Permission or Free Culture?

Creative Commons logoDisclaimers like “this video is not owned” and that “no copyright infringement is intended” have zero legal validity.  It used to be that copyright was only enforced against commercial copyright infringement.  But we’re living in copyright crazy times.

In most of the world, any video (music, painting, movie, story poem etc.) that is created is automatically locked into copyright by the videographer/maker.

The reason Lawrence Lessig calls ours “permission culture” is because when you copy ANYTHING under such copyright law without getting permission from the copyright holder (who may not be the creator) you are committing copyright infringement.    copyright jail ~ by question copyright

Copyright infringement used to be a purely civil matter, but as it is “strengthened,” not only is it becoming harder to tell what is infringement, it is becoming criminalized, which means anyone– from school kids to grandparents — needs to be aware of this in self defence.

Since everything starts out copyrighted, sharing it is copyright infringement, which is illegal most places–  unless it is in the public domain or it is licensed to share with a free culture license like Creative Commons.

If you want people to share your story, poem, song, picture, video etc. here is the Creative Commons tool to select the license *you* want.

The Question Copyright “Copyright Jail” is by Nina Paley

CC is for Creator’s Choice

[reprinted from Laurel L. Russwurm: CC is for Creator’s Choice]

I am amazed at how quickly technology has progressed to the point where we have the tools to inexpensively create and share all types of media. I think we may be at the point where the most expensive aspect of creating a piece of artistic media is the human labour. When I went to school for Media Arts (film, video, audio, a/v) that certainly was not the case. The equipment was expensive: we could sign out Nagra sync sound recorders that I recall cost a great many thousands of dollars, particularly for struggling students. And the cost of Film stock was very very expensive.


Which is why I was so incredibly impressed with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez‘ Cinderella tale of becoming a feature film director. His ingenuity allowed him to make El Mariachi for much less than the going rate if making a movie trailer.

film maker Robert Rodriguez in stubble, camo & a baseball cap at a press function

Rebel without a Crew: Or How a 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became a Hollywood Player was terrific. Not just because the book is as well written a “making of” as you’re likely to find, but because young Rodriguez figured out how to become a feature film maker by thinking outside the box. He bypassed the crushing weight of the most expensive part of film making: the cost of film stock and prints for distribution.

[Even cooler, Rodriguez was willing to talk about it and share his insights with other filmmakers in an attempt to help those coming after.]

As it happens, the digital revolution which followed substantially lowered the barriers to entry and today digital imaging is the next thing to free. Movie theaters are switching to digital transmission for the same reasons.

[Note to filmmakers: You can still learn lots about film making from Robert Rodriguez’ Film School Shorts.]


The singers squeezed into the control booth dominated by a massive mixing board, manned by sound technicians.

It used to cost tens of thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars to outfit a music recording studio. So naturally cutting a record was a pricey affair.

Once all the tracks were laid down and mixed you had the associated costs of artwork, pressing and distribution. An expensive proposition.

But just like the film world, media technology has gone digital and today, if you’re organized, it is possible to cut a full length commercial CD in a professional studio for around a thousand dollars. A tech savvy musician can DIY commercial quality product in their basement for next to nothing.

the written word

Big changes are afoot in the world of newspapers and magazines. It used to be that the only market for short fiction and nonfiction articles used to be newspapers and magazines (with the occasional second life collected in book form). Like the music and movie industries, magazines and newspapers were in business by virtue of owning the infrastructure (print facilities and distribution).

Syd Field Screenplay ORIGINAL cover artThe same was true of book publication. Certainly publishers have editorial staff. They employ readers and editors and typesetters. One of the best books I’ve read on screenwriting was written by Syd Field, a Hollywood reader who distilled what he learned as a reader into practical writing advice in a book called Screenplay.

The editorial staff edits and assembles the product. One important function they have traditionally provided was to filter out the very best material. And never forget that the addition of editorial input often improved the work. Traditionally there has been lots of expertise in the publishing industry, but the bottom line was always that the guy who owns the presses and the distribution network is the guy in charge. The most brilliant book editor could always be over ruled by the publisher. (Or the publisher’s girlfriend.)

There is great deal of turmoil in all types of publishing today as the entire world has been altered by the Internet and the accompanying technology.

media evolution

In real terms this media revolution– not just for film or music but photography, writing, software and art– really anything that can be digitally reproduced — has made it possible for pretty much anyone to be a media creator. The monetary costs involved boil down to the initial outlay necessary for equipment and digital storage. After that the outlay is minimal

I remember when a blank video tape cost $20. That could hold one movie you taped off TV. Of course that was back in the day when the cable companies encouraged Canadians to use this new technology to “time shift.” Today that’s one of the many diverse activities that are lumped together under the umbrella label of ‘piracy.’

The Nightengale and the Rose - One of the many public domain books preserved in a digital format and released without restriction by Project Gutenberg

About ten years ago or so I remember my sister had an unimaginably huge hard drive – far and away the largest of anyone I knew — on her computer. Today that 2 gigabyte drive is laughably tiny. At this point 2 gigabyte flash drives are routinely used to transport assignments between school and home (and probably at the low end).

And now I just read Michael Hart‘s observation about his seventy five dollar “terabyte pocket drive” (for books digitized by Project Gutenberg) that is:

no larger and not much heavier than a book, and it will hold 2.5 million such books in .zip format.”

Project Gutenberg: Timeline Events

One of the interesting things I’ve learned about recently from Wayne Borean’s excellent series on Copyright in his Through the Looking Glass blog, where Wayne describes this kind of revolutionary technology that changes the way the world functions as a “Disruptive Technological Change“.

Add the Internet to the mix and you have a perfect distribution medium that’s virtually free.   [With the proviso that net neutrality is protected Internet access won’t be degraded via ‘throttling’ and and carrier/ISPs won’t be able to price it out of the range of ordinary people with Usage Based Billing.]

This means we’re living in a world where we can all create.

Under Canadian copyright law any art we create is automatically protected under copyright law.

Since we all have the ability to be both content creators and distributors as well as content consumers, every citizen needs to have a say in the copyright debate and the eventual revision to our copyright laws.

Copyright = All Rights Reserved

copyright symbol - letter c in a circle

all rights reserved

The thing about art and culture is that it is for sharing. I can’t think of any art in any medium that is created out of a vacuum. Everything is built on something else. This has been going on since the beginning of time. Before we had written words, verbal histories were handed down.

We are all informed by our culture; all creators are influenced by others. Everything we learn, everything we see, hear, feel and touch goes into our experience pool and will have an effect on our creations. Shakespeare’s plays are re-mixes of other works, and today we would call the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale aggregators. In their day they had to physically travel all aver Europe to gather up all the best stories. Today we just need a good search engine and enough bandwidth to get it done.

Teacher Raffaella Traniello holds up some movie making tools A standing joke firmly rooted in reality is that the only way to sell a movie idea to Hollywood is by comparing it to another.

And have you ever noticed that an overwhelming majority of Disney theatrical feature films are based on stories in the public domain?

Corporate agendas have been pushing for increasingly rigorous copyright law, detrimental to creators. What’s good for a corporation that controls copyright is not necessarily good for the artists who created the copyright work. As a creator I think copyright terms we have alone in Canada are seriously detrimental to creators.

Creative Commons logoWhich is why I am extremely grateful for the development of Creative Commons Licenses that offer creators a variety of alternatives.

Creative Commons licensing is a marvelous tool that allows creators to get around the detrimental and restrictive aspects of copyright law. Creators can release their work in the way that they want to.

The reason I love Raffaella Traniello’s film so much is because it does such a good job getting the message across. Every song I’ve heard, every movie I’ve watched, every picture I’ve seen, every bit of art I’ve ever been exposed to, everything that has danced across my senses has been absorbed and makes me who I am. The creativity of others has become part of my life experience, and as it’s distilled through my unconscious and forms the basis of my own creativity. No art comes out of a vacuum; it collaborates with a culture. Art needs to share and be shared, which is why I believe that the current copyright law has already gone too far.

Creative Commons License = Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons logo: cc inside a circle

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright and the public domain. From all rights reserved to no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while allowing certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.

What is CC

Copyright terms constrain other creators.

I try to generate all the images for all my own blogs, but sometimes that simply isn’t possible. At this point with everything that’s happening in copyright law around the world, I’m less inclined to want to use “fair dealing” images; particularly as what is covered may well change. So any time I do an image search, I search for Creative Commons licensed Images. When searching either Google Images or Flickr Images you can select “advanced search” and choose “labeled for reuse”. Most if not all images in Wikimedia Commons are released under a CC license. And now the Creative Commons search page can direct your searches as well.

Creative Commons Attribution Symbol

Attribution (cc by)

This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.

Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike Symbol

Attribution Share Alike (cc by-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.

Boy Mouse says to Mouse girl who is fixing equipment, Hallo Fräulein, könnten Sie mich wohl zu einem Techniker bringen?

Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives

Attribution No Derivatives (cc by-nd)

This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.


Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial

Attribution Non-Commercial (cc by-nc)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

CD cover art - bearded guitar playing caricature

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Sharealike

Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (cc by-nc-sa)

This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

Plaster heads of 7 world leaders assembled on the grass

Creative Commons Button indicating Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivative License

Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (cc by-nc-nd)

This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Creative Common Licenses don’t replace copyright law, they work in conjunction with existing copyright law.

A Creative Commons license allows creators to tailor the license to balance their comfort level with the needs of their project.

The greatest thing about CC Licensing is that it gives choices back to creators.

Image Credit:

Robert Rodriguez photograph under a Attribution Sharealike ( by Thomas Crenshaw

Lynn Russwurm‘s photograph “The Laurie Bauer Singers in recording studio – circa 1970s” used with permission

Raffaella Traniello video under an Attribuzione 2.5 Italia license

Charles Robinson illustration of Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightengale and the Rose” is in the public domain; one of many great works preserved via digitization by Project Gutenberg

Cory Doctorow” photograph by Joi Ito under a CC attribution (cc by) license

Sita Sings the BluesNina Paley – Creative Commons CC BY-SA

“Hallo Fräulein” cartoon oreillyblog cartoon (CC) BY-ND dyfa 2009

Ahead Stop image by XKCD. CC BY-NC 2.5

Performous Songs: Jonathan Coulton Collection available for legal download ZIP file (240 MB)under Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike License (cc by-nc-sa) via Performous Songs

“Big Heads” aka The Oxfam G8 Big Heads at Big Letters Performance by Oxfam (by-nc-nd)

Images You Can Use

Because of the changes to copyright law over the last few decades, it has become increasingly dangerous to make use of the media that we find on the Internet. Copyright infringement is against the law in Canada and most, if not all, of the world.

So even though a wealth of music is available for download, and great photographs can be easily cut and pasted online  — doing so may well result in allegations of copyright infringement — which could result in having your booth at the local fair raided by the RCMP. or your blog or website might be taken down.

The only sure way to avoid risking such a terrible fate is to only use only those images that you have permission to use.


A maple leaf within the copyright symbol

In Canada by default, all creative work is automatically covered by copyright. Creators don’t have to register their work, or even mark it © Copyright.

When you are looking for an image to use in your blog, or to add to your bake sale flyer, even if the photograph you select is not marked © Copyright “All Rights Reserved,” it probably is.

Fair Dealing

Canadian law provides specific “fair dealing” exceptions to copyright that are supposed to allow us to make use of copyright works in certain circumstances. These exceptions are not clearly defined, and may leave the user open to allegations of copyright infringement.  Even if you believe your use falls under fair dealing, a court may not agree.

New Law

Worse, in Canada, our government recently passed Bill C-11, which will radically change Canadian copyright law.  Once in force it will be some time before the courts, copyright scholars and IP lawyers hammer out what it really means and how it actually applies. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not wind up as a “test case” in court.

Getting Permission

We don’t need permission to use any of our own original creations, whether it is original artwork we make, any original  photographs we take, or any original music or video we record.

But if we are to  use any © Copyright “All Rights Reserved” work, we are now required to have explicit permission.

Assuming you can figure out a way to get in touch, you can try to get permission from that record label to use their hit song as the sound track to your home movie.  And maybe they’ll give it to you.    But then you would probably need additional permissions  to upload it to YouTube, and maybe they won’t give it to you.

A much easier way to get permission is through a license from the creator/copyright owner.  Since I am not a lawyer, I find that this is the safest course, to use only works released under a license that allows people to use, share or modify the work.   Although there are other licenses available, Creative Commons licenses are popular, widely recognized and relatively easy to find.

Finding Licensed Images

Internet search terms:
or, what to type in the search bar

In any search engine, and on any site that has its own search bar, you can probably search for “creativecommons” or “Creative Commons” “by” or “by-sa”

You can usually type more than one word, separated by spaces or by +
You can usually search for a phrase by enclosing it within quotation marks.


  1. On the Google Search Page choose “Images” from the tab along the top.
  2. Then type the words that best describe the image you want in the search bar then click the little blue magnifying glass symbol beside the search bar.

Now there are new choices offered at the top right hand side of the page, including a tab which allows you to change the “Safe Search” parameter, and beside that is the tab we want, which is marked with a circular graphic (that I believe is supposed to represent a gear).

Click the gear icon, then choose “Advanced search” from the drop down menu, and scroll down to “usage rights”. To the right you’ll find a tab with Google’s default “not filtered by license.” Clicking that gives you the choices:

  • not filtered by license ~ result will include everything, including © “All Rights Reserved” work you can not legally use
  • free to use or share
  • free to use or share, even commercially
  • free to use, share or modify
  • free to use, share or modify, even commercially

Select the use that best describes your requirements, then click the “advanced search” button.


Although many of the image results returned by Google are from the popular Flickr photo sharing site, you will find even more if you look there directly there yourself.

On the the Flickr search page choose “advanced search” then scroll down to check off “Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content” where you can choose:

  • Find content to use commercially, or
  • Find content to modify, adapt, or build upon


Wikipedia’s Wikimedia Commons has a vast repository of both creative commons licensed and public domain material.

Jamendo ♫

If you’re looking for music specifically, all the music available on the Jamendo website carries a Creative Commons license.   I’m not sure what the percentages are today, but a year or so ago fully 25% of the music available on Jamendo was released under the freest Creative Commons attribution only license.  (CC by).

Internet Archive

A final place that hosts an incredible amount of  material you can share freely would be the Internet Archive.

Further Reading: License To Share

Post Script

As I stumble across free culture resources online, I add them my my free culture page. If you know of any online free culture resources or repositories that I’ve missed, please let me know and I’ll add them.