How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License

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Your business revolves around producing creative works, and you use the Internet to market those works. Considering how quickly and easily such material can be disseminated around the world without your knowledge or permission, how do you go about protecting your rights to those works? A Creative Commons license might be the most realistic solution.

How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License
Although international law holds that a traditional copyright is automatically granted the moment you produce a creative work, such a restrictive right is difficult to enforce in the real world, and it doesn't provide artists with as many tangible benefits as you might think.

Creative Commons licenses protect your works in a manner that helps you reach a much larger audience much faster than you would under the conventional “all rights reserved” approach.

Here's a brief overview of how Creative Commons works, and how it differs from traditional copyright.

What Is Creative Commons Licensing?

It's a common misconception that the philosophy of Creative Commons licensing is somehow opposed to copyright; in reality, Creative Commons depends on that precedent as its starting point.

“Creative Commons licenses provide an easy way to manage the copyright terms that attach automatically to all creative works under copyright,” explains the Creative Commons organization that created them. “Our licenses allow those works to be shared and re-used under terms that are flexible and legally sound.”

The British record label Records on Ribs releases all of its albums under Creative Commons licenses.
The group, which dates back to 2001, aims to offer more flexible alternatives to the traditional “all rights reserved” scenario created by copyright law. Specifically, six different Creative Commons licenses “give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to keep their copyright while allowing certain uses of their work,” the group explains.

Each Creative Commons license, then, allows the content owner to relax control over very narrowly specified parts of the traditional “all rights reserved” copyright so as to promote certain types of sharing.

Put another way, every content owner gets full copyright ownership over his or her work, no matter what. Owners who elect to use a Creative Commons license, such as the British record label Records on Ribs, opt to loosen a very specific subset of those copyright restrictions so as to encourage the use and sharing of their work.

Why Would You Use Creative Commons Licensing?

Traditional copyright “worked very well in the analog world, because in order to disseminate material you had to go through a third party” such as a publisher, Creative Commons communications manager Jane Park told me recently.

In today's Internet-powered world, however, “anyone can publish a Web page, upload a video, et cetera,” Park points out.

That, in turn, requires more flexibility so that content owners have a way to balance protections for their work while enabling it to be shared.

Say you're an independent musician. You likely want as many people as possible to hear your songs; but without a major record label to promote your recordings through the traditional channels (and sucking up all the profits in return), you might choose a Creative Commons license that allows you to give away some of your music for free, while reserving the right to sell your music commercially. You might even want to allow other musicians to produce remixes, as long as they credit your contribution.

Creative Commons licensing also helps end users understand exactly what they can and can't do with your work, thus resolving a major point of confusion. In fact, most users tend to fall into one of two camps, Park says: They're either afraid to do anything at all with your work, or they do what they want with it but assume that they're breaking the law.

“Creative Commons licensing makes it really clear to your audience,” she explains.

Then, too, there's the fact that Creative Commons licenses are ready-made and more or less free.

“Before, you would have had to engage an attorney and have them craft a license for you,” says Anderson Duff, an associate at Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks.

Now--assuming there's a license to fit your needs--you can avoid that expense.

The Basics of Creative Commons Licenses

Though multiple Creative Commons licenses are available, they all share several key features. Each helps creators retain copyright while allowing other parties to copy, distribute, and make some use of the work--at least noncommercially.

Each one also ensures that licensors receive credit for their work, and the licenses are valid all around the world and last as long as applicable copyright lasts.

Next Page: The Six Types of Creative Commons Licenses

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