If you share or display third-party content, you may already be familiar with Creative Commons licenses. But for those less familiar with such licenses, what are they, who issues them, and what do they enable you to do with other’s intellectual property?
The first thing to know is that the Creative Commons is an organization. Creative Commons is based in the US (California) and describes itself as "a nonprofit organization that helps overcome legal obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity".
They provide a set of licenses that make it easier to allow others to create or license works for educational access purposes or to make available works that others can build upon and share legally. If you wish to investigate further, here is a link to their website.
In pursuit of their goal, the Creative Commons organization works with national governments worldwide to ensure the adoption and implementation of such licensing within their jurisdictions!
A Creative Commons license will allow for the legal use of copyrighted works by individuals or organizations in the ways specified by that license. A Creative Commons license is typically NOT a carte blanche to use copyright content in any way you want, just in the specific ways defined by the license. And there are different types of Creative Commons license, which define different permitted uses.
The Creative Commons offers six types of license. These each have slightly different terms. However, typically they will allow the use and distribution of such works, so long as the content creator is given credit and is recognized for their work.
That said, three of the six Creative Commons licenses do not permit commercial use at all. So, if you are a for-profit organization, then almost any use you might wish to make of such a work would not be allowed. The license used by TED Talks is a good example of a Creative Commons license that does not permit commercial use.
Going into further detail of Creative Commons licenses, some will not allow any adaptations to be made of a work; others ensure that any derivative works are placed under the same terms as the original works. You can even have all restrictive terms together in one license.
This means it is important that you read the applicable Creative Commons license closely to understand which type the work operates under and what is, or is not, permitted. Creative Commons licenses are not all the same, by any means. They do not mean you can just forget about copyright.
Creative Commons also offers a public domain license that allows the owner of a copyright work effectively to relinquish their rights and place the material straight into the public domain. If you are the one wanting to use such licensed materials, then this is great. However, you do need to check carefully that the applicable Creative Commons license does indeed permit the use you want to make of it.
Once the copyright owner chooses the license, the good news is that they cannot revoke it. If you are a permitted user of such a work, this means you do not have to worry about checking or updating your material: the permission will continue to apply.
One specific Creative Commons condition that is serious and universal is the need for attribution. It applies to all Creative Commons licenses (and indeed to all copyright use). You should include any information pertinent to the license, the title of the work, a link (if available online) and, of course, mention the author, recognizing that the work belongs to them.
You may not be 100% sure if a work you want to use is available for use under a Creative Commons license and, even if it is, whether its terms permit your desired use. So, you need to check!
Making the mistake of believing that something is appropriately licensed, when it isn't, could leave you as much in breach of copyright as if you had never even thought to ask. It is always sensible to double-check, to save you unwittingly placing yourself, or your organization, at risk of paying big fines! Even just at a reputational level, leaving yourself open to such risks simply makes no sense.
Here at Display Rights, we are partnered with some of the biggest content creators worldwide, whether they be broadcasters (such as Bloomberg or the BBC) or thought leaders (such as TED). We are also happy to reach out to the rights-holder on your behalf, whether we already have a relationship with them or not.
If you are not sure, then give us a call. We are always pleased to help ensure that you are acting within the law and to get you the licenses you need.
If you feel inspired to find out more about anything we've said here, do call us on +44 1908 041290 or leave a comment below and I'll be in touch as soon as I can.