The practices below summarize simple heuristics that enable you to be as creative as possible while also staying on the good side of the law and respecting the rights of fellow content creators.
Applying Licenses to Proprietary Work
Work Protected under Copyright Law
In the United States, “original works of authorship” (which include audio recordings, blogs, websites, articles, books, videos, and images) are protected under copyright. Owners of intellectual property may distribute their work, or apply additional licenses, as they please.
That said, the copyright of work created for an employer or as part of an agreement (e.g. a “work for hire” contract) may belong to your employer or client.
Furthermore, content that incorporates pre-existing work or was collaboratively made may also not count as copyrightable under a single content creator, hence you may have limited ability to apply additional licenses to it or distribute it as you please. What’s more, new licenses you apply to derivative work must also comply with any licenses applied to pre-existing work used.
Have a clear understanding of your ownership before selling and licensing work- be it online or offline.
While you do not have to declare a specific work to be copyrighted (the copyright is implied), you are responsible for clearly presenting any other licenses (e.g. Public Domain or Creative Commons) you may give to your work.
To apply a non-exclusive license to work that contains a Commons Deed, Legal Code, and metadata, visit Creative Commons’ pages to obtain Creative Commons Attribution, CC0, and Public Domain licensing icons that can be added to pages hosting your content (these licenses should be applied carefully, as they are non-revocable). Creative Licenses that contain additional metadata are ideal, as they make your work easier for those searching for CC-licensed work to find.
Creative Commons and Public Domain licenses can be applied in pure text form in the following format:
“Copyright (c) 2012 by John Doe. This work is made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.”
Creative Commons and Public Domain licenses should be applied to audio and video content at least in the form of an audible bumper naming the license (that is, verbal disclosure of the license), as well as a visual frame in the case of video (that is, a footage showing the license or a text-based overlay in a video showing the license) displaying the license in the same format recommended for written work.
Creative Commons and Public Domain licenses can be applied to images in (at minimum) captions below the images (written out or in the form of Creative Commons-generated icons).
Certain platforms enable content creators to easily apply specific licenses to their content as it is uploaded. In such cases, using the format provided by the given platform is ideal.
Exclusive licenses must be established with individuals and businesses on a case-by-case basis.
Using the Work of Others
When using someone else’s work respect copyright law and specific licenses given to that work. Failure to comply with copyright laws or the terms of a given license agreement may not only lead to legal action, but also the degradation of your reputation and credibility.
Using Copyrighted Content
Respect the rights others have to their own work. In many cases, it is both easy and inexpensive to gain the rights to use copyrighted content or to use it in a manner that does not violate copyright law.
Copyrighted Content Used with Permission
Use copyrighted content by:
- Obtaining explicit, written permission from the copyright holder
- Purchasing rights to use the content (e.g. through a stock photography site)
When obtaining special permission to use copyrighted content:
- Be sure to obtain permission from the true copyright holder (just because someone uploaded an image or a video does not mean this person created it)
- Be clear about the specific rights you are requesting (e.g. One Time Rights, Simultaneous Rights, Syndication Rights, Subsidiary Rights, etc.).
- Ask if attribution is needed, and if so, whether it should be presented in the form of the copyright owner’s real name or his/her online handle
Copyrighted Content Used under the Fair Use Exception
In some cases, you may use copyrighted work without obtaining specific rights or special permission from the copyright holder. These cases fall under the fair use exception of United States copyright law.
To stay on the safe side of the fair use exception:
- Only use copyrighted content for reviews, criticism, education, or reporting that is intended to advance knowledge contribute something truly original to the art world
- Do not use copyrighted material in or on monetized content (e.g. content that has ads on it) or content intended for personal gain
- Keep the proportion of copyrighted content used in your work to a bare minimum
- Do not use copyrighted material in your work if doing so has the potential to hurt the ability of the copyright holder to continue to profit from his or her work
Using Creative Commons-Licensed Content
Use Creative Commons-licensed work in accordance with its specific license.
Proper attribution of Creative Commons-licensed work involves:
- Leaving any copyright notices on the original work intact
- Citing the owner’s name (be it a real name or username) and linking back to his or her profile when possible
- Citing the work’s title or name and linking directly back to the original work
- Citing the Creative Commons license given to the work and linking to the specific Creative Commons license
In addition to naming and linking to the source, author, and license, clearly state the nature of derivative works and adaptations of CC-licensed works (e.g. “This novel is based on Winds Through the Hills by Jane Doe, CC-BY-SA 3.0”).