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Creative Commonsby R. Bail
Creative Commons is an elaboration of copyright law that defines the spectrum between the two usual models of copyright—full copyright and public domain. With works put into full copyright, the creator retains all rights but special paperwork must be made and maintained for any exceptions; with works put into the public domain, the creator enjoys much more freedom for sharing and distributing her works, but has no rights reserved and no protection.
Creative Commons fills the gap between the two, turning copyright extremes into a spectrum of "some rights reserved" that operates within copyright law but allows for more flexibility for sharing creative works. They do not replace traditional copyright, but instead add to it.
Why use Creative Commons?
At first glance, it may seem strange that anyone would purposefully want to "give up" any of the rights granted to them by copyright. However, for various reasons, not all works operate well under traditional copyright.
Creative Commons applies to all sorts of creative works—artwork, writing, video, music, fiberwork patterns, websites—the list goes on. A musician can choose a license for her pieces that allow others to remix and sample those pieces for their own work. A writer with an open collaborative world can choose a license that allows others to build upon her stories, but requires those others to also allow still others to build upon their derivations—and not charge for the pleasure.
Take a hypothetical stock photographer for an example—she's new to the craft and pretty good but still unknown and she wants to get her name out by allowing amateur artists to use her stock for free. Under regular copyright law she would have to give special permission to each person who wanted to use her stock, or offer limited use rights for a fee—which she may not feel comfortable with yet. However, with Creative Commons she can easily choose a license that allows for derivative works and, if she so chooses, whether or not the derivative works are allowed to be sold. All of this allows our hypothetical photographer to retain her copyrights while also allowing her to share her work for free under limited conditions of her own choosing.
No matter which variety of Creative Commons license is chosen, attribution is always required. The original copyright holder can choose how they want to be attributed, but in no case is it allowed that the person not be attributed.
How does Creative Commons work?
Creative Commons licenses apply to any works normally protected under copyright law, and should be attached to the work so that everyone that comes in contact with it knows that they are authorized to use it in the additional ways the original copyright holder has chosen.
The usual way to obtain the license is to visit the Creative Commons website and through there choose the appropriate license. The site will then generate the appropriate code for you to put on the work wherever it is displayed. This code contains metadata that makes it easier for your work to be found via Creative Commons-enabled search engines. Some websites even allow you to apply a Creative Commons license to your work without having to fetch the code yourself; deviantART and Flickr are two such sites.
Since not all works are online, the Creative Commons website recommends that offline works be marked with a short statement outlining the license and a URL to their website. The Creative Commons website provides a press kit with various Creative Commons logos in a variety of file formats for print.
When you choose a license, you will be able to select a number of terms:
These terms are obviously not all compatible, but they can be mixed to form six different kinds of licenses:
Please note that even the Non-Commercial licenses in no way prevent the original copyright holder from charging for their own work. Also note that Creative Commons licenses do not affect existing exceptions to copyright, and cannot be used to prevent these exceptions. Finally, while you can change the license on a work at any time, the original license still applies to anyone who has used your work prior to the change.
For more information about Creative Commons licenses as well as examples of Creative Commons licensed work, please see the Creative Commons website at creativecommons.org.
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