you. If you find yourself using or sharing others’ content governed by CC licenses, it’s imperative to adhere to the stipulated conditions, ensuring compliance with the terms they’ve chosen to attach to their work.