Take Pictures, Tell Stories: Creative Commons and You

By Cindi Trainor |

Creative Commons 101

Where U.S. Copyright law dictates how creative work cannot be used, Creative Commons licensing makes it clear how a work may or may not be used.  Creative Commons licensing has several attributes, or conditions, each of which can be assigned independently:  Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives, and Sharealike.  Attribution is just that: if you use a work, its creator must be credited.  Works that use the Non-Commercial stipulation may not be used for any commercial purpose.  No Derivatives means that the work must be used exactly as it's provided.  Sharealike requires users to license any derivative works the same way that the original was licensed.

These are the only things that are stipulated in a Creative Commons license; if the photographer does not like how a Creative Commons image is used, there is nothing that he or she can do about it if the license terms are being followed.  Although licenses can be changed, if a particular use adhered to stated terms at the time of the use in question, then the creator has no recourse.  It's also important to note that licensing a work with Creative Commons does not obviate the creator's copyright.  The owner still has the right to decide how the work is used, but with a Creative Commons license, the owner is publicly stating what some of those acceptable uses are.

A new type of CC license is CC:Zero (CC:0), which differs from public domain.  Works created and declared to have a CC:Zero license may be used by anyone, in any way, and do not even require attribution of the creator.

Finding Images to Use

Libraries and librarians can make use of Creative Commons licensed works but must be careful to adhere to the terms of the licenses.  Finding photos that have been licensed CC is the easy part: CC search is now a part of flickr, Compfight and even Google Images search. 

Flickr's Advanced Search screen lets users specify a CC search near the bottom of the very long set of options:

and reminds the searcher that it has returned CC results:

The flickr search tool Compfight also provides Creative Commons searching:

Google Images' Advanced Search screen does not mention Creative Commons by name in the Usage Rights drop box because it includes Creative Commons, public domain and GNU Free Documentation Licensed items as well:

Where to Add Images to Add Pizazz

I have used photos found on flickr in many presentations.  I'll share tips on how best to do that in my next post.

A Caution

I am not a lawyer; I don't even play one on the Internet.  It is always a good idea to doublecheck policies at your institution that govern the licensing of intellectual property created by its employees, as well as employees' use of others' intellectual property.  It's also wise to have your institution's legal counsel endorse those policies.  For a conservative interpretation on the use of images, consult Bryan Carson's review of The Legal Handbook for Photographers: The Rights and Liabilities of Making Images.  Better yet, read the book yourself; it's short and accessible.  But please, don't let legal concerns or Carson's conservative interpretation scare you into not using images at all.

About the Series

Last summer, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in a LITA Preconference session with Michael Porter and Helene Blowers titled, "A Thousand Words: Taking Better Photos for Telling Stories in Your Library." Michael and Helene shared great tips for using and reusing photos to record and relate the stories of our libraries and our communities, and I explained and illustrated the basic principles of photography, and that pictures can be improved by understanding how these principles work together to produce a properly exposed image. There was a ton of content shared over the day; over the next few months, the “Take Pictures, Tell Stories @ Our Libraries” series will share some of this and other photo-related content with TechSource readers.