Creative Commons: Freeing Knowledge
By : Ryan Birkemose
Unless otherwise stated anything produced on a webpage is copyrighted. If one wants to use an image or object from a website they must first contact the creator. This is entirely appropriate if the creator wishes to receive some sort of monetary compensation or is simply wants to protect the work from theft. But what about creators who want to encourage reuse of what they have made? Traditional copyright does not have looser exceptions. It is an "all rights reserved" license. Before anyone else can use it they have to contact the creator to avoid legal issues. This does not work for people wanting to share over the Internet.
That is where Creative Commons comes in. Creative Commons is not a substitute for copyright. Instead it is a modification of copyright law that loosens "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved." A creator can still protect their work but allow some uses without the user having to contact them.
This allows for the creation of a sort of virtual "commons." Any creative work imaginable can be put under a Creative Commons license and join an ever expanding collection that can be used for free by the common public. With this license attached a user does not need to fear of running afoul of copyright as long as they follow the license.
McIntyre Library Director John Pollitz has seen firsthand how copyright law has become muddled.
"It has not kept pace with the digital age. Copyright was originally designed to help spread ideas. It keeps people from doing a lot of exciting things and hampers faculty. Many traditional publishers have not embraced it and that makes it very difficult for those wishing to use a resource for academic purposes."
Creative Commons Content at the University
Universities and other learning institutions have jumped on the licenses to spread knowledge and education. A prominent distributor in this arena is MIT Open Courseware. They provide numerous materials on a variety of science subjects, from environmental sustainability to computer science. They can be used to plan a syllabus or help in planning a lecture. The University of Wisconsin System is also beginning to deploy a similar system. While those who contribute works may maintain a standard copyright, many are also choosing the Creative Commons option.
"The institutional depository is called Minds@UW," says Director Pollitz. "What we are doing right now is putting history student's capstone papers and panels in the system. We are also hoping to put all the master theses in the depository."
Aside for the Department of History other departments on campus are contributing such as Kinesiology and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. Because it is a system wide depository it also includes academic departments from every university. While some of the items in the depository are under a traditional copyright many contributors have licensed their projects under a Creative Commons License. Digital assignments created by students that an instructor wishes to use as examples or incorporate into later projects can also be released under a Creative Commons License. The current permission and release agreement for such an arrangement gives the student the option to choose one of the licenses or traditional copyright.
Director Pollitz believes Creative Commons is great in an educational setting because it specifically states that the content can be freely distributed but any resulting creation that incorporates ideas from the licensed work must be a attributed to the original author.
"Many of the items created at the university are not created for profit but it is important the author of a work is always acknowledged. Everything in the depository is time stamped. If someone tries to pass off a paper in the depository as their own all a teacher has to do is Google it to find the original."
Creative Commons Content on the Web
Numerous websites have already deployed databases for Creative Commons licensed content. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a new academic journal where all the content is free and under a Creative Commons license. Among the sub-journals are PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine.
The photosite Flickr allows users who are posting photos to license it under Creative Commons and their search function allows for people to find only work that are under the licenses. Another popular place is Freesound. It has thousands of different sound effects and background music that can be used in projects like digital storytelling .
Before using any Creative Commons licensed content a user must be aware that six different versions exist. Some allow for only sharing while others allow for the work to be remixed.
1.Attribution. This is the least restrictive license. it allows for free modification--even for commercial purposes--as long as the original creator is attributed.
2. Attribution Share-Alike. The work can be modified and used for commercial purposes but any resulting creation then must be realized with this same license.
3.Attribution No Derivatives. The work can be redistributed for any purpose but cannot be changed.
4. Attribution non-commercial. The work can be modified and redistributed but not for commercial purposes.
5.Attribution non-commercial share alike. The work can be modified and redistributed but cannot be used for commercial purposes and any new creation based off of it must be released with the same license.
6. Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives. This is the most restrictive license. It only allows for redistribution for non commercial purposes.
While having multiple licenses may seem confusing it is the best way for Creative Commons to tailor itself to a multitude of different needs. Attribution non-commercial is one the best for educational resources because it ensures that the information released under the license will always stay free. What this means though is that both students and faculty need to be aware of the differences. When a work is licensed under Creative Commons most likely it will have an emblem stating so. Clicking on that emblem will send the user to the Creative Commons website, and the specific license used can be read in full.
Visit Creative Commons's website at http://creativecommons.org/ to find more information on how Creative Commons licensing can be used. Those who are interested in finding out more about Minds@UW visit their website at http://minds.wisconsin.edu/. The most important fact to take away is that Creative Commons does not take away the rights of the creator. It is a piece of mind for the users of the work that they can use it legally under the specified guidelines and not be hampered with the ambiguity of standard copyright. By releasing works under a Creative Commons license creators are contributing to a marketplace of ideas and cultural discussion.