We have all heard the childhood phrases, “don’t be a copycat,” “give credit where credit is due,” and “share nicely.” In the grown-up world, such terms are copyright, creative commons, and fair use. There is a fine, yet overlapping line, amongst the three and must be carefully considered when creating and sharing work.
First we will take a look at the most protective and restrictive – copyright. Copyright is an exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish or sell a person’s own original work, for a specific period of time. In the U.S., that time period is 50 years beyond the life of the author. Copyright is automatically granted to the author(s) of the original work(s). Permission must be granted by the author(s) to reuse their work.
The law also restricts use of written content and multimedia, including but not limited to, music, art, movies, choreography, web content, and even discussion group postings.
In contrast, if an employee is expected to create, design, or produce content as a job commitment, the copyright belongs to the company instead of the individual. That being said, companies can be held liable if its employees infringe on copyright law just by using company equipment to commit the offense, regardless of intent.
Creative Commons (CC) is a license, as opposed to a law, that is applied to content already protected by copyright. It allows the broad sharing or altering of the content, while still maintaining some control over the original work. In addition, the owner doesn’t need to constantly honor permission requests. Creative Commons doesn’t replace a copyright rather it provides flexibility to share pieces of originality.
There are multiple types of Creative Commons’ license restrictions, of which can be mixed and matched, depending on the author(s) preferences:
1. Attribution – anyone using your work must attribute it, or give credit, to you.
2. Non-commercial use only and without compensation.
3. No Derivatives – the original copyrighted work may be utilized but cannot be modified.
4. Share Alike – work may be used and modified, as long as the party also possesses a “shares alike,” as well.
And finally, Fair Use of copyright material. Fair Use does not require permission of copyright work. This includes criticism, commentary, parody, news, research, and education. There are some works that are completely unprotected: government materials, facts, and anything in the public domain. There are four factors must be considered when determining Fair Use versus infringement:
1. What is the character of the use? Is it for commercial or non-profit purposes?
2. What is nature of work?
3. How much of work is used?
4. What effect would the use have on the market of the original piece?
Fair Use work must be transformative, or add value to, and become repurposed work for a new audience. However, the work must be repurposed no more than is needed to make the point. Educational multimedia projects are non-transformative yet will fall under Fair Use regulations when pieces of copyright material are combined with students’ or instructors’ work for presentations or other educational purposes. Fair Use of music and music videos allows no more than 30 seconds or 10% of the song/video for use. Motion media reproduction is limited to three minutes or 10%. In addition, no more than five photos or illustrations may be reproduced by the same originator.
We are fortunate to have the freedom to utilize and share one another’s work. Some of us have failed to tap into the capabilities of our right-brain so we depend on the creativity of others to produce music, art, literature, graphics, inventions, and even technology. In turn, we have grand opportunities to utilize their talents for our personal benefit. Thus, we owe it to them to “give credit where credit is due,” honor their work and of course, expect the same in return.