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Archive for April 7th, 2012

Syndicated Post: The Commons Touch

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 April 2012

As part of a series of guest posts on the broad theme of openness it seems appropriate to publish this blog post, on The Commons Touch, which has been published by Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of learning technology in the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at Plymouth University, under a Creative Commons licence on his Learning with ‘E’s blog.

Steve’s post provides an useful introduction to Creative Commons and the benefits which Creative Commons can provide across the sector and concludes by suggesting that Creative Commons is “going to be very big news indeed for all web users in the near future“.

I agree, but how should one reuse resources published under a Creative Commons licence, as I’m doing here, and what are the associated risks?

The licence allows me to reuse the content for non-commercial purposes provided a give acknowledgements to the rights owner (as I have done) and I make my post available under the same licence conditions (and I have included the rights statement and Creative Commons logo from the source post).

Although I am under no legal obligation to inform Steve of my reuse of his post I have chosen to do so so that he is not surprised if he sees the republished post.

I did point out that replicated web content may (slightly) undermine the Google ranking for the resource, as Google can treat replicated content as an attempt to spam Google’s index. However, as Steve is aware and has commented in his post, the value of providing an additional access path for such content will outweigh this slight concern.

Reusing content provided under a Creative Commons licence can also lead to the question regarding what the content actually is. In this case I have chosen to reuse the words, images and links, although the underlying HTML representation may have changed since we use different blog platforms. Since Steve has not applied a No-derivative clause in the licence I could, however, have chosen to edit the content which might have included not including the image and links provided in the source material. It should also be noted that in a comment made to the blog post Joscelyn pointed out a minor error in the original post – the post stated that “Much of the content on Wikipedia for example is licensed under Wikimedia Commons – a version of CC” but in fact “Wikipedia text is licensed with Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike (CC BY SA) licence not a version of a CC licence“]. I could have edited the original post but chose to include an editor’s note.

The final comment I would make is that the licence which applies by default to content published on this blog is CC-BY; a more liberal Creative Common licence which does not restrict reuse to non-commercial purposes or require reuse to apply the same licence. The blog now contains resources with a variety of licences which, ideally, would be described in a machine-understandable form through use of tools such as the WordPress Creative Commons License Manager or the Open Attribute plugins. The latter describes how:

OpenAttribute allows you to add licensing information to your WordPress site and individual blogs. It places information into posts and RSS feeds as well as other user friendly features. This plugin is an part of the OpenAttribute project which is part of Mozilla Drumbeat.

However these plugins are not available on the WordPress.com platform, so it does not seen currently to be possible to describe the rights for blog posts and embedded content in a machine-readable fashion. But since this is the case for many digital resources, this is not of great concern to me.

I am still in agreement with Steve that Creative Commons is “going to be very big news indeed for all web users in the near future” and we should all develop (and share) practices for consuming other people’s content which they have provided using such licences. I’d also welcome suggestions as to who should be described as the author of this post as, unlike other guest posts I’ve published this week, this contains significant intellectual content from me. I think this will have to be described as a post with joint authors.


The Commons Touch

Many people assume that because the web is open, any and all content is open for copying and reuse. It is not. Use some content and you could well be breaking copyright law. Many sites host copyrighted material, and many people are confused about what they can reuse or copy. My advice is this – assume that all content is copyrighted unless otherwise indicated. In the last few years, the introduction of Creative Commons licensing has ensured that a lot of web based content is now open for reuse, repurposing and even commercial use. The Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig is one of the prime movers behind this initiative. Essentially, Creative Commons has established a set of licences that enables content creators to waive their right to receive any royalties or other payment for their work. Many are sharing their content for free, in the hope that if others find it useful, they will feel free to take it and use it. Creative Commons is a significant part of the Copyleft movement, which seeks to use aspects of international copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work for free, as long as it is attributed to the creator. Any subsequent reiterations of the work must also be made available under identical conditions. In keeping with similar open access agreements, Copyleft promotes four freedoms:

Freedom 0 – the freedom to use the work,
Freedom 1 – the freedom to study the work,
Freedom 2 – the freedom to copy and share the work with others,
Freedom 3 – the freedom to modify the work, and the freedom to distribute modified and therefore derivative works.

Finding free for use images on the web is now fairly easy. Normal search will unearth lots of images. But these are not necessarily free images. Many will have copyright restrictions. To find the free stuff go to Google and click on the cog icon at the top right of the screen. Select the Advanced Search option. Next, scroll down the screen until you find the drop down box labelled ‘usage rights’. You will be presented with four options:

  1. Free to use or share
  2. Free to use or share, even commercially
  3. Free to use, share or modify
  4. Free to use, share or modify, even commercially

Whatever option you choose, you will be presented with a reduced collection of images that still meet the requirements of the search, but under the conditions of that specific licence. Now you have a collection of images you can use under the agreements of Creative Commons. Use them for free under these agreements and you are complying with international copyright law. Don’t forget the attribute the source!

So why would people wish to give away their content for nothing? I have previously written about my own personal and professional reasons for doing so in ‘Giving it all away‘, but just for the record, I will summarise:

Giving away your content for free under a CC licence ensures that anyone who is interested in your work does not have to pay for it or worry about whether they are licenced under copyright law to use your content. In today’s economic uncertain climate, it makes sense to be equitable and to give content away that others have a need to see and can make good use of. It also means that users will do some of your dissemination for you. Your ideas will be spread farther if you give them away for free, than they necessarily will if you ask people to pay a copyright fee or royalty. If you allow repurposing of your content, the rewards can be even greater. Some of my slideshows have been translated into other languages. Having your content translated into Spanish for example, opens up a huge new audience not only in Spain, but also most of the continent of South America. Many are now licensing their work under CC because they know it makes sense. Much of the content on Wikipedia for example is licensed under Wikimedia Commons – a version of CC [Note that in a comment on Steve Wheeler's post Joscelyn has pointed out that "Wikipedia text is licensed with Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike (CC BY SA) licence not a version of a CC licence"]. So look out for Creative Commons licensing – it’s going to be very big news indeed for all web users in the near future.

Image source

Creative Commons Licence
The Commons touch by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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