Using Creative Commons in Education

Using Creative Commons material is becoming more prevalent in colleges, universities, and business. Students and presenters use images in project and presentations to help connect with the audience. Unfortunately, most of the material used in presentation violates copyright laws. Creative Commons is a licencing organization that helps identify material that may be used. There is, however, confusion about using Creative Commons material and how it affects copyright laws and plagiarism.

Before diving into how to use Creative Commons material, it’s important to remember that everything created is copyrighted. The exception is public domain material, which means its creator has been dead either 70 years (in the U.S) or 50 years (in Canada). Public domain material can be reprinted, distributed or mashed up in any way without the payment to the creator to their beneficiaries.

Here is an excellent mashup of Shakespeare’s Hamlet meet’s Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven:

Two important things happened in the mashup: The creator of the mashup didn’t have to pay the original authors or their beneficiaries for the use of the work, and the creator was allowed to change the original work.

If both Hamlet and The Raven were originally created in the last 50 years, then the person who wrote the new version would most likely have to pay for the use of both works, obtain permission to display the new creation, and also obtain permission to change, in this case reword, the original material. Another example is Weird Al Yankovic who sings parodies of hit songs. He may have paid the songwriters to allow him to re-record the song, but he also must obtain permission to change the song.

Gaining permission and allowing the ability to change or modify copyrighted material is at the heart of Creative Commons. Without permission, the use of the material is a breach of copyright law.

All Creative Commons material requires the attribution of the author(s). There are five different way to assign attribution, which depends on the type of work, how it is being used, and if there were any changes made. Without attribution, the use of the material is considered plagiarized in addition to a breach of the Creative Commons licence.

Another aspect to Creative Commons is the derivitation of the work. Think of this as the mashup described above. Some Creative Commons licences allow for derivitation while others do not. Even if the original work is changed, it’s important to remember that the original creator must be attributed. If several pieces are combined, such as Shakespeare and Poe, then both authors must be named.

Remember, that rewording material or changing it in any way, is still copyright infringement unless permission by the copyright holder is granted.

Many pieces that have a Creative Commons licence do not allow the piece to be used for commercial purposes. Simply stated, if the piece is used in any way to make money or if people are charged to view it or use it, then it is used for commercial purposes.

It is extremely important to read the licence, which is usually in plain English, so users know their obligations prior to using the material.

Work covered under a Creative Commons licence is also subject to copyright laws. In essence, Creative Commons does not cancel a copyright, but it allows users to use the piece as per the licence agreement. Nor is Creative Commons the policing body for the material covered under the licences. It is still up to the copyright holder to ensure that users abide by the licence agreement.

Creative Commons is not a database of material, but a non-profit licencing organization. It is the responsibility of the user to find Creative Common material and then abide by the licence. If a website, for example, doesn’t clearly state that the material it contains is covered under a creative Commons licence, then a user cannot use the material in any way without first receiving written permission from the copyright holder.

This may sound restrictive, but using the Creative Commons search page  helps users find the information they are looking for. The search page includes seven media hosts: Google Images, Google Web, Flickr (images), Blip.TV (video) Jamendo (music), SpinXpress (media) and Wikimedia Commons. In addition, some YouTube videos are also Creative Commons licenced.

As an educator this opens the door for using images, web pages, videos, and music to enhance presentation and provide extra material to help learners gain a deeper understand to topics.

A much more detailed description of Creative Commons use can be found on the FAQ page of the Creative Commons.

Please remember that I am not a lawyer and this blog posting cannot be construed as legal advice about copyright law, plagiarism, or the Creative Common. Remember, if in doubt, don’t use it. If you really want to use it, seek legal advice before proceeding.

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