Debunking top 3 Creative Commons myths

With the rise of user-generated content online on blogs and photo sharing sites, two lawyers help demystify commonly-held myths surrounding user copyrights.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

The rise in user-generated content is extending beyond written text in blogs.

As the availability of professional-quality photographic gear broadens with advances in technology and lowering prices, a growing number of photographers are placing their works online too.

Along with this trend, a number of different licenses have surfaced to help protect user-generated content.

Arguably the most popular is the Creative Commons license, which is based on free and open source (FOSS) licensing concepts.

We look at the top three myths surrounding Creative Commons, and find out from two lawyers what sort of protection it gives users.

Myth #1: Creative Commons only protects your rights in the United States.

Untrue. The content-creator holds the copyright of the work. A Creative Commons license can also be applied to different jurisdictions across the world. There have been numerous "ports" of the license to different copyright legislations, which involves both translating the licenses legally and linguistically, according to the Creative Commons Web site.

The site lists China, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan as countries in the region which have completed "ports" of the license. Porting for Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand are still in progress, it said.

Bryan Tan, director of Singapore-based Keystone Law Corporation, said in an interview: "Copyright is protected by law and is jurisdiction-specific, as all laws are.

"Jurisdiction means the law of the country that you wish to adjudicate the legal issues."

The country a user picks when assigning a Creative Commons license will hear the case in event of copyright violation, Tan said.

Also, many licenses state "non-exclusive jurisdiction", so a case can be heard before another court. "Most courts can admit as evidence the opinion of legal experts of another jurisdiction...just because country A is selected, that does not mean that country B's laws have no relevance," he said.

Myth #2: Creative Commons is a new kind of copyright law. Work that is not licensed is not protected.

Creative Commons, like the FOSS license it is based upon, is built upon the existing legal framework, and is not a re-writing of the law.

"It is a contract that allows people to use your copyright work," said Mark Lim, director and head of intellectual property, media and entertainment department of law firm, Tan Peng Chin, in an interview.

Creative Commons aims to help share content. Its creator retains all rights, regardless of whether Creative Commons is applied.

Flickr, an online photo sharing site which is a Creative Commons proponent, does not apply Creative Commons by default--users own exclusive rights to their work.

Tan sees Creative Commons more as "intellectual property innovation".

"I think the key benefit is that amateurs are able to easily license out their works without jeopardizing themselves. Amateurs cannot afford professional fees but yet want to be able to deal with their material more freely," he said.

An example is a photographer who would like to spread his work, while ensuring he is correctly attributed and the picture is not modified. He is then able to select the right Creative Commons license without having to draft one which "will allow him to carry out his intention, nothing more and nothing less", said Tan.

Tan advised: "Watch out for the terms and conditions on any site you put your picture up on as you may have granted rights."

Lim said content creators who have their work stolen have the right to sue for copyright infringement, and take out an injunction to stop the further use of their work.

Myth #3: Your content can be used by another party as long as it is not for profit.

Any use outside of the boundaries of the license agreement is still a violation, said Lim.

"Under Singapore law, the photographer owns the copyright, but if it's a commissioned work from a client, it's owned by the client," he said.

A photographer may also assign rights to another party, he added.

Creative Commons comes in six flavors, which helps define the exact uses of content.

"With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work provided they give you credit--and only on the conditions you specify here," according to the Creative Commons Web site.

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