Ah, decisions, decisions…. What to do, when you want to free your chains and break down parts of our ever so coveted, yet limiting, walled garden.Well, as with all of our careers/hobbies progress, eventually we find ourselves at a crossroads. A decision that comes up that will dictate the manner in which you will proceed and how your work is perceived.

Which leads me to the Creative Commons structure of licensing. Which as explained by the organization, “develops, supports and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing and innovation.”

Now I have been debating on whether or not to delve into the world of Creative Commons ever since I read an enlightening article written by Trey Ratcliff and the benefits experienced from the system. Be aware, anything beyond this point is mere opinion and descriptive. If CC is something you decide works for you, be sure to read over the legalities and fine print thoroughly before jumping in with both feet. I’m no liar, er lawyer, so decide on your own.
I’ll be honest, like everyone I am sure, once I began sharing my work online, I came out of the gate paranoid. I policed the web, using the ever so mighty Google reverse image search. Tracking down all uses of my image, putting a stop to or a share from the sites using the work, as much as I could. But this policing became more problematic and stressful that I intended. I was so worried about people stealing my work that I lost site of my own time wasted tracking them down. This was not desirable. Also, I did not want to have to okay every single email coming in asking me permission to use the work. I want sharing, but iron-fisted control is time wasted on tedium and if people want to steal your work… trust me, they will!
That’s just the name of the game. Just like a store establishes a budget for losses, you should also mentally prepare for the likelihood of some jackass taking a low quality version of your work from your website, and distributing it as their own or lazily slapped upon the breast of a t-shirt. Now in such case, you will either run across it and squelch the use (legally or verbally, your choice)… OR you will never run across it and at that point, what could you do about what you do not know? You don’t realize Sam is selling shirts in some suburb in Florida, with your image on the chest. However, if you see someone wearing your image, then hell yeah, investigate and bring all power of the court down upon the one gathering cash on your work.

But for general sharing online, I want a system where I do not have to put on my, authora-TIE! aviator glasses all the time, knocking on the doors of IP addresses and pursuing insignificant sharing matters. It’s pointless and it’s wasteful.. especially to oneself, as an artist. At least this is my opinion.

That said, as an artist… is that not the point? To share and inspire… to let your work spread far and wide and capture the attention and intrigue of as many eyeballs as possible.So, my thought is, the more you police, the narrower your audience. The more you share, the wider your audience.

Frankly, for most of my images, I wouldn’t mind a system that clearly states my intentions of open sharing across personal blogs, Facebook, G+, message boards or anywhere non-commercial use is the intent. As long as credit is given and a link back provided. Beyond that, if no money is changing hands, nor generated by way of my work… I say, game on and this makes it easy for everyone.
A great article that brings up the view from multiple “pro” photographers, can be found HERE and Trey specifically, HERE. Recommended reading if your interested what the real big boys (gals) have to say. I’m a lowly hobbyist, with normal day to day labors to keep the lights on. This isn’t my bread and butter, it’s my passion. So making money isn’t priority #1 for me. For those guys however, it is. My goal is to share the world how I see it, to as many people as possible. While at the same time, obviously not limiting my ability to cash in on my labors, now or down the line as secondary priority.
With that in mind, this CC option seems like a logical path for me to take, at least in my eyes.
But what does it all mean? What will switching your work to this measure do?
From what I can gather, this is a simplified manner of controlling how your work is shared and/or used across those interwebs out there. A legal jargon-proof approach for most artists, of whom are more of a free spirited and open bunch with their work. I’m assuming this is not the form of protection sought out by the controlling types. Not an indictment, just a description. Of which, I once fell within.

Anyway, Creative Commons allows for your choice of any one of six licensing options. With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit — and only on the conditions you specify per the license chosen for each individual work.

The licensing structures established by CC for use, can be summed up as followed: (From CreativeCommons.org)

  • Attribution — CC BY
    • This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
  • Attribution-NoDerivs — CC BY-ND 
    • This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike — CC BY-NC-SA 
    • This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
  • Attribution-ShareAlike — CC BY-SA 
    • This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses.
    • All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial — CC BY-NC 
    • This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
  • Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs — CC BY-NC-ND 
    • This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
This leaves a simplified grouping of options to choose from that will best fit your business model and needs. You’ll notice its primarily a compilation of freedom releases or restrictions. Offering various combinations of sharing, commercial use (or not) and alteration freedoms (or not) set up by the artist, for the specific piece.
Personally I dig this. It seems simple, to the point and easy. By choosing the extent of freedom you wish the piece to be held to, allows you to select, adapt and move on. So if your a sharer, but wish your work to remain untouched and unused for financial gail, then you can associate something such as the most restrictive option “CC BY-NC-ND,” the last from the list above. With this license, you are giving the freedom to share your work on blogs and message boards as long as there are no alteration made, credit is given and no commercial benefits are attained by the sharing party. Personally I am most interested in this one. It meets my free spirit side of sending my work out there for people to see… with my controlling nature of sales and alteration.

Or if you want to go “all-in,” you can opt for the most open forms, the Attribution Only option. This pretty much opens your work up to distribution, editing, tweaking and even sales, as long as they credit you for the original creation. Quite the open license, but for some people… that is the desire. With CC you can get just that.

After reading over all of this, I began to ask myself, “what are the pit falls here?”

One of the biggest head scratchers on CC, is the broad stroke of the non-commercial use clause. I enjoy the simplicity here, but what defines commercial use exactly. If my image is used on post to a blog with sponsors paying into the site operator and possibly even the contributor’s. Does that constitute commercial use? This is where I get confused on the terminology itself. An obvious use of my piece into an marketing plan would certainly be in violation, but it gets cloudy when your talking about a secondary blog ad sponsor that do not use my work out right, but pay those that use it in their writing on said website? Guess thats for the lawyers to decide if I go broke. 😉

Another aspect that can be either an advantage or disadvantage… commitment. What I mean is, if you choose the path of CC, then thats a commitment you must respect. Its not like you can just pop it up, let a bunch of people use your work on their blogs and then restrict it and complain (or even sue). My understanding is, the fact that you are stuck with whatever decision you make. But then again, isn’t that most any form of licensing. At least in some form or another. You can’t just reneg after the fact. In my opinion not only do your finances depend on this decision… but more importantly, your reputation is highly at stake with such commitments.

Beyond that, what legal protections do I have when I run into an infringement? At that point, I am assuming I should still have my work registered with the Library of Congress, if I plan to have any type of case. In the end, the fact of the matter is, at least to me… that CC is merely a concise grouping of intentions. A way to clarify what freedoms I allow others, related to my work.

That is further compounded by something that I read in the extended terms document, supplied on the CC website. “Please note that this chart is not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice”

All that said, I believe I will be delving deeper into this license structure and may likely begin implementing it into my own work.What do you think?

Have you had experience with Creative Commons?

Let me know in the comments below.

>> Stay tuned because I may just be jumping on Trey’s CC bandwagon and opening up my work… Likely by starting small with a handful of upcoming images, as I am not sure of the back licensing of work. Plus, I must test these waters before I jump in and get swarmed by piranha. I recommend you do the same if you’ve been contemplating CC.

Share the planet | Protect your shit.

— Helpful Links —

Set up a CC license for each of your works before posting – http://creativecommons.org/choose/.
Also read into the deeper explanation of CC terms. Do not take all legalities on face value from the website easy blurbs.Information attained from: