Thinking about copyright, ownership and sharing

This week get look deeper into the murky waters of copyright and what it might mean in this day and age. Two quotes that help me frame my own ideas on the subject are below. This first is by Pablo Picasso (or maybe Steve Jobs said it better?):

Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

The second is by Sir Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Looking back on digital footprints

Before I get into the idea of copyright, I’d like to respond to a general theme I’ve been reading in some of your blog posts related to digital footprints. We’re all rightfully concerned about the permanence of our digital footprints. Some actually refer to them as digital tattoos¬†instead of footprints because of this. But does the power (or threat?) of permanence lose some of it aura because everything is now permanent? When I was in school, there was this mystical permanent record that parents, teachers and students alluded to. If anything bad ever appeared on that, we were told our chances of getting in to college were doomed! But as a student, I had no control over that; I had no chance for rebuttal. In today’s society of permanence, my good deeds can also be recorded to counterbalance any teenage stupidity that I might take part in. And I get to be the one to put it up there!

For many of our older students, they are fighting an uphill battle. They are worried more about covering their tracks than celebrating their successes. I’ve spoken to more than a few elementary school teachers who say something along the lines of “Digital footprints are an important topic, but they are mostly for the older students.” I think nothing can be further from the truth. By starting young and getting students excited about creating a positive online presence from the start, we are building a culture of celebration and openness that will pay huge dividends when those students are in middle school and beyond!

A friend once told me that a student stood up in a school assembly on positive digital footprints and said something along the lines of “If a university won’t accept me because of one stupid picture, and they ignore all that other good stuff I’ve done, I don’t want to go to that university anyway.” Besides, students know that college admissions are a game of cat and mouse, and they are doing everything they can to stay one step ahead of the admissions officers

Copyright, Ownership, and Creative Commons

Now, on to copyright, ownership and Creative Commons. First, it is awesome to see so many in this cohort already using (and attributing) Creative Commons (CC) licensed images in their blog posts. For those who haven’t yet heard of CC, it is an alternative license that creators can use when publishing their work. This license gives up some of the rights usually associated with copyright – namely the need to ask for prior permission before using the work – so long as certain conditions are met. These conditions are usually some combination of the following:

  • Attribution (BY) – All CC licenses include attribution. Put simply, if you want to use the work, you must credit the creator and, if possible, link back to the original.
  • Non Commercial (NC) – Some CC licensed work allow you to use it without seeking prior permission only if it is for a non-commercial purpose. If you want to use it for a commercial purpose, you need to get permission.
  • No Derivatives (ND) – Some CC licensed work allow you to use it so long as you agree to not alter the work in any way. For images, this includes cropping the image and/or adding text over the top of the image.
  • Share Alike (SA) – Some CC licensed work allow you to remix and build upon the work so long as you promise to publish the work under the same conditions. I like to think of this as the ‘pay it forward’ nature of Creative Commons. A CC licensed work can be No Derivatives, or Share Alike, or neither, but not both.

Taken from Creative Commons infographic by fotor.com. Click for full image (CC BY SA)

The first Creative Commons licenses were released in December 2002. But why is there a need for something like Creative Commons to begin with? Our society, if not our laws and/or companies, are becoming more social and collaborative. A lot of this is because of the increased access to information and infrastructure. There are over 350 million photos uploaded to facebook every day. There are over 100 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. There were over 44 million posts and 56 million legit comments on WordPress.com last month alone.

While there is a lot of originality and thought going in to each of those photos/videos/blogs, there is also a lot of inspiration from others. Creative Commons gives creators the freedom to explore, to borrow, to steal like an artist while also giving them an ethical way to do so.

So what does this have to do with two quotes I shared to start this post? CC helps us to unleash our inner artist, “stealing” the work of others (with their permission) and mashing it up in transformative ways to create new content. By starting where others left off, it allows us to create new works that might otherwise seem unimaginable!

From now on, we’d like to ask/require you to include an attributed Creative Common image in each of your COETAIL posts. (Here’s a post that Jeff wrote about how to do it last year. And here’s a post that I wrote about where to find images.) It could be an image that you have created and shared with the world, or one that has been shared with you. In either case, we’d like you to start (or, for many of you, continue) modelling ethical practice as well as give you something to think about when it comes to your classroom and your school.

There is a lot of great videos and talks about Creative Commons and its cousin Fair Use that have been uploaded. I’ll start you off with one of them, by the one of the founders of the Creative Commons movement Larry Lessig:

Image Credits:

Sharpie by Brad Wilmot licensed under CC BY NC ND

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