Sunday, November 16, 2008

C&RL News: Introducing Creative Commons to Librarians, Faculty, and Students

The Beauty of "Some Rights Reserved": Introducing Creative Commons to Librarians, Faculty, and Students

College & Research Library News / November 2008 /Vol. 69, No. 10 / Molly Kleinman

These are difficult times when it comes to copyright on campus. Big music companies are suing fans, publishers are suing librarians, and the principle of “fair use” is under siege everywhere. Litigation-happy content holders have fostered a climate of fear in which every student is a music pirate and every professor a book thief. While I don’t doubt that there is some copyright infringement happening on university campuses, the bigger problem by far is the chilling effect of all these lawsuits and “copyright awareness campaigns.”

Scholars and students are afraid to do the one thing that copyright law has intended from the beginning: “Promote the Progress of Science and the Useful Arts”1 by creating new works and building on the works of those who came before. Every academic librarian knows at least one sad story about a professor who couldn’t include necessary illustrations in her book because her publisher was worried about a copyright lawsuit, or a digitization project that couldn’t get approved because the copyright status of the materials was uncertain.

Additional problems result from major changes to copyright law over the last 40 years. Until recently, creators had to register their copyrights to receive protection and mark their works with a properly formatted copyright notice or the work entered automatically into the public domain, where anybody was free to reuse it however they wished.

That all changed in 1978, when the United States dropped the registration requirement; since then, copyright automatically occurs the moment a work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Now, every new work is copyrighted—lecture notes, e-mails, snapshots, doodles, presentation slides. [snip]

Enter Creative Commons

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that created a set of simple, easy-to-understand copyright licenses. These licenses do two things: They allow creators to share their work easily, and they allow everyone to find work that is free to use without permission. The value of those two things is enormous. Before Creative Commons licenses, there was no easy way a creator could say, “Hey world! Go ahead and use my photographs, as long as you give me attribution.”


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