Monday, November 19, 2007

Creative Commons Finds Digital Media You Can Use

I’m creating a PowerPoint presentation and I’d like a photo of a lone tree in a sunset… but, I don’t have anything in my set of photos that works. I could search for one on the web… but, then I’d have to get permission from the owner to use that photo. Isn’t there a QUICK way to do this LEGALLY?

Yes, there is a quick way to find images and other creative works that we are allowed legally to use in our multimedia products!

What is Creative
Creative Commons ( is a nonprofit organization that provides free tools that educators and others can use to mark their creative works with the freedoms and/or restrictions they choose. And, of course, we can use Creative Commons to help us find others’ creative works that we can use.

If you’re the creator and you want to license your work…

If you want to apply a Creative Commons license to some online work you’ve created (e.g., a blog or a web site), you select the license you want and include the provided HTML code in your work. This code creates a button--“Some Rights Reserved” or “No Rights
Reserved”--that acts as a notice to people who are viewing your work that it is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Also, Creative Commons-enabled search engines will be able to find your work due to the metadata contained in the HTML code.

You can use a Creative Commons license for any work which is protected by copyright law. That includes “books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings…” Creative Commons licenses are not, however, designed for software code. Instead, consider either the Free Software Foundation or the Open Source Initiative, both of which are designed to be used with software. You may want to use Creative Commons licenses for software documentation, however.

You may use a Creative Commons license to indicate how you want others to be able to use your copyright rights. But, you may not go beyond what copyright law permits. And Creative Commons lice
nses do not affect fair use.

Key terms used with Creative Commons licenses include…
Creative Commons licenses have three parts:
  • the Commons Deed (human-readable code, a summary of the license’s key terms),
  • the Legal Code (lawyer-readable code, the actual license), and
  • the metadata (machine-readable code, so customized search engines can find these works).
The Creative Commons license elements are:
"Attribution… you must attribute the author and/or licensor in the manner they require.
NonCommercial… you may not use the work in a manner primarily directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation.
NoDerivatives… you may only make verbatim copies of the work, you may not adapt or change it.
ShareAlike… you may only make derivative works if you license them under the same Creative Commons license terms."

If you would like to use someone else’s creative work that has a Creative Commons license…

When you see a Creative Commons “Some Rights Reserved” button, that means you can use the work without asking for permission as long as you use it as the Creative Commons license indicates. If you want to use it in a manner not permitted by the license, you need to contact the creator and ask for permission. Generally spe
aking, Creative Commons licenses are royalty-free licenses.

When you decide to use a work that has a Creative Commons license, read the license carefully to be sure that it fits what you want to do. All Creative Commons licenses require that you provide proper attribution.

If the work contains content you recognize from elsewhere--music, video, photos--you may want to be sure that the individual who has licensed the work
under Creative Commons truly owns the rights to do so.

When you accredit the use of a work licensed by Creative Commons, be sure
“(1) to keep intact any copyright notices for the Work;
(2) credit the author, licensor and/or other parties (such as a wiki or journal) in the manner they specify;
(3) the title of the Work; and
(4) the Uniform Resource Identifier for the work if specified by the author and/or licensor.”
Also include the URL for the Creative Commons license of the work. There are additional requirements for derivative works or samplings.

To find works which have Creative Commons licenses (in other words, how do I find that “lone tree in a sunset”?)…

  • Go to
  • Choose a search engine tab
  • Enter search query
  • Check the license requirements that fit your needs
  • Then click "go" to find Creative Commons-licensed media that you can legally share and reuse for free
  • This photo (right, "Lone Tree Sunset") can be found at and license information can be found at
  • When you are at the photo's web page, scroll down to find the Creative Commons information at the bottom right of the screen. You see two icons and a short phrase. When you pause your mouse over the first icon, you see the phrase Attribution; over the second icon, No Derivative Works. Those two icons give you a quick summary of the license. Click on the short phrase Some rights reserved. to go to the site that explains more about the license.

Some videos about Creative Commons…

Wanna Work Together?

Prof. Lawrence Lessig Explains Creative Commons Licensing

*NOTE: I have summarized what’s involved in Creative Commons licensing in order to provide a “quick read” for readers not aware of this very useful option. Please visit the Creative Commons web site ( for details and a more complete description.

*NOTE: Creative Commons does not provide legal advice. Neither the Creative Commons web site nor this blog is designed to cover important issues for which you may wish to consult with a lawyer.

*NOTE: Creators in the United States may want to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. Creative Commons licenses do not replace, but are, rather, an addition to an existing copyright.

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