What Bloggers Should Know About Creative Commons

I’ll never forget my favorite college professor (Telecommunications and Film), Dr. Glenda Williams. She was my academic advisor as well as my instructor for a few of my media production courses. Every once in a while she would tell us a story from her experiences out in the industry or share with us an interesting tidbit explaining the reasoning behind standard industry practices. Like storyboards and the use of images – why they are so important in business. She mentioned there are certain people who only learn and understand concepts if they are communicated visually, not because they’re stupid, but because they’re visual learners. So if you’re pitching a new and innovative idea to a boardroom full of folks, someone in the room is going to need a picture. So obviously if we’re trying to communicate a point to our readers through a blog post, a certain number of folks are going to benefit from seeing some kind of imagery…even if it’s just one simple photo.

I personally believe that the best kind of media to use on a blog is the kind you create yourself. So yeah I’m kind of a snob when it comes to my expectations, as a reader, when I visit a doctor’s blog. I want to see images from inside the walls of their practice. And if I’m reading an article that really wouldn’t necessarily work with an original image, then I might expect to see something borrowed from Creative Commons.

What’s Creative Commons?

It’s a charitable corporation that has created an infrastructure that makes it easier for individual content creators to specify appropriate uses for their copyrighted material and for others to discover, use, share, and build upon these works. So basically it means that if you want to use an image for your blog, instead of hunting down the image you want through a search online, finding it, contacting the rights holder and getting permission from them to use the image, you can simply search Creative Commons for an image you want and know instantly what you can and cannot use it for – and what you need to do on your end, if anything, to give proper credit to the rights holder.

If you’re a blogger, you need to understand how Creative Commons licenses work. First, there are three layers to each license that a copyright holder can specify for their material. The first layer is the legal code – basically the “Greek” that even after 3 years of law school, would likely turn my poor brain into pudding. Which is why the 2nd layer the Commons Deed or “human readable” version of the license exists. The deed puts all of the legal mumbo jumbo into layman’s terms so that the average Joe can understand it. Then there is the 3rd layer, which is the “machine readable layer”. It’s for search engines and the rest of the machinery on web to make sense of the material and what kind of copyright limitations it has.

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

Attribution (CC BY) – This lets everyone distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon the work. The license even allows the work to be used commercially. The only thing this license requires is that you give credit to the rights holder. Here are some best practices to follow.

Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) – This license allows you to share and remix the work and also allows for commercial use of the work. You would, however, be required to give credit to the rights holder. If you do alter, transform, or build upon the work, you may only distribute the resulting work under the same (or similar) license to this one.

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) – Allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it remains unchanged and gives credit to the rights holder.

Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) – Lets others remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially. They are not required to license their derivative works on the same terms.

Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) - Lets folks remix, tweak, and build upon a work non-commercially, as long as they give credit to the rights holder and license their new creations under the identical terms.

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) – Allows you to download and share the work with others as long as they credit the rights holder. But they can’t change the work in any way or use it commercially.

Normally whenever you come across images on Wikipedia or Flickr that have Creative Commons licenses, they’ll have buttons or icons alongside them that identify what type of license goes along with the image and will also link to the Commons Deed or the “human readable” version of the license. That way you’ll fully understand what your limitations are. Personally, whenever I search for images to use in my blog posts, I go for the least restrictive ones (attribution and attribution sharealike) and place my attribution info below my post.

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Rachel Ankersen
Rachel Ankersen is the Search Engine Optimization Analyst for TeleVox Software and an editor on Beyond The Site. You can follow her on both Twitter, Linkedin and Google+
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