April 23rd is World Book and Copyright Day. I am using this as a pretext to write about my long-pending post about using copyright-free and Creative Commons Licensed media.
I am not a legal expert. This is not a legal advice. Whatever I have written here are based on my learnings and experiences.
Why should you even care?
You are probably thinking…
- I am in some remote place. The copyright owner is more than 10000kms away. (No way that person will ever know.)
- I will remove it if and when I get a notice.
- I am using it for educational purpose.
- I am not using it for commercial purpose.
- I got it from Wikipedia.
- I got it from a government website and I am using it for a government department.
- I have mentioned the source/ photo credit.
- I have removed / cropped the watermark using the best editing tool.
- There are 1000s of photos exactly like this on the internet. Even if I take the photo of this object it will look like this only.
- I was not aware of that it is copyrighted. (I got it from someone else.)
- The original creator is dead.
- I am too big and the copyright holder is a literally a nobody. (David vs. Goliath)
None of these are valid reasons to use copyrighted media. We will see why later.
How can you be safer?
Use media licensed under Creative Commons or copyright free media and give credit to the copyright holder.
There are many conditions and exceptions for using media licensed under Creative Commons. I will give general overview here for some of them. If you want more details, visit their website.
- CC0: You can use, edit, and share the material licensed under this without giving credit to the creator. These materials are considered to be under public domain.
- CC by: You can use, edit, and share the material. However, you must give credit to the original creator.
- CC by SA: This is perhaps the most common license. Under this, you can use the material, modify as per your needs, and distribute commercially as well. However, you must give credit to the original creator and share the adapted material under the same license.
- CC by NC SA: This is similar to CC by SA. Only additional condition is that you cannot use the material for commercial purposes.
- CC by ND: You can use and share the material under this license even for commercial purposes. However, you cannot modify the material and you must give credit to the original creator.
- CC by NC ND: This is a combination of NC and ND. You can use and share the material but not for commercial purposes. However, you cannot modify it. And yes, as always, you must give credit to the original creator.
We use images all the time – From kids’ projects to corporate presentations and quizzes conducted for the family group. And how do we usually get those images?
Searching for Creative Commons License images using Google
This is really easy.
- Go to Google Image search.
- Enter the keyword you want to search. The search results appear.
- Click Tools below the search field.
- From the Usage Rights list, select Creative Commons Licenses. Images available under Creative Commons License appear.
When in doubt, just don’t use. Taking anything without the owner’s knowledge and permission is stealing.
Free Image Repositories
Many websites provide you large repository of high quality images under CC0 license. Here are some for your reference:
Free Vector Images
I have released my 700+ photos under CC-by-NC-SA license on Flickr.
Every bit of the song and its music, special effects such as a door closing or tiger roaring, words spoken by someone, etc., can all be copyrighted as a whole or in parts.
It doesn’t matter how you got it and where you use it. Unless it is available under Creative Commons license and/or you have an explicit permission to use in the manner you intend to, you can be sued for copyright violation.
Google still doesn’t allow you to search for audio clips. However, if you want some music for your next presentation, check out these websites:
Videos are trickier. Visuals, lyrics/ dialogs, music, special effects, etc., may be owned by different persons/ organizations or the producer may own the copyright of final output containing all of these.
YouTube is perhaps the most popular video hosting platform on the internet today. It has videos under two licenses:
- Standard YouTube License: Not reusable.
- Creative Commons Attribution license: Reusable with credit to the source.
If the uploader has not specified the licensing terms, consider it as Standard YouTube License and do not use.
You can search for Creative Commons Licensed videos on YouTube by applying the Creative Commons filter for the search result.
Another popular video platform, Vimeo, also allows you to search for videos licensed under Creative Commons.
As with Google image search, these platforms show incorrect results sometimes. So you must verify by checking the source.
Videos created on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites are owned by respective account holders. So, without an explicit permission, you cannot use them.
Still thinking you can get away with your excuses?
Let’s revisit your excuses and see why it won’t work.
I am in some remote place. The copyright owner is more than 10000kms away. (No way that person will ever know.) Technology has made it possible for the copyright holder to know about any violations. Distance doesn’t matter.
I have used these images many times. Never had any problems. Just because you haven’t been caught so far doesn’t mean that you will never be.
I will remove it if and when I get a notice. If it is a take down notice, this works. But the notice might include monetary compensation as well, especially if you have used the material for commercial purposes.
I am using it for educational purpose. It might be a good cause for you. But for the copyright holder, you are stealing. So you face the consequences.
I am not using it for commercial purpose. Commercial or not, you are not giving the due credit (monetary or otherwise) to the copyright holder. So you are committing a crime here.
I got it from Wikipedia. Material on Wikipedia are not copyright-free. First, check whether you can use and give due credit to the copyright holder as preferred.
I got it from a government website and I am using it for a government department. Many government entities have restricted usage of their content outside their website. They might still make it available for a fee or allow you to use for specific purposes after you get a written permission. For example, Doordarshan Archives, ISRO, and Karnataka Tourism. So, check the terms and conditions before using.
I don’t really have time to check the licenses. So I have mentioned the source/ photo credit. Crediting the source for materials restricted for usage does not absolve you of the copyright violation charges.
I have removed / cropped the watermark using the best editing tool in the market today. Copyright holders have their way to detect the usage of their materials. This will not work.
There are 1000s of photos exactly like this on the internet. Even if I take the photo of this object it will look like this only. But if you are sued, you must be able to prove it and it will not be easy.
I was not aware of that it is copyrighted. (I got it from someone else.) Ignorance is not an excuse. If you are using the material, it is your responsibility to check.
The original creator is dead. The creator might have handed over copyrights to legal heirs or some organization. Check before using.
I am too big and the copyright holder is a literally a nobody (David vs. Goliath). The fact that you are a Goliath and copyright holder is a David itself is a good motivation to take you head on, especially since you are clearly the offender here.
You might come up with many more innovative excuses. But it is just a case of you can run, but you cannot escape. You might be sued many years after using copyrighted material.
Crediting the Source
Some of the ways you can give credit to the source are:
- Source: Sreekanth Chakravarthy, CC-by-SA 4.0
- Adapted from: Sreekanth Chakravarthy, Licensed under CC-by-NC-SA 4.0
- Music: Ukulele from Bensound
- Source: Mahatma Gandhi Documentary, Infotainment Archive YouTube Channel
Material available on Wikipedia clearly indicates the way to do so. For example, Diganta Talukdar, CC BY-SA 4.0
You can mention the source/ credit anywhere in your content – right next to the material, on the opening or closing slide, etc. Wherever possible, provide a link to the source.
At the end of the day, it is not about whether the copyright holder will know. It is illegal to steal somebody else’s property. So just don’t. It is also a matter of conscience, if you have one.