Creative Commons: Where Free is Not Actually Free

Copyright and the Creative Commons License

In today’s world it is not uncommon for photographers, graphic artists and folks in other fields to submit work to the community that can be freely used in other projects. I’m sure you’ve heard of sites like Wikimedia and Morguefile (just to name a couple) that have photos listed for use under the Creative Commons license.

A Creative Commons (CC) License is only one of the public copyright licenses that exist today. A CC license is one that enables free distribution of work submitted by an author who wants to give permission to the community to use the work they have created.

At first glance, a CC license seems to mean “free” as in, you can freely edit and distribute the work in any manner you wish. However, each author can set limits or stipulations on how their work can be used. For instance, some authors prohibit commercial use of their work. This means, people can not use the work to help them make money — by either including it in a product that will be sold or something that helps them sell their products. Other authors will give you mostly free domain to use their work. However, they want credit for it. So, if you do happen to use their photograph, graphic design element, etc. they want their name on it somewhere for credit.

Sometimes the stipulations that authors place on their work is very transparent and easy to follow. Sometimes, the stipulations are vague. In other instances, people can forget to look at the requirements or ignore them altogether. The lines can get blurred and that’s where the trouble can start. For instance, just recently Festival delle Resistenze 2016 in Italy was sued for using a photo found on Wikimedia of one of the people who presented at the festival. The photo was taken by a local photographer and shared on Wikimedia under the CC license with the stipulation that credit would need to be given to the photographer in exchange for use of the photo. The festival took the photo and used it in marketing materials to promote the presenter but did not credit the photographer. From that mistake a lawsuit was born.

Knowing how and when to use CC licensed work can be quite an ordeal!

Our clients have the ease-of-mind in knowing that when they ask us to create a banner ad or other graphic materials, we have access to a full stock photo library that we can use without stipulation. We are either the authors of the content we use or we pay a license fee for use. We take copyright very seriously for the safety of our clients.

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