Creative Commons: What Every Self-Publisher Ought to Know

by | Jun 11, 2010


Licensing of rights is at the center of the publishing business. Publishing contracts are rights licenses, nothing more or less. People who work in publishing, and who supply the publishing industry with its raw materials—the authors—become used to dealing with the expressions of creativity as valuable products with inherent rights.

Opposed to the whole rights-as-property side of the equation is the public domain. This abstract territory is where we keep the fruits of the creators of earlier eras. The best or most durable works of our time will, in turn, join the great trove of works that forms the underpinning of our culture. Because this material is owned by the public, it is freely available to all.

Each of these opposing forces—strict licenses of intellectual property to enable monetezation, and the need for culture to have the fruits of its history available to build upon—has a role to play. The trick is in getting the balance right.

A New Idea in Rights for the Twenty-First Century

In 2002 Duke University founded its Center for the Study of the Public Domain. Here’s a statement from their website:

Both the incentives provided by intellectual property and the freedom provided by the public domain are crucial to the balance. But most contemporary attention has gone to the realm of the protected.

Through the support of Duke’s Center, Creative Commons was formed soon thereafter. What exactly is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.

Creative Commons is run as a collaborative non-profit with a large board and an evolving series of rights licenses that they describe and make available for content creators.

Explosive Growth

It’s obvious there was a real need for a more flexible way to deal with licensing creative works in the everything-is-reachable-by-a-Google-search era. Rights had been very cumbersome to negotiate and police. What Creative Commons aimed to do was put the control of the rights back in the hands of the people originating the works.

At the same time, it made it much easier for publishers to get access to content because the artist could state which version of the Creative Commons license they choose to apply to their work. It both stimulates commerce and protects the artists.

The growth of Creative Commons-licensed works has exploded. For the last year I’ve seen statistice for, 2008, over 130 million individual works were covered by Creative Commons licenses, and I’m sure the number is much higher now. Wikipedia, for example, uses Creative Commons licenses for all of its content.

And Flickr.com can search its collection of millions of images based on their Creative Commons licensing, a real boon to web-based publishers (like bloggers).

Creative Commons isn’t perfect, and some people have made reasonable arguments against its system. However, it still seems the most balanced, easiest to use approach generally accepted in the market, and it does leave the artist in control of deciding which rights to hold and which rights to grant. This seems far better than the “all rights reserved” method in which contracts have to be drawn for each case, dividing rights and licensing them.

Understanding Creative Commons Licenses

Under the current 3.0 version of Creative Commons, there are four conditions from which creators can choose. This is how they are explained, with their corresponding symbols

creative commons, self-publishing

Click to enlarge

By combining these conditions, you arrive at the six Creative Commons licenses:

  1. Creative Commons AttributionAttribution (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, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.
  2. Creative Commons Attribution Share-AlikeAttribution Share-Alike (cc by-sa)
    This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
  3. Creative CommonsAttribution No Derivatives (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.
  4. Creative Commons book design, publish a bookAttribution Non-Commercial (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.
  5. book design, self-publish a bookAttribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (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. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.
  6. creative commons, book design, publish a bookAttribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (cc by-nc-nd)
    This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

3 Things to Remember About Your Rights

Remember, in the United States,

  1. Your copyright in your creation is effective as soon as you fix your creative expression in a form. Although there are various mechanisms to register your copyright, it exists when your original work is created.
  2. It’s often wise to list a copyright in your work to eliminate the ambiguity caused by not having any notice at all of rights ownership
  3. Creative Commons gives you a way to share works you’ve created in a flexible way, but it is optional. Your rights are assumed to be “all rights reserved” unless you state otherwise.

Takeaway: Creative Commons rights licenses are a flexible way for artists to share some rights while choosing which ones to withhold. It can spur creativity while allowing artists to maintain control of their work.

Resources

Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain
Wikipedia article on Creative Commons
Advanced search on Flickr.com
Badges and descriptive text from Creative Commons website

Image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/leesean/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

17 Comments

  1. Linda Bonney Olin

    Hi, Joel.
    I write hymn texts (AKA lyrics) which I set to existing hymn tunes. I choose public domain tunes (pre-1923) to avoid the hassle of seeking rights before modifying them or submitting them (as part of the new hymn’s sheet music) to publisher’s or competitions.
    Creative Commons licensing has raised a couple of issues for me, both as a potential user of CC licensed work and as a potential licenser of my own work.

    1) In my quest for online reference copies of the PD tunes, sometimes the only sheet music I find has been posted under CC license by an individual who evidently modified the PD work in some way. Because I need my hymns to be unencumbered in order to submit them to publishers, I can’t comply with the CC terms.

    I understand that these posters are entitled to apply the license to their own modifications, but not to the original work. Trouble is, they don’t specify what their modification consists of. It could be anything from adding a lousy pickup note to creating the whole harmonization from scratch. And they don’t indicate what THEIR source was, so I can’t track it back to a clean PD version.

    This isn’t the fault of the CC system, just an observation. It’s aggravating to have a resource dangled in front of me and not know whether I can legally/ethically use it or not.

    2) I ain’t no spring chicken, and I don’t want my hymns to die with me. The few that have been published already are out there, and another hymnal could contact my heirs to request reprint rights, at least. But ferreting out publication opportunities for over a hundred individual unpublished hymns would be another kettle of loaves and fish! New hymnals aren’t published often, and they don’t necessarily pay anything.

    Rather than designating a literary executor to market my stuff indefinitely, I’ve considered the idea of leaving instructions in my will to self-publish a collection of my completed hymns (keeping them accessible on Amazon, etc.) and placing all rights that are not already under contract into the public domain. But, my reading tells me that you can’t just say, “My work is henceforth in the public domain,” and have that stick.

    So, (see, I’m working my way back to the topic!) maybe my will could instruct that a book of my completed hymns be published with a notice that they could be freely used under “CC by” license?

    This might also be a possibility for other writers who can’t justify a literary executor and would rather have their stuff published “CC by” or “CC by-nd” than never see the light of day.

    Happy Thanksgiving,
    Linda Bonney Olin

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Linda,

      An interesting situation. I’ve done some public domain publishing, and there certainly are a lot of issues that can get murky quickly.

      However, (I’m no lawyer) I think if you state that you claim no copyright and put the book into the public domain, I do think that will stick. There are people publishing this way today.

      For clarity, you might want to consult with an intellectual property lawyer.

      Reply
  2. Aixa

    I want to publish two Spanish textbooks for college students but I want the textbooks to be free for anyone. I do not want to get any profit from them.
    I have been searching for the whole week about it but no luck
    I would greatly appreciate if you someone can help me or guide me.
    Once again, I want to publish the textbooks but I want the books to be free to anyone
    Looking forward to hearing from you guys
    Cheers

    Reply
  3. Maria

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s newest “Beyond the Book” podcast, featuring Victor Pickard of the Annenberg School for Communication. Pickard tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally that much more is at stake than the loss of jobs in the ailing American newspaper business. Our “democratic society,” he believes, is nearing on the edge, while the field of journalism too continues to wane. The plight of newspapers, Pickard contends, is not about business or technology, but it is rather about the core ideals of American society.

    The podcast and transcript are available below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/rescue-newspapers-save-democracy/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/transcripts/rescue-newspapers-save-democracy/

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best,

    Maria

    Reply
  4. Megan

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in the article from Book Business written by Miles McNamee, VP of licensing and business development at Copyright Clearance Center, on steps publishers should take to prepare for the mobile era of content licensing. The article highlights 10 actions that will help rightsholders meet market demands and, in turn, maximize their revenue potential. It explains how rightsholders must understand customer needs and the right licensing choices in order to boost customer satisfaction. The tips range from consistency in order experience to providing third-party 24-hour customer support. McNamee believes that “the key is to address technology-driven challenges with technology-driven solutions.”

    You can find the article below:

    https://www.copyright.com/content/dam/cc3/marketing/documents/pdfs/Book-Business-Magazine-November-2011.pdf

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,
    Megan

    Reply
  5. Megan

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in The Economist’s profile on Springer’s newest electronic book-archiving project. The article explains how the company has decided to digitize its entire archive library. Upon completion, Springer will be able to offer over 100,000 eBooks that have been published as far back as the 1840’s. It also describes the process of how Springer decided which titles they could include in its archive project by reviewing its copyright records. The academic journal was able to track down more than 100,000 print books in English, Dutch and German, and then narrowed the list down by its latest edition. Springer has created an archive of the highest quality of scans, making sure to include rich metadata and reproduced illustrations.

    You can find the article below:

    https://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2011/11/digitising-books

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,
    Megan

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      I’ve put it on my reading list, thanks Megan.

      Reply
  6. Megan Schumann

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s newest “Beyond the Book” podcast, featuring a special program from RightsDirect, CCC’s European subsidiary, Victoriano Colodrón who spoke with Hervé Basset, a Paris-based expert in scientific information management. In the interview, Basset discusses how monitoring technologies and social media by company researchers is affecting traditional sources of information like scientific journals. He believes that peer review journals and paid databases are still the prominent models for scientists, as social networks are not high on the professional scale yet. Basset also explains how the future of librarians and corporate information professionals are clearly moving to a role as information consultant, as there are so many different Web services that only provide basic information.

    The podcast and transcript are available below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/how-social-media-is-keeping-alive-the-journal-article/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/BassetTranscript.pdf
    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,
    Megan Schumann

    Reply
  7. Megan Schumann

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s newest “Beyond the Book” podcast, featuring an interview with CEO and founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker. In the interview, Coker discusses how self-publishing has become a first option for many authors because of the economic incentive, the immediacy and the control of distribution. He explains how the future of traditional print publishing is diminishing and more authors are turning to self-publishing with the rise of e-books.

    The podcast and transcript are available below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/coker-the-barbarian/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/CokerTranscript.pdf

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,

    Megan

    Reply
  8. Megan

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Information Today’s profile on the CEO of Copyright Clearance Center Tracey Armstrong. Armstrong describes how the digital evolution of content has paved the way for new methods for content licensing. She says, “Licensing is evolving… It’s evolving because of the way that the users are interfacing with content…. The best technology is transparent. And the best licensing solutions for our users are transparent.” She then goes on to highlight that licensing tools that are easy to use have resulted in being used, and generating revenue for publishers.

    You can find the article below.

    https://www.infotoday.com/it/oct11/Armstrong-The-Voice-of-Copyright.shtml

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,

    Megan Schumann

    Reply
  9. Megan

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s newest “Beyond the Book” podcast, featuring an interview with author Simon Garfield addressing his New York Times bestseller Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. Garfield discusses the importance of typeface in the modern world, how it correlates to legibility and readability and the affect typography is having on screen culture. He explains the history behind different fonts, such as the ever popular Helvetica, and describes how a good type needs clarity and emotion.

    The podcast and transcript are available below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/just-my-type/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/SimonGarfieldTranscript.pdf

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

    Best Regards,

    Megan Schumann

    Reply
  10. Kevin

    Hello,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s new “Beyond the Book” podcast, which features an interview with Matt Mullin from Digital Book World and Anne Kostick from Foxpath IND. The podcast discusses how entrants in the 2012 Publishing Innovation Awards, which identifies the best digital publications, including ebooks, enhanced ebooks, and book apps, will be eligible to receive the new Quality, Excellence, and Design seal, which will allow readers to be able to be assured that whatever they’re reading meets excellent standards of innovation, quality, and digital format versatility through a vigorous 13 point inspection of every ebook.

    The podcast and transcript are available below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/publishing-innovation-awards-gets-qed-seal/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/QEDTranscript.pdf

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions,

    Best,

    Kevin

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for continuing to post links to these very informative and valuable copyright resources.

      Reply
  11. Kevin

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in Copyright Clearance Center’s new “Beyond the Book” podcast, which features an interview with Dr. Barbara Gastel regarding the newly released 7th edition of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, which has been highly acclaimed since 1979. Co-author Dr. Gastel makes a critical point that while the basics of scientific writing stay unchanged, various technological and cultural changes have modified the process. She notes that the digital revolution has caused scientific articles to be more abundant and easier to access than ever, all over the globe. Drawing from her experience from teaching medical students in Beijing, she also explains the differences in methods of scientific communication across cultures. For example, crediting sources in works is more valued in the States, while not as much in China.

    The podcast and transcript are available in the respective links below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/the-doctors-book-is-in/
    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/GastelTranscript.pdf

    Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me with any questions,

    Best,

    Kevin

    Reply
  12. Katie Keane

    Hi Joel,

    I thought you might be interested in the new podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond the Book podcast. In this new posting, CCC’s Chris Kenneally previews the upcoming Digital Book World Conference, taking place on Jan. 24 – 26 in NYC by speaking with Mike Shatzkin, founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company, and Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, director of programming and business development for Digital Book World. Shatzkin and Gonzalez discuss the way in which they planned the show this year and some of the topics that will be discussed, including the future of brick & mortar stores and the role of metadata in e-publishing.

    The podcast and transcript are available in the respective links below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/change-is-exhilarating-and-scary/

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/DBW2011PreviewTranscript.pdf

    Thank you in advance for your time and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

    Regards,

    Katie Keane

    Reply
  13. Kerry

    Hi Joel!

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in the new podcast from Copyright Clearance Center’s Beyond The Book site, which features a panel discussion for the Independent Book Publishers Association at their annual “Publishing University” program. In this episode, featured guests Mark Coker of Smashwords, Jack Sallay of Vook and O Magazine Books Editor Sara Nelson explain the ongoing e-publishing revolution with E-Magination: What’s Now & What’s Next in Ebooks.

    The podcast and transcript are available in the respective links below:

    https://beyondthebookcast.com/emagination-whats-now-whats-next-in-ebooks-part-1/

    https://www.beyondthebookcast.com/wp-images/EMaginationTranscript_Part1.pdf

    Thank you in advance for your time and please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

    Best,
    Kerry

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Kerry, thanks so much for the useful link, I’ll check it out. Unfortunately you didn’t leave an email link with your comment, so contact might be difficult. But thanks for a great contribution.

      Reply

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