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Tip: Make use of 21st Century Copyright Laws to Secure Elements

Creative Commons has opened the door to better sharing - but play by the rules!

By Mark Christiansen | April 09, 2009

A few years ago I found myself in need of images for an earlier edition of my book that I did not have on hand, or have any way of shooting. I needed a winter scene but was 250 miles and 2 months away from one. I needed strongly lit footage to demonstrate color matching with extreme lighting; this I could have shot, but more than just images, I needed inspiration.

We've come a long way in the past decade with image sharing. Thanks to increased bandwidth the growth of the web, and fantastic photo sharing sites like flickr, you no longer have to find, stage and shoot everything yourself.

Or do you? It's illegal, and uncool, to use imagery against the wishes of the user. Standard copyright law plans for this by assuming that the creator wants to retain all rights, and requires big bucks for usage. This law may be in place whether or not a work specifically states it is under copyright. Is there a better way? Absolutely.

Perhaps no one disagrees with more commitment to evolving copyright law than Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, whose motto is "Share, Remix, Reuse- Legally."

The philosophy is that culture is built upon one artist extending the work of another. The result is the Creative Commons license, which allows a copyright holder to specify where and how creative work is re-used.

And Flickr turned out to have the solution to my dilemma, via the
Flickr's Creative Commons has recently received its 100 millionth photo. If you know of other valuable sites making use of Creative Commons licenses, by all means share them.

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Todd_Kopriva: | April, 09, 2009

We (Adobe) have placed much of our material under a Creative Commons license. Specifically, an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license, which means that you can use our stuff as long as you attribute it, don’t sell it, and let others have the same rights to it. You can see a Creative Commons badge and link at the bottom of many tens of thousands of our pages, like this one:

Eugenia: | April, 10, 2009

The vast majority of my videos are licensed under the Creative Commons “Attribution” 3.0:
Also, I have written a guide to using Creative Commons music for video projects:

I wish more amateur videographers stop being so afraid of others “stealing” their shots, and offer them for free. I mean, I get it when professionals want to make a buck out of licensing, but when amateurs being equally protective of their content doesn’t ring good to me.

Mark Christiansen: | April, 10, 2009

Thanks for sharing that, Eugenia, your blog post is chock full of great information for artists wanting to make use of the commons.

Are you aware of specific other videos online that have made use of your Vimeo clips?

Eugenia: | April, 11, 2009

Thanks Mark. Yes, I am aware of someone who used one of my clips: a priest, who used one of my nature videos with prayer text on top: (original video here: )

There was recently someone else who has requested a small shot of my jellyfish video for an upcoming indie feature film (currently in pre-production). He said he will contact me again when the movie is in post to clear up the details.

Sproketz: | April, 15, 2009

Well, I will play the devil’s advocate here. Your line “Creative Commons has opened the door to better sharing…” should actually read “better taking”.

Copyright holders can share all they want to under current copyright law. They can share for free. What happens in these conversations is that a large number of people think they should be able to take what they want for free. As of course Napster and illegal music downloading has demonstrated.

I think Creative Commons is a great idea. But it cannot replace copyright law as so many people seem to think.

It’s great that there is an easy way for a copyright owners to share if they wish without tons of paper work or fees.

But using Creative Commons licensing can only ever be a voluntary choice of the copyright owner. Those who think CC can or will be forced on copyright owners are dreaming. Copyright laws will never be voided just to allow people to take what

Lawrence Lessig has done a nice job with CC, but the idea that the forward progress of culture needs outright theft is wrong.

Sure artists build on what has come before.

But culture moved along and changed long before sampling technology came along or digital files which could be copied with a push of a button.

We are not talking about advancing medicine or solving mankind’s big issues. It’s art, and
artist’s don’t have to steal outright to progress their work.

In music there are so many sample libraries, loops, software synths, etc. that there is simply no excuse to steal except laziness.

Same with pictures or clips as well. You no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars to license one photo. There are plenty of legal, cheap sources of stock clips, photos, sound effects and music.

The only area where culture would truly benefit by modifying copyright law would be better exemptions from copyright for elements used for historical/documentary purposes, as the now infamous “Eyes on the Prize” series demonstrated.

Mark Christiansen: | April, 16, 2009

Thanks for the comment Sproketz. May I be devil’s advocate to your devil’s advocate?

Standard copyright law is a 20th century phenomenon. Culture predates it by quite a bit. The laws were stepped up as the means to violate became more potent, culminating in the Digital Milennium Copyright Act of 1996. These more potent laws have not decreased violation in the 21st Century. Therefore the need for another way, one that acknowledges that not everyone even wants strict copyright protection and a team of lawyers to protect I.P. Those that do will continue to hire those lawyers.

Regarding the role of I.P. in culture, Picasso said it well. “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Sproketz: | April, 19, 2009

Just a comment on two of your points.

Polio also predates vaccines. Old doesn’t mean better.

And neither is new always better.

The ideas behind copyright evolve to fit their times just as other esoteric human ideas evolve.

The Magna Carta altered the future rights of ordinary people. Later documents then built on that document’s ideas in an evolving process.

Copyright most definitely goes way back as it is rooted in the same ideas the founded patent laws.

The idea that people could make valuable, unique things or processes, and then protect the trade secrets of how to make them is the foundation for copyright. The “idea” of how to build a combine harvester is not that much different than writing a song. Except that most people cannot actually build a combine harvester in order to have one without buying the thing from the manufacturer.

Multimedia however can be copied easily.

Regarding the Picasso quote.

What Picasso meant by that was that artists watch other other artists they admire and find growth in their own work by exploring new techniques that they see in others.

But you would not mistake a Picasso painting for a Van Gogh or a Vermeer or a Wyeth. He did not “cut and paste” from prints of other works into his own, but he used ideas from other artists and art movements to influence his own ideas.

An example is cubism, which he helped develop out of an interest in the primitive art of indigenous cultures in Africa and elsewhere.

But you would not say Picasso’s art looked like
a copy of African tribal art.

Most copyright discussions today are not about artists, but about users not wanting to pay for the fruit of other people’s time and efforts.

Now it’s about cut and paste, hard drives full of the product of other people’s toils.

It’s really a moral issue.

Your very own PVC contributors Chris and Trish Meyer have mentioned selling stock graphics on the web. I don’t really think they would say that their work should just be used without permission or compensation considering it has been offered online for monetary purposes.

Their books provide techniques for the growth of artists, but the stock clips are there to raise cash. Oh, they charge for the books too.

I used to work on a sports show for ESPN and the producer used a lot of music from up and coming bands that had signed to labels. He went through normal channels, talked to the right people and got permission to use the music for free. We had no problem at all scoring our shows at no cost. Some pretty big songs too for that time.

Owning a copyright is not all about making big money, but it is about having a say over your own life and that which you have taken the time and or money to create.

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