Creative Complicated?

Creative CommonsThe issue of copyright law has never been a simple one. This week a family from Texas has launched a lawsuit against Virgin Mobile for the use of their daughter's picture in an advertising campaign. CC Attribution OnlyThe catch? The mobile carrier got the photo from Flickr where the photo (at the time) was listed under a Creative Commons Attibution-only license.  The photo was used without notifying the photographer, or the 16-year-old girl in the picture, whose face is now associated with Virgin Mobile's campaign; though it should be noted that the advertisement did contain the required attribution.

This story has garnered lots of media attention since CNN ran this clip late last week and I don't want to get into too much detail on it. What I wanted to go over is the discussion of what exactly the Creative Commons license means to content owners and content providers alike.

It's no secret that if you're a content provider (blogger, podcaster, journalist etc.) it's not only good form to cite your sources it's most likely illegal not to.  Not to mention that improper attribution is one of Miss604's Net Peeves... But where does the line get drawn when it comes to material which is publicly displayed on the Internet?

The intent of the Creative Commons license is to provide a quick and simple way for content owners to place their content in a public place, and clearly identify how it may be used or consumed by others.  In the case mentioned above the photographer claims to have misunderstood the CC license.  This according to a post made yesterday on the CC blog has the Creative Commons organization "very unhappy".

The license in and of itself can be understood fairly easily by reading the Creative Commons "get a license" page from the CreativeCommons.org website.  There are often other websites for other countries.  It's a good practice to make a start in the website for the jurisdiction you belong to.

TCC Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alikehe license builder page allows you to select what rights you want to allow/disallow, then creates an icon for a website, with a link back to the full legalese of your chosen license.  The icon contains graphics which represent the different rights/restrictions you've chosen which provides a language-neutral way of quickly assessing what the particular CC license means to the person looking at your content.

Creative Commons - CanadaIt should also be noted that CC has a series of Creative-Commonized editions of licenses like the BSD, GPL and LGPL.  Though I haven't looked at these specifically, one would assume that the organization has tried to bring an easy method of understanding one's basic rights with respect to these other licenses.

In doing the prep reading for this article I poured over some sources in the blogosphere, mainly ones linked from local blogs here in the lower mainland.  One posting on Darren Barefoot's blog contained a very insightful comment thread and is worth a read to get a few different perspectives on the issue.   The main issue discussed in the post is a case where Flickr would by default show a "Blog This!" button on all photos, including those marked "All Rights Reserved" which would preclude them from being used by any content provider without prior (written) authorization by the copyright holder.  Thankfully it appears to have been resolved by Flickr (the post is a bit over 2 months old) but the logic of the post is well thought out, and the discussion is worth a read.  I say "appears" to be fixed because I was unable to find an example of this setup on flickr after having looked through photos from about 30 different members with "All Rights Reserved" for their photos.

At the end of the day, every content owner should be at least aware of their basic rights to their own material.  Sharing sites like Flickr must continue to default their settings to the "most protective" mode to ensure that content owners can't be unwittingly "fleeced" by those looking to steal their content.  And those of us who consume content from those who share willingly must continue to ensure we attribute the material back to its original owner.  Failing to do so will put at risk the integrity that bloggers have worked so hard to develop over the past 4-5 years is not lost.