Here comes Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand

With Creative Commons approaching its 5th birthday worldwide it's nice that it is finally reaching our shores. The Council for the Humanities has been working steadily away on this for the past year - with support from the National Library of NZ and funding granted from the Digital Strategy's Community Partnership Fund. They recently announced a Wellington seminar and a launch date of the 27th of October. Before we get into what this may mean for libraries let's do a quick recap.

Creative Commons logo - two 'c's in a circle.Creative Commons logo from Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand (CC-BY).

What exactly is Creative Commons?

Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand says that "Creative Commons aims to establish a fair middle way between the extremes of copyright control and the uncontrolled exploitation of intellectual property. It provides a range of copyright licenses, freely available for public use, which allow those creating intellectual property – including authors, artists, educators and scientists – to mark their work with the freedoms they want it to carry."

Creative Commons logos for the four licence elements.Creative Commons licence elements from Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand (CC-BY).

Essentially, it provides a free set of licenses so that creators can clearly protect and share their work. There are six main Creative Commons licenses available that mix and match basic rights such as whether attribution is required, whether copies can be used for commercial purposes, whether individual parts can be reworked into new creations, and whether copies need to retain the same license.

A simple example of how Creative Commons is in use today is on the photo-sharing site Flickr. When you upload a photo you get to choose the license - you can choose from various Creative Commons licenses, or alternatively All Rights Reserved. This makes it clear whether users can grab your photo to use in a presentation or do whatever it is that they had in mind. The National Library of NZ has been running a small pilot on Flickr by posting selected collection images. We've had to post them as All Rights Reserved... which isn't really in the spirit of Flickr... but I'll cover that in another post.

Why bother?

The other day I picked up a leaflet issued by Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand. The title of the inside cover read "Why? Participatory culture". The leaflet went on to say:

"Digital technologies are connecting people in ways that were never before possible. Creative commons aims to help ensure a participatory culture - a culture in which everyone can actively engage in the creativity that surrounds us, and in which access is assured to cultural, scientific, and educational content that has been pre-cleared for use by it's authors."

And why would you use Creative Commons... the leaflet continued...

  • To maximise exposure and increase distribution;
  • To rely on innovative business models rather than fully fledged copyright to secure a return on your creative investment; and,
  • To contribute to and participate in the public sphere.

It's the best of both worlds really, providing real value to creators, and well as being valuable to everyone else.

International applicability?

The original Creative Commons licenses were drawn up by reference to US Copyright law and, while they were designed to be jurisdiction-neutral, its clear that some aspects of the US derived license do not align well to other country's legislation. Hence the efforts to port the licenses to other legal frameworks. The Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand licenses have in fact been derived from versions in the England and Wales.

Now whether this means that, if we choose a CC license for a photo on the US-based Flickr service, we will now be covered by the NZ-derived license... I don't know. I hope so. I'll need to dig into this to find out... any lawyers out there care to comment?

Update: So I've spoken with one of the lawyers involved in drafting the NZ licenses and the view is that the NZ license will only apply if creators specifically assign them (makes sense!). In the case of Flickr there is no option to choose country-derived licenses so that kills that idea. There's a thread on Flickr where this is mentioned if you want more. In any case, the unported licenses can still apply. Please don't take this as legal advice... because it would be silly to take legal advice from a web designer. Seriously, if you are thinking about applying Creative Commons licenses to your works, get some professional legal advice or do make sure you read all the details so you understand what it means.

What does this mean for Libraries?

Virginia (of Matapihi fame) and I got to thinking about what impact CC may have on those institutions holding special collections or heritage archives:

  1. Will collecting institutions have to grapple with a new type of Intellectual Property? For instance, the born digital content we collect may already carry these licenses. Maybe its time to add new rights options to the collection management database and the Web Curator Tool.
  2. Collecting institutions sometimes invite donors to assign copyright to the institution. What if policies were altered to take account of CC as well? That when someone donated an item they also identified that derivatives and sharing were okay. While the role of mediator between the wishes of the donor and the requester in the public remain, the nature of those requests will change. We may even find ourselves designing systems to encourage play rather than simply provide access.
  3. What are the opportunities to make life easier on our users? Let's design systems that make it clear and transparent which items you can do things with, and which items you need to ask for permission. Paul Reynolds has suggested that NZ heritage collections should get together and put out some demonstrator works under CC. Sounds like a great idea.
  4. The National Library of NZ is also a Government Department, so material that we publish can come out under Crown Copyright. No doubt other libraries also copyright their own digital content as well, and I can't help but wonder if we shouldn't all use CC licenses instead... as it may end up being clearer and more helpful.

I'd be interested to know if you think this will have an impact on you. Does anyone know if there's been any impact to libraries in other countries? Keen to hear your thoughts.

By Andy Neale

Andy runs DigitalNZ, like a boss.

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