The web is full of interesting content to view, and one of the least understood aspects of this content is its reuse. So the question basically is – “If I see something online, can I include it on my website and if yes, do I have to pay someone?” or a variant of this.
To answer this question, let us basically understand two things – copyright and licenses. Whenever you have a copyright over something – let us say an image, a song etc. that means that you and only those you give permission to, have the right to use that image for any purpose. If you yourself want to use something that you have created, then you obviously don’t need permission, however if you want to use something that someone else has created, then you need a license.
As a content creator, you can either go to a lawyer to create a custom license for your product (which can be expensive) or you can use one of the ready made licenses such as GPL, Apache, Creative Commons etc. These licenses have been created by experts in the field and if you release your content or product under a particular license, you provide others the right to use your material as long as they abide by the terms of the license.
You can find an excellent article by Jeff Atwood here where he talks about the need for and the importance of picking a license for content/software you create.
Let us take a look at one of the most popular kinds of licenses in the world today and understand how it works. Namely the ‘creative commons license’. A good example would be the images we’ve used in presentations on our home page. These images are not owned by GroupGyaan, rather they have been licensed from various individuals who have given us the permission to use them under a creative commons license. You can find attributions to them here.
To get a precise description of what this license is all about, or how it can be used you can check out the creative commons website or the wikipedia page for the same.
Having said that, these pages can be a bit dense for someone trying to wrap his head around the concept. Or more importantly for someone trying to find the answer to the simple question – Can I use the CC licensed image for free or not!?
The simplest answer to this is as follows: If you find that an image, audio clip, video or any content for that matter is being licensed under a creative commons ‘attribution only’ license then you can go ahead and use it for free on your site – as long as you provide proper attribution for the same. The license comes in many flavors and each of the sub types or flavors have their own set of conditions dictating the circumstances under which the content may be used.
What is attribution?
Attribution is when you state the name of the person who is the creator of the content and provide a link to where the content (image, audio, video) is being hosted. Alternatively, attribution style and format can also be requested by the content creator.
You can learn a lot more about licenses and related concepts at the Smashing Magazine website.
Once you understand the basics of what the license means and the concept of attribution, another question that is likely to bother you is “What are these different symbols I keep seeing next to the licenses?”
Well, as mentioned before, there are various flavors to the creative commons license. You can see some of the different license types mentioned in the diagram below. Each license has its own preconditions, for example the no-derivs flavor of the CC license states that although you are free to make use of the content, you cannot create a derivative of the same. Which basically means you cannot modify the content. An example would be cropping an image to make it fit better on the page. (Click to enlarge).
Note: Most search engines such as Google, as well as sites such as flickr allow you to search for images or other content which is creative commons “for commercial use”. Just selecting the right search options can save you a lot of trouble and headache in the future.
And remember that it is the creator who reserves the final say over what happens to the content. Licensing is a complicated thing and people may have different interpretations of how the license is supposed to work. So always be respectful towards him/her as well as the content being licensed. If you receive a cease and desist letter from the creator, do respect his/her wishes and replace the content. Its a lot easier to get new content than to fight a potential lawsuit. And, don’t be crafty when it comes to providing attribution.(Which means don’t try to escape it, or bury it in a small font somewhere at the bottom of the page!) It is a way of providing due respect to the people who have made it possible to build something beautiful and if anything, it is something to be proud of and cherished. And finally, we here at GroupGyaan, believe in practicing what we preach, and as a result we’ve ended up paying just as much attention to how our attribution page was built, as we’ve paid every bit of the rest of the site. We sincerely hope you find it worth checking out!