copyright basics part 3

In Part 3 of the series on Copyright Basics for Graphic Designers, I will look at some of the main issues that arise when you take your work online and how you can continue to protect your copyright while exploring new ways of sharing your work with a wider audience.

The internet is not public domain

One of the first myths about content on the internet is that it is free for everyone to use, copy and share. This is a dangerous misconception which can lead to some messy disputes.

Take a recent example of a photographer who found that a mainstream UK newspaper had used one of his photos on the popular photo-sharing website, Flickr, without his permission. Although the photographer had clearly posted a notice on his Flickr page that “all rights were reserved”; the newspaper still assumed that because Flickr was a free-to-use website, it hosted public domain content which was free for anyone to use.

Although the dispute was ultimately resolved with an apology and payment of the necessary usage fee, it highlights that even a national newspaper that works with copyright law everyday was misinformed about what they could or could not do with online content.

Despite the photographer’s copyright notice being overlooked in this case, placing clear notification next to your work and/or on every webpage that it appears on is still recommended good practice. Doing so prevents others from arguing that they didn’t know the material was copyrighted (like the newspaper in the example above).

It is also important that you assert your copyright clearly in the terms and conditions on your website, stating what can and cannot be done with your content. Include a non-waiver clause too which basically states that nothing you do should be construed as a waiver of your copyright.

Search using thumbnails

There have been a number of cases since the advent of the internet on whether using thumbnail versions of protected images without permission for web search purposes constitutes copyright infringement.

If you remember from Part 1 that copyright is only infringed when a substantial portion of a work has been copied, the question is then whether a thumbnail is regarded as a substantial copy of the original work? In the case of Perfect 10 vs Google, the search giant was providing thumbnail images of Perfect 10’s models amongst its image search results. Perfect 10 claimed that its copyright in the images was being infringed.

Perfect 10’s claim was upheld in the lower courts but rejected on appeal. The appeal court stated that a thumbnail on its own was not a substantial copy. However, the court did add that if the thumbnail linked to a full-size copy of the same image, there would be copyright infringement.

Creative Commons licensing

Copyright holders have traditionally shared their work with others in very restrictive ways, i.e. either by assignment or proprietary licensing (see Part 2). However, with the digital revolution and, in particular, the explosion of the social media phenomenon, content users want more freedom to adapt and share content with each other.

If you want others to freely share your work online, whether as a form of marketing or simply because you are being magnanimous, there are a number of new, more “open” licensing models you can use to distribute your work. The best known and most widely used of these new licenses is the Creative Commons licenses.

Again, many people think that work published under a Creative Commons license is essentially a waiver of copyright. This is incorrect. The licensor still asserts copyright over the licensed work, but grants further freedoms to others to share, adapt and redistribute the work under the license.

The distinction can be drawn between licensed content and content which is or has been placed in the public domain. Public domain content is available to everyone and no copyright vests in the work. This is the mistake that was made by the newspaper in the example above.

Creative Commons (CC) has six main license types, each type with its own level of restrictiveness. The restrictions (or lack thereof) are based on 4 concepts: attribution (crediting the original creator); share-alike (sharing derivative works under identical licence terms); non-commercial purposes (allow rights but not to make money) and no-derivative works (redistribute and use actual work but don’t make changes).

The six main license types are:

1. Attribution
Attribution 3.0 Unported
This license lets others basically do what they want with your work (including make money from it): provided they credit you for the original work in a way that suits you.

2. Attribution Share-Alike

This license again grants all the same rights (including commercial use): provided the user credits you and licences any new works under the identical terms.

3. Attribution No Derivatives
Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported
This license allows your work to be redistributed (including commercially), but it cannot be changed and it must be credited to you.

4. Attribution Non-Commercial

This license lets others do what they want with your work provided it is not for commercial purposes and you are properly credited.

5. Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike

This license grants all rights to others, provided they enjoy them for non-commercial purposes only, they licence any derivative works under identical terms, and you are properly credited for the original work.

6. Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives

This license only allows others to download your works and share them, provided proper credit is given to you. The original work cannot be changed or used commercially.

Lauded for their user friendliness and the welcome absence of legalese, Creative Commons licenses are very en vogue at the moment – used in over 180 million web pages on the internet. However designers who want to try them out should read the actual license terms carefully to make sure they choose the one best suited for them.

Creative Commons has done a lot of work to make sure that their licenses can be adapted for most jurisdictions. Although there have only been a small number of cases around the world involving these licenses, there should be no problem with enforcing the license terms as you would any other contract.

There is no doubt that the internet and other digital platforms offer new and exciting ways to get your work out there. But remember to look before you leap!