Thursday, May 17

Unleash your creativity: Licensed to share -- copyright made easy


Sharing ideas within a borderless community:

As the idea of sharing creative work over the World Wide Web catches on, there is a pressing need to protect original creations in public domains from abuse. Youngsters are turning to Creative Commons as a quick and easy way to protect their products. LIKE all songwriters, rock music fan Sudev Bangah wants the whole world to listen to his music. But until recently, Sudev was wary of posting his songs online despite knowing that the Internet is an invaluable resource for performers wishing to be discovered.

"I don’t mind sharing my music but I don’t want (it) to be misused. That was why I never put any of my works online before," says the 26-year-old executive with Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).

Last year, Sudev found a solution to this dilemma. He entered the Creative Commons competition organised by MDeC, the host institution for Creative Commons (or better known as CC), and protected his music under CC licences.

CC is a non-profit organisation devoted to expanding the range of creative output available for others to legally build on and share. Its main aim is to avoid complications in sharing of information resulting from current copyright laws.

"I understood more about CC after entering the contest. It is a great way for me to put out my work online and still have piece of mind," says the Damansara Jaya resident, who has since produced a five-song EP (extended play) album titled Influence which is available on MySpace Music, Dmusic ( and Soundclick (

Last year, MDeC organised the first CC competition as part of an effort to encourage the use of creative materials — from short films to songs — licensed under CC and available on the Internet, to produce new and original productions or those that are entirely independent yet original (see story on H3).

Awareness of the CC initiative is steadily growing since the project was introduced in Malaysia three years ago, says Dr Ng Alina, senior executive, cyberlaws, corporate development division at MDeC.

"It is definitely bigger than last year, thanks in part to the inaugural CC competition last year," adds Ng.

But she concurs that more must be done to spread the word on the benefits of CC, especially to Internet-savvy young Malaysians.

According to figures released by Internet market research firm comScore, approximately 90 million people — ranging from teenagers to 30-something-budding artistes and actors — used social-networking website MySpace in February to send quick messages to friends or share their original compositions with anyone willing to listen.

As the idea of sharing creative work over the World Wide Web catches on, there is a pressing need to protect original creations in these public domains from abuse.

With limited resources to hire agents and lawyers to look after their interests, these Internet artistes turn to CC as a quick and easy way to protect their craft. It is not surprising then that some 50 million CC-licensed works are online and ready to be used.

Anyone who is a content creator can choose to protect his work through several standardised CC licences — offering different degrees of restrictions for a wide range of creative works that are protected by copyright from photographs to music, drawings, blogs, websites, scripts and even lesson plans — available free of charge from the Creative Commons website (

CC licence does not apply to ideas, factual information or other things not protected by copyright.

There are four conditions — attribution, non-commercial use, no derivative works and share alike — to choose from (see CC Deed Icons). These licences can be used in combination and there are 11 combinations in total.

No matter which licence you choose, each one essentially allows anyone to distribute, display, copy and/or webcast creative work, provided you abide by the clauses set by the original authors.

Whilst copyright law makes it clear that no one besides the author has rights to a creative work, CC licence allows a limited use of an original product. Before CC licence, there was no mechanism to enable content creators to do so.

Sceptics have questioned the relevance of CC licences. They argue that copyright owners already have the freedom to accord some rights to others under the copyright law, thus rendering CC redundant.

But none of the other copyright licences are available free of charge or written in plain English that can be understood by lawyers, layman and even computers!

Each CC licence is attached with metadata (tech-speak for data about data) which allows popular search engines such as Yahoo! and Google to locate images, soundbytes or text found on the Internet with CC licences.

The benefits of CC licence are many, says Ng.

"You can co-author with someone you’ve never met (which can simply mean cropping a copyrighted picture found on the Internet for a school project) — all without asking for permission because permission has already been granted."

CC licences are designed for those "who understand that innovation and new ideas come from building on existing ones".

"For example, a musician composes music based on what he or she has heard before," says Ng, adding that culture is not isolated but "takes bits and pieces from everywhere".

The CC licence embodies the ideals of the Internet – the culture of sharing within a borderless community, which is the dream of CC founders.

Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of the CC initiative, posted his book The Code online and allowed people to download and evaluate it. Lessig eventually published a second edition of his book with the amendments suggested by readers.

"Many authors have put up their books online under CC licences and have generated revenues from sales of actual hard copies," says Ng.

Sudev too hopes to profit from his music one day.

"For the independent musician, the CC initiative promises to take him or her places. If commercialism is not your immediate goal, it is a fantastic platform to test the waters."

Sudev may not have won the top spot at the competition last year – he got second place in the music category — but he has benefited a lot from the exposure.

"At least 500 more people whom I don’t know have heard my music (since the contest). Someone from the United Kingdom left a comment on my blog to say ‘good stuff, great work’.

Opportunities are also slowly opening up for me. I get invited to indie musician workshops as well," he says.

Sudev is spreading the word about CC among his circle of friends.

"The guitarist who worked on the EP album with me is looking forward to entering the competition this year. I have a few friends in Australia whom I have worked on a few songs via the Internet. They are also looking to join the competition in Australia," he says.

Choosing the right licence

EVERY Creative Commons licence allows anyone to distribute, display, copy and webcast their work, provided they abide by certain clauses set by the original authors. There are four conditions to choose from:

* Attribution

This clause allows people to freely redistribute a creative work as long as they credit the original content creator. There is no need for anyone to contact the original person before republishing it, as long as he clearly lists the person’s name and links to his attribution licence.

Example: Jane publishes her photograph with an Attribution licence because she wants the world to use her pictures provided it gives her credit. Bob finds her photograph online and wants to display it on the front page of his website. Bob puts Jane’s picture on his site, and clearly indicates Jane’s authorship.

* Non-commercial Use

Allows the sharing of a creative product with anyone but prohibits others from making profit off it. If they intend to use it for commercial purposes, they must obtain permission from the original creator.

Example: Gus publishes his photograph on his website with a Non-commercial licence. Camille prints Gus’ photograph. Camille is not allowed to sell the print photograph without Gus’ permission.

* No Derivative Works

This allows others to copy and redistribute creative content without altering it. Choose this if you want your photos or text distributed in their complete, original state.

Example: Sara licenses a recording of her song with a No Derivative Works licence. Joe would like to cut Sara’s track and mix it with his own to produce an entirely new song. Joe cannot do this without Sara’s permission (unless his song amounts to fair use).

* Share Alike

This condition requires people who build or transform original work to make the resulting work available on the same terms given to them.

Example: Gus’ online photo is licensed under the Non-commercial and Share Alike terms. Camille is an amateur collage artist. She takes Gus’s photo and puts it into one of her collages.
This Share Alike language requires Camille to make her collage available on a Non-commercial plus Share Alike licence. It makes her offer her work back to the world on the same terms Gus gave her.

You can combine all the four options. There is a total of 11 combinations. You can also choose to release all control of your work to the public with no conditions.
You can use the Creative Commons website to dedicate your work to the public domain. This is different from a licence. It is a way of declaring No Rights Reserved.

For more examples, visit the Creative Commons Website


UPDATE (21 JUN 2006): MDeC is running a Creative Commons Malaysia Second Contest and is accepting submission until 31 JUL 2007. Get the full details from MDeC's Creative Multimedia Cluster or Creative Commons Malaysia.

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