The concept of copyright is generally straightforward. When you create something original, the law says the control over use and distribution is exclusively in your hands. As we noted in a previous post, however, the evolution of the internet has created new opportunities for plagiarism to occur – even if it happens to be unintentional.

One of the most common forms this may take is grabbing and using an image found through an online search. Assuming a copyright exists (a safe supposition to make), the user faces potentially costly liability for infringement. On the other side of the coin is the challenge to the copyright holder to police such possible misuse. As we noted in that earlier post, one possible way to manage copyright issues is through Creative Commons licensing. But what is that?

Creative Commons image to look for

Most readers will probably recognize the common copyright symbol (©). The Creative Commons mark is similar – just doubled up. It is an indicator of one of several license types managed by a global network of individuals. Its stated purpose is to help individuals share “knowledge and creativity to build a more equitable, accessible and innovative world.” It does this by administering free, standardized copyright licenses that open the door to public use of designated works under conditions of the creator’s choice.

To make things simpler, specific repositories of material have developed. So, to find Creative Commons photos, there’s Flickr. Royalty-free music files can be searched at Jamendo. General media can be perused through Wikimedia Commons.

The key restriction for use of any material under any of the licenses is that a licensee must appropriately credit the licensor. It’s also important to note that Creative Commons licenses do not mean a licensee can use a work in a way that is reserved exclusively to the creator by law. Any use outside of what is expressly allowed by the license requires getting the license holder’s permission first.

In the fast-paced information age, control and protection of intellectual property is evolving swiftly. To be sure you stay on the right side of the law in all cases, working with skilled legal counsel is wise.