10 – Copyleft

Thing 10, week 5

The Wonderful World of Copyright

Ah, I can see your eyes glazing over already.  And just think: right now, while you’re sitting there at work, preparing to read about copyright, that your practically perfect programmer is on vacation, sunning herself on a beach somewhere and drinking margaritas brought to her by gorgeous cabana boys…

However, being practically perfect does mean that your programmer is generous (when it suits her), so she’s given you the week off too.  Well, by that I mean that there are no tasks for you to complete this week.  Instead, once you’ve had a read through the post below, you’re free to spend the rest of the time you’ve allocated for the program, and the workshop time, as you wish.  You may want to catch up on previous things or investigate something you’ve discussed or been show in more detail – up to you.  Just remember that we pitched this to The Powers That Be as a ‘self-directed learning’ week;  kindly don’t make liars out of us.


The first thing to remember is that a lot of what’s on the web is copyright of someone else. Material on someone’s website, or even what you find through services like google image search, is generally going to be copyrighted, meaning you can’t use the material without the owner’s permission.  Getting permission may be as easy as sending the owner an email; equally, as there are many tens of thousands of orphaned works – that is, works where the author is unknown or not contactable for whatever reason – on the web, it may well prove impossible.
Don’t despair, however! Even leaving aside the idea of fair use, a topic on which I am not fully qualified to talk about, there many things out there that you can use without worrying too much about making sure you’ve got explicit permission to do so.  This is where Copyleft, Creative Commons and implicit licenses come in.


Copyleft, according to GNU, “is a general method for making a program or other work free, and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.”  It can be seen as a response to copyright laws that are increasingly seen as stifling, rather than promoting, the creation and exchange of ideas and art.  That said, most copyleft proponents aren’t against copyright per se – they just think that the relevant laws need to be re-written to allow for greater and/or sooner use of cultural works.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a form of copyleft, and is a free licensing scheme that allows content creators to give advance permission for people to use what they’ve created in certain ways. Provided you follow the terms of the license, you are free to use the work in your blog or in your wiki – or anywhere else the license lets you. The following video talks mainly about music, but the same principles apply to images, text and, well, pretty much anything else.   You can get entire courses under CC – 23 Things being one of them!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Learn More | Creative Commons Australia“, posted with vodpod

Something to be aware of when using CC-licensed works: the ‘No Derivatives’ clause means just that: you must use the work exactly as it has been presented to you.  This means no cropping of images to make them fit your work, and no format-shifting (changing the file type) – it’s quite common for people to unintentionally violate a ND clause in this way.  There’s also some debate in the CC community as to what does and does not constitute commercial use.  The general rule of thumb, therefore, is ‘if in doubt, leave it out’.  If your use could be construed as commercial – such as selling advertising against your blog to cover costs – then don’t use images that are flagged non-commercial.

How do I Attribute CC Material?

You must attribute the author in the way in which they specify – no ifs, ands or buts.  However, for a lot of cc-licensed material, the author doesn’t bother to tell you just how they want to be credited. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to credit – attribution is fundamental to Creative Commons licenses. For these situations something like this is fine:

  • If you’re reproducing the work: Name of Work by Author, licensed under Creative Commons License Type
    • MostAwesomePicture by bookbuster, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical License.
  • If you’re modifying the work: This is based off of Name of Work by author, licensed under Creative Commons License Type
    • ‘Even More Awesome Picture’ is based off of Awesome Picture by bookbuster, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical License.

You should link to:

  • the place where you found the work
  • the exact license agreement

If you want to read more about how to attribute Creative Commons works, there’s a good entry in WikiHow.

Implied License

The idea of an implied license  –  that is, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, an “unwritten license which permits a party (the licensee) to do something that would normally require the express permission of another party” – is something else that is changing the way we use media today.  While the idea has been around for years – shop right, for example – it’s really coming into its own on the internet.  Most YouTube users, for example, don’t explicitly say that you can embed their video on your website or use it in a PowerPoint presentation, but, by giving you an embed code, can provide you with the tools to do so.  This rather obviously implies that you can use their work in this fashion.

…But Be Warned

Just because someone posts a work online and says or implies that you can use it, doesn’t mean that they are actually able to give you permission in the first place.  In some cases, this is very obvious – think TV shows posted to YouTube.  In others, it’s less so.  Again, common sense rules the day, and, if you’re not certain, don’t use it.


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