Unauthorized use runs rampant on the internet. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects photographers. If you’ve spent hours setting up for shooting, processing, and editing an image, it can be frustrating and dispiriting to see your work copied, published, and altered without your permission.
Despite these issues however, the internet’s culture of accessibility and reuse can provide real value for your business. In fact, you can make your work easily available for others to use and share while still maintaining your copyright and ability to monetize the work if and when the time comes. This can help offset costs of some of the tools you’re paying for.
How? Through a Creative Commons license.
These blanket agreements allow you to make your work freely available for public use while letting you retain copyright. They also give you the authority to sell and license your photography for money down the road. With a CC license’s upsides come downsides, of course. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons:
Pros of Creative Commons Licensing
I’ll start out with the advantages a Creative Commons license offers. The biggest “pro” is exposure: a CC License typically allows anyone to use your work as long as they credit you. This license not only obliges others to give you credit, but also gives you small promotional boost as your work shows up in free-to-use libraries such as creativecommons.org and flickr.com/creativecommons. Plus, it saves you from the endless flood of messages sent by people requesting to use your images for free.
Another advantage: depending on which version you use, CC licensing comes pre-written, thus saving you from the time and expense associated with drafting a license with a lawyer or by yourself. The Creative Commons protects your copyright, thereby giving you the ability to enforce your right to compensation during situations in which the work would result in financial gain on the user’s part.
When you use a CC license, you might see your work everywhere from blogs to editorial stories on big news networks and social media. You set the parameters of use, and if your restrictions are violated (for instance, if your name is not credited), you have the right to pursue compensation or retribution from the infringer.
Cons of Creative Commons Licensing
Perhaps the greatest caveat to the Creative Commons approach is that unlike a personally negotiated license—where you can maintain the right to revoke the license—once you’ve licensed an image through CC, those permissions can’t be revoked. In other words, you have no real recourse if you find someone using your image in a context you don’t like. You can remove the license from the image, and all future use will no longer be sanctioned under the Creative Commons, but any usage from when the license was active remains protected—no matter what.
Another problem with Creative Commons licenses? You need to be very careful about which version you attach to your work. For example, if you accidentally forget to apply a non-commercial clause on your work, people can make money on your images without owing you a penny—and you can’t ask for compensation after that point.
There are four types of Creative Commons licenses, and you can mix and match the features in their fine print. When preparing to license your images, make sure to double check what statutes and limitations you’re using. This may cause a lot of headaches (and wallet-ache) in the future if you accidentally apply the wrong kind of license on your work.
Another fairly serious issue with Creative Commons licensing is that derivative works can be hard to prosecute. If someone takes one of your images and modifies it to a point where a court could deem it is unique and different enough from the original work, your Creative Commons license may be deemed invalid. Good luck getting compensation in that case.
Finally, once you release your work out into the world, you lose control of it. In most cases, you will have some ground to stand on if your stipulations weren’t followed, but the onus is on you to police your work and decide whether to pursue someone who broke the license or not. When all is said and done, you may end up in the same position I alluded to at the beginning of this article—trying to track down compensation for misuse of your work.
A Creative Commons License can be an enormously helpful tool for those who need a general use license and don’t mind others exploiting their work for its intended (as well as or unintended) purposes. Licensing through Creative Commons is a great way for new and experienced photographers alike to share some of their images with the wild ecosystem of the internet while at least increasing the likelihood of authorized use and attribution. Only you can decide if a CC license is what you need, but it’s always available if you want to give it a try.
If you would like to learn more about the Creative Commons, head on over to its website.
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