Understanding Creative Commons

Categories Blog, Succeed online

For the last few years, I’ve been taking photographs of house numbers and I’ve just released these photos under a Creative Commons license. So if you have a need for some images of beautiful numbers, please check them out.

No 7 - 3-D
Kirsty Hall, No. 7, Jan 2011

Giesela Birgit over on my Facebook group asked me how Creative Commons works. I realised that other people might be confused about it, so here’s a quick explanation.

What is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a way of licensing your creative work in a more adaptable way than traditional copyright. It replaces ‘all rights reserved’ with a more flexible ‘some rights reserved’ model that recognises that the basis of a free, open internet is sharing.

Creative Commons offers six different licenses, which allow you to control the way your work is used. All Creative Commons licenses require that you, the creator, are credited so people can’t take your work and pass it off as their own.

If I use it on one thing, will all my work be Creative Commons?

No 20 - flowery close-up
Kirsty Hall, No. 20, Jan 2011

No, licenses are specific to that particular work, not your entire body of work.

I don’t use Creative Commons for all my work. I retain full traditional copyright on all images of my art, any photographs I might want to sell in the future and all my writing. If you scroll down this blog you’ll notice that I have a copyright notice that explains how people can use my work and when they need to ask for permission. As far as I’m aware, most people respect it. I also further protect my work by only releasing my images at 72dpi, which is not high enough for good print quality.

Is Creative Commons legal?

Yes. All Creative Commons licenses are an extension of traditional copyright and they have a ‘Legal Code layer’ written in lawyer language. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be challenged in court and there have been a couple of court cases about Creative Commons but there are even more court cases based on traditional copyright.

Won’t people steal my stuff?

They might but that’s a risk you take whenever you release any kind of creative work in public. Personally I only release stuff under Creative Commons that I’m not particularly bothered about and I don’t worry about what happens to it.

If it bothers you, traditional copyright might be a better choice but be aware that dishonest people aren’t bothered about any kind of copyright and all you’re doing is stopping the honest people from disseminating and sharing your work.

Can I take public domain work and make it Creative Commons?

No, definitely not. You should only license works that you have created. The Creative Commons website states:

Creative Commons licenses should not be applied to works in the public domain. Our licenses are intended for works protected by copyright only.

Why I use Creative Commons

I currently have 410 images available for other people to use.

I take a lot of documentary-style photographs and I’m not very emotionally attached to them. Last year I decided to make these photographs available under a Creative Commons license because I’m a big fan of internet sharing, the concept of ‘free’ and enabling other people’s creativity. I’ve benefited from using other people’s images on my blog and I wanted to return the favour. It’s a gift. It’s also a strategic way to get more people to visit my Flickr account, which could lead to more people seeing my art.

No 85 - black paint
Kirsty Hall, No. 85, Jan 2011

I use the least restrictive license for my Creative Commons collection:

“This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.”

So someone could take one of my images and use it as the basis of an artwork or add it to a video, a blog post or a Powerpoint lecture. They could change the colour, flip it around, add it to a collage, even use it as the basis of a commercial work (although all my images are only 72dpi, so it wouldn’t be great for printing). The only thing they have to do is credit me.

I chose the least restrictive license because I wanted my images to appear in awesome WordPress plugins like Photo Dropper.

Further resources

If you have other questions, read the Creative Commons FAQ or check out the Creative Commons entry on Wikipedia (which incidentally, also uses a Creative Commons license).

I am not an expert in this stuff. If you have serious copyright questions about protecting your creative work, please consult a lawyer.

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I am an artist & purveyor of obsessive projects based in Hebden Bridge, England. My work involves the accretion of large numbers of small objects - pins in fabric, knots in string or hundreds of envelopes - to make sculptures that deal with fragility, loss, repetition, obsession and time.

5 thoughts on “Understanding Creative Commons

  1. This makes lots of sense for digital applications. But if I appropriated one of your images & used it in a collage or a painting, how would I go about crediting you for the image? In a direct copy I’d include “after Kirsty Hall” as part of the title; if it were only a part of my finished piece, what should I do? No immediate plans, btw!


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Frances Vettergreen, collage is difficult, I agree. I guess you’d add it to any exhibition documentation but honestly, I’m personally not that bothered about attribution in artwork.


    Kirsty Reply:

    @Kirsty, You could also write it on the back.


  2. Kirsty thank you for this! Sad confession: I did a creative commons thing on my blog, but didn’t even know what I was doing. I just wanted it to look somehow protected. So went thru the motions and stuck that thing in my sidebar. Duh.

    I like how you mentioned the emotional attachment to your images. I have so much stuff, it would be great if I would share some of it that isn’t so close to my heart. I just have to do the work and get rolling.

    So glad you spelled this all out. You rock! Best wishes from germany


  3. I love the idea of having a section of work made available. I found the perfect image for my blog entry on flickr but it was fully copyrighted and I couldn’t (morally) use it, although I could still grab the code in flickr.
    Thank you for sharing about Photo Dropper – I want to use that in my new WP blog – and it will make me consider what license I use for my own photographs.


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