April 14, 2017

Getting Started

Before you dive in, here are three questions to give you a foundation:

1. What is copyright?

Copyright law grants to the author (or copyright owner) the exclusive right to: reproduce, make derivatives of, sell, distribute, publicly perform, or display a copyrighted work, subject to fair use and other limitations and exceptions to copyright law. Copyright owners may retain all these rights in their copyright, or give limited licenses that allow others to make specific use of their works.

Copyright law applies to intellectual property that are “original works of authorship.” Common types of works protected by copyright include literary, artistic, and musical works. Copyright is automatic, so it applies as soon as the work has been created. Unless otherwise granted, copyright protection in the United States lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years or 100 years for an institutional author. After this time period has expired, works fall into the public domain and are free from copyright restrictions.

2. What are open licenses?

With the rise of the internet and the broad ability of more people to produce and share blogs, photographs, videos, and other content, there has been an explosion of both authorship and the methods to distribute copyrighted content. Copyright law, as it stands, provides broad protections that limit the potential for these modes of distribution to improve innovation and improve access to knowledge.

Whether an author officially registers their copyright or not, copyright is automatic: it attaches to eligible works as soon as they are created. Traditionally, if an author wanted to give permission to use their work, they would need to negotiate a license agreement between themselves and one other particular party.

With current technology, however, this becomes unwieldy. In contrast to “All Rights Reserved” licenses, open licenses allow authors and creators to grant the whole public broad permission to reuse their work, while reserving a set of desired rights for themselves. {See our fact sheet “Licensing with Creative Commons” to read exactly how CC Licenses work}. Many types of intellectual property can be openly licensed - data, software, photography, music, research, and books are just a few examples.

3. What does Creative Commons USA do?

Creative Commons USA is a chapter of the CC Global Network. We focus on furthering progress toward open culture, open education, open data, and open access to research in the United States. We provide legal expertise around the CC licenses, support to organizations and institutions that use (or could use) open licensing, and advice for decision-makers on issues and policies that move us toward a more open society.

With the advent of the Internet, we’ve entered an era of untold potential for development, growth and productivity – but one that is increasingly hindered by restrictive copyright laws and incompatible technologies. Starting back in 2001, Creative Commons has worked to make intellectual property and copyright laws better serve the public good – drafting full legal licenses that allow authors and creators to share their work with the public.

Today, the Creative Commons Global Network includes over 500 researchers, activists, legal, education and policy advocates, and volunteers who serve as CC representatives in over 85 countries. The Commons is a rapidly expanding community of more than 1.2 billion works in 34 languages.