Thing 14: Creative Commons and copyright


The stated purpose of copyright is to give artists and creators rights over their work so they may enjoy the remuneration generated by its impact on our culture, as well as providing them with the incentive to keep the flow of new works coming.

However, it is in society’s broader interest that at some point these works enter the public domain and no longer enjoy copyright protection. After all, there comes a point at which authors from Shakespeare to Witi Ihimaera become part of our shared cultural heritage.

This tension, between the rights of creators and the public good, is the topic of this Thing.


In New Zealand the current threshold for copyright (for most works) is 50 years after the author’s death. In the United States it is 70 years (a result of intense lobbying from copyright holders including Disney Corp) and in other countries the threshold varies from 25 to 100 years.


Image credit: Balfour Smith, Canuckguy, Badseed. [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The rapid advancement of the internet in recent years, however, has contributed to a “share, remix, reuse” culture. This has provided an argument for an alternative system to copyright, that lets creators define the terms under which they want to modify their own rights and facilitate the sharing of their work. Creative Commons has become the mostly widely adopted system in response to this need.

This has led to a tension between copyright and what has been termed the new ‘digital commons’. Many characterise this as a new front in the struggle between public and private interests.

Copyright protectionists seek to entrench and extend copyright licensing, whilst advocates of the ‘copyleft’ movement want to see the public domain and the information commons defended for the benefit of all. This idea has become a hot political issue globally and in the NZ context has even given rise to a political party.

Creative Commons

When we examine the concept of copyright in the context of the internet, and the idea that copyright protection is assumed to apply to all works, this give rises to the problem of how, as an author or creator, we can communicate to other web users that we are prepared to give up some aspects of our copyright protection in order to contribute to public discourse and a greater social good.

The Creative Commons (CC) movement seeks to address this by providing a system of licenses as an alternate to copyright licences. You can think of it as a simple, standardised way to give public permission to share and/or use your creative work. CC licenses offer various levels of permissions, from “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” CC licenses are now commonly found on photos, blogs, academic articles and journals, teaching resources, music, published material, and more.

Explore the options available under Creative Commons here:

Our 23 Things for Research programme is a great example of this. Many universities around the world have borrowed, remixed, and added to the original 23 Things programme – and they have done so because the programme itself has been released into the Creative Commons (you can see the specific licences in the Credits section at the bottom of each page). If the original programme did not have such a licence, it is unlikely that anyone else would have been able to adopt or adapt it.

Creative Commons and Open Access

Creative Commons is particularly relevant in academic publishing. The philosophy of “Open Access” encourages free sharing of research outputs in the public interest, and often uses CC licences to achieve this open access.

This is a big (and controversial) topic, but the University of Auckland library has provided a guide to open access:

In particular, this PDF guide to Open Access provides a nice overview:

One example of Open Access in practice is Oxford University’s Open Spires project, which makes podcasts available as Open Educational Resources (OERs):

Many resources from the OER Commons also include open licences like Creative Commons (look for the “no strings attached” or “remix and share” tags):

try-this-iconTry this

For Things 13 and 14 we’d like you to find and share a Creative Commons image on your blog. Follow these steps:

1. Find an image with a Creative Commons licence. Not all images you find online will have a Creative Commons licence! On Flickr, you can find them directly on the Creative Commons Flickr page. If you’re interested in looking beyond Flickr, try the Creative Commons search page, which allows you to search for CC-licensed content on Wikimedia, Google Images, Europeana, YouTube, SoundCloud and more.

2. Copy that image to your computer and then add it to a blog post. If you’re not sure how to do this, see these guides to inserting images in WordPress or Blogger.

3. Give correct attribution to the creator of that image: Attributing Creative Commons Materials.

Last year, the third step was the most difficult for participants. Attribution in this sense means that you link back to the original and also provide a link to the type of Creative Commons licence that the creator used.

If you’re not sure what this should look like, take a look at the attribution for the map at the top of this page. Attributions for other images on this page can be seen at the bottom (under “Credits”).

explore-further-iconExplore further

A list of journals that subscribe to open access policies
Directory of Open Access Journals

“Open Access ensures students’ learning isn’t artificially limited by the subscriptions their HEIs happen to be able to afford, and it means that wealth and geography are no longer barriers to the knowledge and learning from which the whole of NZ society benefits.”
Why Kiwi students need Open Access

“When teachers and students produce new material that they will be publishing online they will normally be happy for people to share it but need to be specific about what is and isn’t ok.””
Safer Schools with Creative Commons

“Over the past few years, it’s simply become clear that, for me and this site, Creative Commons is a bad deal and the time has come to part ways.”
Why I am backing away from Creative Commons

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