Know Your Digital Rights, Photographers

You want your shots seen and used. But Creative Commons and copyright have you confused. Read on.

Lewis Kelly sat in front of his computer drumming his fingers on the desk. The university student wanted to change the copyright settings on his Flickr pictures, but the transition wasn’t as straightforward as he’d hoped.

“Why is this so confusing?” muttered Kelly, who goes by the username oncethiswas on Flickr. “The interface is so counter-intuitive.”

Kelly had started by clicking on the help button, but the drop menu didn’t mention copyright settings or how to change them. Next, he went to the FAQ page, where he was confronted by 33 different categories of questions. Eventually, he found something that looked promising: “How can I copyright my photos?”

He read that in most parts of the world, including Canada, creators are automatically granted copyrights to their photos, all rights reserved. But Kelly, who has a nascent interest in contributing to the intellectual commons, did not want all his rights. He wanted something other than the familiar circled C beneath his pictures, and Flickr — a powerhouse of photo sharing — seemed an appropriate place to waive some of his rights for the benefit of others.

In Canada, Flickr is the most popular website that is expressly dedicated to storing photos in image galleries (The Tyee has its own ‘Flickr pool’ of readers’ photos of B.C.). More generally, the site is just shy of the top 20 most visited websites in Canada, ranking 25th in terms of overall traffic. Unlike other photo repositories like Facebook, where many indiscriminately upload photos to share within closed networks of friends, Flickr has more of a reputation for attracting both professionals and talented amateurs with more artistic intentions.

Sharing on your own terms

Since 2004, Flickr has allowed users like Kelly to waive some of their rights through a non-profit organization called the Creative Commons, which aims to expand the collection of creative work available for the general public to build upon and share.

Currently, the Creative Commons offers six different licenses made up of four core elements (please see the side bar). All of the alternatives are more permissive than Flickr’s default setting of full copyright. The licenses compartmentalize ownership rights so creators can be specific in the ways they wish to share their rights—but knowing which license to select requires some deliberation.

“I’m not sure which license to pick. There’s six of them,” said Kelly as he read through the paragraph descriptions of each license. Ultimately, he settled on an Attribution (BY) license, which allows others to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt his photos for both commercial and non-commercial purposes so long as they attribute the work to him in a way to which he consents. It’s the most permissive option.

“I’ve used the Creative Commons and breached copyright so often, the least I could do is remove the threat of litigation for other people who want to use my work,” explained Kelly, who admits his dinosaur avatar on Flickr is probably copyrighted.

By making his Flickr pictures more accessible, Kelly has added to a growing resource. There tens of thousands of photos available under Attribution licenses like Kelly’s, and hundreds of thousands licensed under all six alternatives.

“We’re really happy to finally be able to provide Creative Commons licenses,” reads the Flickr blog dated June 29, 2004. “As individuals and as a company we wholeheartedly support and endorse the Creative Commons’ mission and hope to help contribute to the preservation and enhancement of creative freedom and personal expression.”

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Power to the Podcast

My friend Lewis, lost in his headspace

This is long overdue. I’m addicted to an unhealthy number of podcasts. I’ve been meaning to pick out some favourites and try to get some of you hooked.

(Here’s my vision: you take me up on my suggestions, become super fans, and then we have great chats about life, the universe, and everything.)

I’ll add to this post as time goes on, but in a curious break from my die-hard CBC fanfare, I’ll begin with two awesome shows based south of the border.

This American Life

As Ira Glass famously explains, every week they choose a theme and then bring you all kinds of different stories on that theme.

They have their own archive of favourites, but I’d like to add a few of my own:

  • Mind Games: Who’s playing. Who’s being played? Does such a line exist in the first place?
  • The Devil on my Shoulder: Sometimes something overtakes you… some mischievous or even sinister force that you simply cannot explain.
  • Frenemies: A contemporary word that finally captures, in three syllables, that time old expression: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?”
  • Rest Stop: Sometimes fascinating stories come from the most mundane places. Pull over and have a listen.

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