How to Protect Your Artistic Works With a Creative Commons License

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How Do You Deal With Infringement?

A Creative Commons license terminates automatically when its conditions are violated. So, “if a user of a work distributed under a Creative Commons license fails to attribute the creator as required, then the user no longer has the right to continue using the work and may be liable for copyright infringement,” the group explains.

Content owners, meanwhile, can choose from a variety of approaches to remedy the situation, ranging from a simple request to legal action.

Which route to take will depend on the specifics of the chosen license and the type of infringement, but in general, “when you find someone that's misusing your material, the most important thing is to start a dialogue,” Duff advises.

Don't get angry or emotional in demanding the immediate enforcement of your rights, he recommends.

“It can be really hard not to take [violations] personally," Duff explains, "especially when you're a small-business owner and this is something you've worked really hard on.”

More often than not, however, the infringing party isn't aware of what they've done. If you're polite, they're more likely to respect your rights, so keep your temper in check and make contact, Duff advises.

The Benefits of Using a Creative Commons License

Numerous high-profile authors (including futurist Cory Doctorow), artists, musicians (such as the rock band Nine Inch Nails), and even government agencies and entities (including the White House) use Creative Commons licenses. You'll find many more case studies on the Creative Commons site.

UK-based landscape photographer Steve Gill believes in making art freely available for personal use, and he uses Creative Commons licensing because he believes it supports that philosophy.

“Most people are honest and are not in the habit of illegally downloading images,” Gill told me. “If they do, they probably just want it for their desktop or personal blog anyway. So long as they are not going to profit by using my image, then I have no problem in them using it.”

Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, by Steve Gill, presented here courtesy of the artist. You can download a copy of this image and other Steve Gill photos under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License from You can also purchase prints of his work there.

Gill hasn't seen evidence of any drawbacks associated with using Creative Commons licensing, he says, but he has identified many benefits.

"The attribution which is required for sharing the image provides a free direct link back to my main image store; the more links back, the wider the audience,” he explains.

Gill sees little value in using watermarks to deter theft. "If someone is going to steal your images, they will steal it with or without a watermark. Additionally, placing a watermark across the middle of the image will, quite frankly, detract from the image anyway. Who wants to view an image with a watermark across the middle? Placing a small watermark across one of the sides of the image merely allows the unscrupulous to do a simple crop, and the image is theirs," Gill says. "Showing that I am happy for people to download my images gives them more download appeal! By providing a free copy for these purposes, it spreads my art further, which is what most artists want anyway."

You'll find additional details of how Gill uses Creative Commons licensing on his website.

Be Successful

Traditional copyright law worked well for artists who succeeded in gaining the attention of major commercial publishers and distributors. But all too often, the artists paid a steep price for that success, losing control of their destiny.

The democratic power of the Internet has stolen the keys from the gatekeepers. These days you can put your own work in front of a worldwide audience, with ease. Using a Creative Commons license will not only protect your work, but also help disseminate it. That alone is no guarantee of financial success, but it does knock down one of the barriers.

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