Copyright law in its current state is atrocious. It is outdated, complex, and extremely difficult for the average person to understand with any real depth. There are aspects of copyright law like “fair use” and “public domain” that seem easy to understand but with recent changes as well as forth coming changes, the simple sides of the current copyright laws are difficult for people to grasp and understand. But copyright is important. Especially in this world of blogs and “made at home” content. With everyone release some kind of content, the idea of copyright and the rights to give others over your creation is not only extremely important but a necessity. This is where the Creative Commons comes in. What is the Creative Commons? Well, for starts it is a simple way for people creating content to license that content in the exact manner they would like. While Creative Commons does not replace the current copyright laws (in fact it works within said laws) its importance in today’s society is just as important. Over the next little bit I hope to show you how the Creative Commons licenses are important to you, me, and to anyone creating content. This article discusses current United States copyright law and the Creative Commons for use within the United States so some facts and points may vary based upon your location in the world.
What does it take to copyright something? Well for starters, depending on what you are copyrighting, as little as 45 dollars. However, after spending about an hour looking over the United States copyright site I could not tell which copyright form I should fill out for my blog. But why should someone copyright their content? The main reason is that, in the United States in order to file copyright infringement claims a copyright must first be established and on record. For example, currently the contents of this website are not copyrighted via the United States copyright office. Therefore, if someone really wanted to, they could take my content and post it on their own website. If I was to find their website a couple of days later, I could not report copyright infringement because there is not a copyright on file. Of course, depending on how this person went about copying me, I probably still would have legal precedent and could probably manage a win in court based on timestamps of articles and stuff like that. Copyrighting your content does not protect you from people plagiarizing you, it simple gives you a legal right to stop them after the fact. Also, if that person had made money off your copyrighted content, you might be eligible to the income that was made off that content. Copyrights are there to protect the content creators. The problem though is that there is such a thing as “fair use” in the current copyright laws. Fair Use Rights give an individual the right to fairly use content as long as they do not claim it as their own or steal from the original creator in the process of using the content. The “fair use” part of copyright has really gone under a microscope lately due to the recording industry demanding stricter restrictions on the use of music we purchase. A common problem with the current copyright laws today, is that with all the electronic media being created, the current laws have become outdated and need to be reworked to handle the electronic age more effectively.
So how do we ensure that use of our online content is used only in a manner that we like? We can’t really copyright some of it and I certainly do not want someone claiming my content for their own, not after all the hard work I’ve put into it. Enter the Creative Commons License. The Creative Commons License allows a content maker to license their content to the public in a way that suits them. A really good example is this web site, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License. What this means is that, a person must credit me when making use of any content on this website, they may not use it for commercial use without contacting me personally (and arranging payment depending on the use), and that any changes they make to my content must be shared under the same license. If you are a curious individual and would like to read the legalese, you can find it by clicking here.
But why is this important you might be asking yourself? “What’s to stop some individual from ripping you off anyway?” is probably a thought that is running around in your head. To begin with, the legitimacy of the Creative Commons License was recently upheld in a public court and also most people on the internet will stand up for someone who has obviously been infringed. Most geeks will go to arms when someone violates the Creative Commons License or the GPL (GNU Public License, the license under which much of open source software falls under). There are countless stories of this happening. Now I’m not saying that a nerd army is better than a court ruling, but most people do not like to be harassed, and if enough people bug a person that’s doing wrong, they usually stop and move on. The main important fact is that you can license content you create exactly how you want to, without having to be a copyright wiz to understand all the legal mumbo-jumbo that goes with it. Even if you copyright your content through the normal system, the Creative Commons license is still effective. In fact, the people at Creative Commons encourage you to copyright your works using the copyright system. From their FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions):
In most jurisdictions, registration is not required. However, for creators in the United States registration can be obtained and is advisable so that you can enforce your copyright in court.
And then further down under a different question:
…Creative Commons licenses apply in addition to and on top of an existing copyright…
Now, the Creative Commons has numerous licenses available for use depending on the content you create and how you would like to control it. For a quick synopsis on the various licenses you can click here. With 6 main licenses and a handful of specialty licenses (for music, public domain, and other specific issues), it is not very hard to find a license that you can work with. They even give you code to publish on your website if you need to do that.
Today, as more and more people begin to write blogs and as some of those people begin looking at blogging as way to earn income, it is important that they understand copyright laws and how to license their content. Creative Commons does a great job of allowing normal people to pick a license that lets them control their content in the manner they would like. And since it is your content, you should control it and you should have a say in how it is used. Some people have argued that Creative Commons is actually like “giving up” in the fight for copyright reform and while I disagree with these people, there is some logic in their points. I think Creative Commons is part of the solution but copyright reform should move forward as straight as ever. This country needs copyright reform and the “fair use” side of things needs a dramatic rewrite to account for digitizing music, video, and other kinds of content. These kinds of actions should be perfectly legal to perform on a item you have purchased as long as they are for personal use. And that is just one small part of a much larger issue.
I hope that I have managed to explain a little bit as to why the Creative Commons license is important in today’s digital world. I hope that it can help you license your content as necessary. And finally I hope that we can get some decent copyright reform soon.
Unitl next time…