What Do You Know about Creative Commons?

Creative CommonsIf you blog, you’re probably familiar with how weird it feels to be plagiarized.

It’s a given that if you blog long enough, someone will eventually copy and paste what you said without attributing it to you. There’s irony here because much of blogging is borderline original content anyway, myself included.

Still, the tenants of blogging are supposed to be similar to any type of writing, i.e. cite your sources, differentiate fact from opinion, etc. Of course, bloggers don’t always follow these tenants or even know about them. So, if you didn’t, now you do.

Anyway, plagiarism happens, and in my experience, it’s usually benign, meaning the blogger didn’t know or claims s/he didn’t know. Said content is either attributed or removed. Everyone’s happy.

If you blog or read blogs, you’re familiar with the practice of adding pictures to a post to break up the text. It’s common practice, and it works. I’ve mentioned in the past that Flickr is a great source for interesting images, many of which are happily available under Creative Commons licenses.

Why does licensing matter?

If you don’t license your photos, they’re protected under US copyright law. This is the default setting for Flickr, a.k.a. “all rights reserved.”

Flickr allows you to release your photos for reuse under Creative Commons, which means they can be reproduced in other places as long as you are attributed and some other stuff too. They support six types of CC licenses you can choose, the most lax of which is Attribution (BY).

Because of their support for CC, Flickr is home to the largest collection of CC-licensed photos, over 100 million, and they provide an easy way to find CC-licensed work, which I use all the time to spice up my posts and presentations.

I have read the human-readable licensing terms for each license because I want to ensure that I’m complying when I use people’s work, and I want to give credit where its due for awesome shots. Incidentally, the Creative Commons Foundation recently added a CC Zero license, which allows the content producer to waive all rights.

Update: This post has easy summaries for each type of license, except CC Zero, starting just below the fold, indirect h/t to Brent.

Anyway, it’s frequently difficult to make a definitive judgment about whether I’m complying with a CC-license or not. I struggle with non-commercial (NC) especially because although this blog has no ads and isn’t for-profit, I do work for a commercial entity. I could be over-thinking.

I do my best, and in two years, I haven’t had any take-down requests, even before I did as much as I should have to comply with CC licenses. I would happily take down anyone’s work if I had violated the license.

A friend of mine, Aaron Hockley, runs a photography business and uses Flickr. He’s recently stopped licensing his work under CC though. His experiences give insight into how difficult it is to enforce a CC license for the content producer.

Over the last few years, scads of new blog have started. I’d guess that the community of Oracle-related blogs (using OraNA as a fair indicator) has more than doubled since 2007, and more bloggers means more people using images in their posts.

So, if you blog, I urge you to get acquainted with Creative Commons licenses and how to use them correctly. The human readable descriptions are very helpful. At a minimum, you should be attributing the photos you use. It’s probably a good idea to get to know CC licensing too, since Wikipedia may soon be using it for content.

Oh, and did you know that reproducing Dilbert violates Scott Adams’ terms?

I’m not by any means an expert, and I’m interested to know more. Please illuminate us in comments if I’m missing something obvious or got something wrong, or share your experiences.

Aaron, I wish Disqus would support OpenID in their widget so you could comment 🙂

Update: Brent points out in comments, PhotoDropper a WordPress plugin that searches Flickr for CC-licensed photos and drops them into your posts, including the attribution. No fuss, no mess.




  1. Great protip, I've updated the post to include it. I'll be installing and testing it later. I keep hearing about Thesis, too. Will have to investigate that more. Thanks dude.

  2. Honestly, I write most of my posts first, then add an image right before I publish. It's interesting to wander through images comparing the ideas from your post to pictorial representations. I find that even more interesting with slides for a presentation.

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