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Copyright, creative commons, and the state of things online

I feel it necessary to clarify about some apparent misconceptions about copyright and creative commons licensing.1 Blackamazon posted about what she wants and included this statement:

( Copyrighted by CC cause well I’m hopeful not new)

Which made me scratch my head2. Creative commons licenses do not copyright your creative works. What they do is:

Creative Commons licenses are not an alternative to copyright. They work alongside copyright and enable you to modify your copyright terms to best suit your needs.source

Everything you create and publish (in the loosest sense possible, which includes posting on tumblr3), is automatically copyrighted. With all the legal rights that this involves. The exact details of what your copyright involves, will depend on your jurisdiction.

Now, part of the problem we face online is that only our exact words are copyrighted, not the ideas. You cannot copyright or patent ideas. So, when girljanitor had her idea lifted by the guardian, well, no real recourse since the article was changed enough that no legal claim to plagiarism would have been possible.

So what do Creative Commons do? It specifies your restrictions for how people can use your work without notifying you or asking for permission. This is why it is a license. If you use CC-BY, for example, you are giving permission for anyone to take all of your work and do whatever they want with it, so long as they credit you for the work. CC licenses are about giving other people more freedom to use your work than copyright allows. The most restrictive license, CC-BY-NC-ND is still less restrictive than copyright (since with copyright you cannot reproduce the entirety of a work without express permission).

Within the boundaries of copyright, things like linking, citing, quoting, etc. are usually covered under fair dealing or fair use4.

The unfortunate thing is that simply having a right, esp. if you are in the states, does not necessarily mean that you’ll be able to enforce or assert that right in any meaningful way. In the usa, you cannot sue for infringement unless you register your work with the us copyright office. Which costs money. And then there is the money to secure a lawyer and actually sue. And copyright cases usually take a fair amount of time (there is a reason we often only really hear of large companies or rich people doing this). Now, also for the states, DMCA will allow you to get a website to remove your stolen content… but then there is still a cost involved.

So, like many things involving the legal system, it is not designed to protect the people at the bottom.

tldr; CC gives people more freedom to use your work without seeking permission. It does not copyright. This right is conferred to you the moment you create something and ‘publish’ it. This right must also be explicitly given up for it to not apply (ie, you cannot passively loose it – this is why orphaned works are such a fucking headache).