What is Creative Commons?

Ok before we can talk about creative commons we need to talk about copyright. I should also say that I am not a lawyer and I really only know about US copyright law.

First of all, lets talk about what copyright is. I’m going to quote directly from the US Copyright office here: “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.” So copyright is intended to protect the creator of a creative work. It covers books, songs, podcast episodes, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc. It stops people from reproducing your work without permission. We could say that copyright gives the author the right to make copies and the right to stop others from making copies.

In the USA you do not need to register your work with the copyright office. Copyright exists the moment the work is created. You do need to register if you are going to bring a lawsuit for infringement. So as soon as you make a creative work like a podcast episode or YouTube video, your work is copyrighted. That means that I can’t take your podcast episode and claim it is mine. I can’t steal your stuff.

But what if, you want people to be able to make copies of your work. Or you want people to modify your work and make derivative works from it. Well that is what creative commons is for.

Creative commons gives you several licenses that you can use as a content creator. Remember when I said about making copies without permission. A license is permission. It usually is permission with some strings attached.

But it is really important to remember that there is no creative commons license. I hear this all the time. And it is wrong. Things are license under a creative commons license. There are a bunch of them. And all but one requires you to give credit to the creator of the work. That is one of the strings attached to the permission to make copies. You are saying that you can make copies, but you need to give me credit.

There are licenses that say you can’t make derivative works, you can only make copies. So, no remixes. There are others that say you can make copies and derivative works, but you can’t do it commercially. So no ads and you can’t sell the derivative creation.

There are also licenses that are viral. These are the ShareAlike licenses. If you make a derivative work from content with this license you must also share that work under the same license. Hence the share alike name.

So, these licenses say you may copy a creation as long as you follow the rules of the license. If you don’t follow these rules you are violating someone’s copyright. And this is an important point. It seems like there is this perception that creative commons licensed content is copyright free. And nothing could be further from the truth. The power of creative commons licenses comes from copyright. The creator still has a copyright and everything that goes along with that. They just have given blanket permission to everyone saying you can use my work under these specific conditions. If you violate these conditions, you are violating the creators copyright.

So what does this mean for podcasters. Well let’s take a look at a hypothetical podcast that is using a song licensed under a creative commons license as a music bumper. This song is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. So in order to use this song legally we have three conditions to meet. One, we need to give attribution to the creator of the song. At some point in the podcast audio, we need to give the author credit. Two, we can’t use this song commercially. That means no ads and you can’t charge for the podcast. Three, we have to license our podcast under the same license as the song. So our show has to also be licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike. If we don’t follow those rules, we don’t get to use the song legally.

Most creative commons licenses are not this complicated. As a matter of fact the CC0 license doesn’t require anything. It is kind of like public domain. You don’t even need to give the author credit. But CC0 music is exceedingly rare.

So the real question here for you is, are you using creative common music legally in your podcast? Are you fulfilling all the requirements of the licenses? Or are you violating the author’s copyright?