Share and share alike

Last month, Creative Commons (CC) announced its fourth iteration of the licenses that govern distribution of digital content on the web. According to Robinson Meyer at The Atlantic, the updated licenses address a number of issues, notably:

  • A less draconian way of dealing with inadvertant violations of CC licenses
  • More explicit ways of recognizing database rights, which are not uniform around the world

Although CC licenses have been available since 2001, they are not universally understood. On the positive side of the ledger, services like Flickr have made widespread use of CC licenses, providing web users with access to over a quarter billion images. The conditions of use are clearly spelled out and travel with the photos themselves.

Conversely, plenty of organizations continue to grapple with what Creative Commons is and can offer. In a column for Associations Now, written around the same time that the new licenses were announced, Ernie Smith argued that associations have a vested interesting in both using and creating content under CC licenses:

I’d like to propose a good way to balance social shareability with creator rights: Creative Commons. The nonprofit initiative founded by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has been around for more than a decade, and it’s a pretty vibrant part of the internet, thanks in part to Flickr’s decision to allow photographers to license their content under a Creative Commons license. (Wikimedia Commons is another space that offers such free-to-use content.)

If you need photos for your content, this is a good place to start—especially if you’re struggling to budget for the increasing need for images online. But don’t just take from the Commons: Give back. Associations create a lot of content—around their events, their industry initiatives, and their industry’s people. This would seem like a great opportunity to be part of the solution, rather than the problem. If you’re taking photos of your event, for example, put a Creative Commons license on the work that allows free commercial or noncommercial usage. It gives the idea room to spread without giving up your copyright on the photo. You don’t have to put all of your content out there with the license, but it might be beneficial to put out some, especially things that have broader public appeal.

In a way, it might seem strange to think that organizations are still looking for digital copyright solutions more than a decade after CC debuted. For better or worse, use and attribution continue to befuddle even those among us who work in publishing for a living. Even with the rules written, we can struggle to develop an architecure for collaboration.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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