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Licensing Your Work – Media Archaeology 10 – Class Notes


Before we start, let me say that I am NOT a lawyer. Everything I’ll share today is only the best of my understanding from self study.

Your Work is Already Copyright All Rights Reserved!

The purpose of a license is to make clear what people can and cannot do with your work. When you create something, anything, a photo, a poem, a painting, a song, a sculpture, etc, it’s automatically “Copyright All Rights Reserved.”

That’s true without you having to file anything. It’s true without you having to mark your work. In many countries today Copyright is for the life of the author plus 70 years. So if you make something today, write a poem perhaps, and let’s say you’re 20 today and live to be 100, then it’d be in copyright for the next 150 years. No one can do anything with your poem without contacting / contracting with you or your estate, from now till 2165.

That might be really good if you want a lot of control and restriction on your work. If you’re a famous pop singer that could result in a lot of money coming in. But it’s also very limiting. Particularly in a fast, sharing environment like The Net.

New License Options for a New Media Century

We have today 8 licenses you can use. The automatic one I just described “Copyright All Rights Reserved” is pretty “closed”. At the opposite end of the spectrum is “Public Domain”, which is very open. You essentially give up your authorship and declare that anyone can do anything with your work. There are times when you might want either of those. But I’ll suggest that for most peeps most of the time the 6 flavors of Creative Commons licenses, all of which are “in between” Copyright ARR & Public Domain, will probably work very well for you.

The 6 flavors of Creative Commons licenses

The best way to protect something is not to put it online! If you do put work online, someone might use it. That might be good or bad depending on your interests. You can put something on the web and say that peeps can read it but not share or touch it in any other way, that’s Copyright ARR. But to post it up, and not even let them “share” it on their own site, seems pretty restrictive in a web of ideas. So you might want to let peeps “reblog” your work. But you might not want them to make money or change it. Or maybe that’s ok with you. Etc.

Anyone can always ask you for any rights they’re interested in. You can say yes or no, free or cheap or expensive. But with the pace of the web, many people, like me for example, don’t want to wait around to see if you’ll even get an email reply. So when I’m looking for an image on Flickr to use with a blog post, I only look at Creative Commons images. I don’t even look at the copyright ones, even though someone might be willing to let me use their image if I asked. Flickr’s great for this btw, you can filter pix by license as well as search terms.

Let me show you the 6 CC Licenses and what your options are and how to use them on Blogs, Flickr, YouTube, etc. If you visit this page:

You can make a few choices and get a license to use, for example, on your blog. You answer 3 yes or no questions, and that winds up with a total of 6 possible licenses.

The 3 questions are:

  1. Make Derivatives?
  2. Allow Commercial Use?
  3. Share Alike?

Here’s what that all means:

  1. Derivatives means “remix” or “Mashup”. So if you say yes, then someone can take your photo or video or song and mess around. If you say No, then you’re letting them post your work on their site, but not modify it, only use it as is.

  2. Commercial means, “can I make something with your work and sell it?” If you say yes, you’re letting them (potentially) profit from what you created. If you say no, you’re only letting them post your stuff on free sites. Commercial would be The New York Times or NBC Television. But technically, if I run ads on my blog, then it’s commercial too. If you say Non Commercial, I can still ask you and negotiate terms. It just means you aren’t giving that away freely.

  3. The 3rd question is a little more confusing. “Share alike” means if I use your work, do I have to use the same license you use? Requiring that can be good, because it keeps open things open, not letting somebody else use, for example, a closed license, like Copyright ARR. But that gets complicated because sometimes different licenses are incompatible. For example with software there’s the MIT License, the GNU General Public License, etc. Not requiring share alike is more flexible. The 3 questions on that page will let you get code for a license for your website.

2 examples of how you might choose

In my personal case, I don’t care about keeping any rights on my crummy pictures and lame writing at all. The only thing I do care about is making it possible for anyone to do anything they want with my stuff. So for me, I’d say Yes Derivatives, Yes Commercial, and Don’t Worry about Share alike. That’s also known as “Creative Commons Attribution”. It means anyone has to give me credit for the work I did, but that’s all I want. What’s cool about this is that you don’t have to worry or wait around, you can just find things you like and use them. I don’t seem much financial value in my Flickr pix, so I’m fine with that.

But maybe you don’t like the idea of someone else selling your work. So you might say Non-Commercial. I like this choice a lot too. If you say, for example, Yes Derivatives, Non Commercial, that means that a student at another university, someone more or less “like us”, can take your stuff and remix it and create what they like and it’s all good. But if someone like the New York Times or NBC TV wants your stuff, you haven’t licensed that, so they’d have to call you and negotiate. What I like about CC Non-Commercial is that it builds new media community, while it preserves your right to get paid by old media.

Posting Your License

In the case of a blog, you’d go to the Creative Commons Choose a License page, check what you want, fill in the name of your blog, url, etc, and then copy that code and paste it on your blog, like on your “About” page, or you could have a separate “Terms of Use” page if you wanted. In the case of Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, they have these options (some of the options anyway) built in, you just have to check them. I can show you were to set them if you like. Flickr has all the CC licenses. You can set a Flickr default, and also choose differently for each image if you want to. I think YouTube only has Copyright ARR or CC Atribution, I’m not sure you can set the others on YouTube.

I wouldn’t go to the trouble of posting a license on every page. Don’t make too much work for yourself! I’d make an “About” page and then have a link to it right on your menu bar.

Your “About” page

Your “About” page can include a few things:

  1. Something about this website
  2. Something about the author
  3. Some sort of contact information. You might list an email, or if you don’t want to give that out, you could have a “Contact Form” where they can submit to the website, but don’t see your email.
  4. Terms of Use – the code you copy from the CC License page.
  5. You could also have a Privacy Notice. Something like this for example:

If you leave a comment, I won’t publish your email address. If you subscribe your email will never be sold or traded or used for marketing in any way, it will only be used to send you occasional updates. In spite of my good intentions, we all know the web is crawling with creepers, so you should still be careful here or anywhere else.

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“Real” Licenses

The licenses do have weight in court (if it ever actually came to that) Former MTV VJ Adam Cury posted flickr pix of his daughter with a CC Non-Commercial license. He was living in Amsterdam at the time and a Dutch tabliod printed the pix of his daughter. He sued them, since that was a commercial use, and won in court:

That’s probably not going to come up for us, but the point is the CC licenses are “real”.

sepia toned photo of 4 avatars sitting around a table
Ryan, Zsophia, Pearl, Elle

Big thank you to Ama Ree for letting us hold class in her Buffet & Game Room at Nostradamus-1!

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