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Creative Commons

Making your work available without fees, but reserving some rights.

The control of all martial, be it a written text, illustration or a photograph, is done by a combination of copyright and licensing. There are many types of licences, some allowing single use, some multiple or unlimited use by a class of people and some images are classed as being in the public domain and anyone can use them.

Many want to maintain total control of their copyright material, which is the default situation, no one should publish or use your work without your permission and gaining it will often involve a fee.  Others are pleased that others like and wish to use their work.

Most of those who do not rely on at least a part of their income from photography or writing, and some who do, will fall between these two positions. In the past we have, in some of the books we have written, added a piece to the front that said sections of the book could be copied and used for teaching, in effect granting a licence for this use.  In many cases we are happy for some use to be made of some of our work without a fee being paid, for example if you go through the location section and look under the photochrome tab, you can get to very many old photographs we have re-photographed and edited, and we tell you how to make a copy of the images directly from the website for your own use.

In this article we are going to look at photographic images but any type of work, or derived work can be treated in a similar way, be it a book, play, poem, illustration, or some other.

This is a two way operation, we both make use of and allow the use of  images, for example we make use of other images that are in the public domain or available under a licence that allows us to use them to illustrate some locations allowing us to have more illustrations on this website than just our own photographs. We are not making any income from this and itís a public service we are happy to support, so most if asked would happily allow us to use their work. We likewise are frequently happy to allow some of our images to be used in publications and on other websites.

While we could go and track down each image creator or their descendents, and obtain permission this would be just too time consuming to be practical, so unless someone offers us images, as you might if you wrote up a location you had visited, we restrict our use to images that are either public domain or have wide licences that allow their use, many of these come under the creative commons licences.

Creative commons licences are a way to allow use of your work but retain some rights.

So why might we want to do this. Why not simply say some works are public domain and some are rights managed in some form, and we grant permission in those cases. Well many cases of image use will be for private study or use, education, to illustrate an article, an illustration on a website, or similar where there is no budget in any event to purchase images. While you may not feel you want others to profit from your work, for example printing images on T-shirts, or using them in advertising posters.

Creative commons licences allow you to grant wide rights but retain some, however it can be difficult for those using them to comply if you make it too complicated.  Some people donít differentiate to a great degree public domain from creative commons, and others may not understand or use the variations or symbols that you sometimes see attached to creative commons images. This is often not by design its just that when researching work you can easily collect images, but keeping with these images information about where they came from and the symbols attached to their use is far more difficult. So perhaps a person researching a course collects images that are available under a creative commons licence and can use these in teaching, then later decides to use some of these to illustrate the same points on a website. We should either show the detail of the creative commons licence or link the image back to its source. Linking back to the image and licence detail is the method recommended by Wikipedia, where many of their images are available under a creative commons licence.

However in web development we will often produce a smaller image that links to a larger one and if we do this by creating within the webpage a thumbnail print, the program does this automatically but then looses the link we had originally. So we have to try to put another link, near the photo to get you to the licence detail, or to the source page where you got the image from.  You can see without any intention to bypass licence conditions, it is easy for this to be overlooked.  Getting up a weekly online edition, where time is short, means that often along the way the links will go missing, or we may just not have them at the time, so from a practical application we have to keep a list of those pages that donít yet fully comply and go back and add the links as soon as we get the chance. While we will do our best to comply, you can see many organisations or websites produced by individuals, volunteers or where time is just not available will not. Eventually when later picture standards come out we would hope this would be carried within the data of the photograph and by this means the problem overcome.

When no attribution or licence is shown, it can be assumed that you have no right to reproduce or use the images,  so the use of images within the creative commons licence, but without showing details does not put them into the public domain, or have any harmful effect on the licence holder, it just omits the chain link that will allow others to make use of the images as you or we have.  If you want to make sure that others know it is your image and get back to see your other images the easiest way is to add a web address into the corner of the images.  You will see that we do this with all the images of our limited edition works, large high quality versions are available for collectors and we want them to be able to buy them. Where someone asks for permission to use one of our images on their website we will often allow this but create a version for them with a website written in small print in the bottom of the image.

Creative commons licences are a good idea, and allow more work to become more widely available, while still reserving some rights, even if they are not likely to be followed in a few cases.

With a creative commons licence you can allow greater rights like allowing derivatives or versions to be made, and for these derivatives products to be further distributed under a creative commons licence.  You can also attach other conditions, and this, as you will appreciate would become impossible to use if everyone did their own thing, and to both promote the concept and standardise things an organisation was set up to produce a set of licences, so that at least in theory those with legal skills can work out what is supposed to be allowed.  They have a set range of licences and 4 symbols, the problem of course with symbols is that you will understand them if you are using them every day, but if rights management is not a  major feature of your life they will mean very little to you.

So what symbols might you want to put on your work and what do they mean. Many of these can be used in combination.


Attribution. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work ó and derivative works based upon it ó but only if they give credit the way you request.

Noncommercial Non-commercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work ó and derivative works based upon it ó but for non-commercial purposes only.
No Derivative Works No Derivative Works. You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of your work, not derivative works based upon it.
Share Alike Share Alike. You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.

We have produced a Key page that shows a variety the some of the standard buttons you will find displayed by photographs and the meanings of each. We have also produced a sheet that allows you to obtain copies of these images for your own use.

You can get a complete definition of these, the combination that work and links to the licences from http://creativecommons.org/about/.

Before Creative Commons licenses were developed there were some other options including open publication licences and GNU free documentation licences, but where these existed they are being replaced now by Creative Commons licences.

Public Domain images still exist and is where you are unconcerned about what happens to the images, or where they don't belong to anyone as such. Some organisations put all their images into the public domain for anyone to use. Some images on Wikipedia are specifically defined by those that took them as public domain.

As there is no contract or rights reserved, we don't need to include a symbol but one is available within the creative commons buttons for this. It may become good practice to get into using it as it clarifies which images can be used more widely.

Local licence versions

It may seem to defeat part of the objective of creative commons (images and other items available with for wide use restricted rights worldwide) to have a special English version or Scottish version or some other national version. However we find that there are many special versions for specific countries including both a Scottish set and an English set. The objective is to have contracts that are common in concept but written in a form that suites the English and Welsh legal system, and another set that is common with the Scottish legal system.

We are told that one difference, for instance, is that the English/Welsh licences do not allow the content creators to waive their moral right, which is allowed in the US. Damian Tambini, UK project lead for Creative Commons, has said the UK licences will be quite similar to the US versions: "In porting the licences, we don't change the spirit of the licence... What we've done for the licences is to make entirely sure that spirit will be recognised in a UK court."

It may therefore be relevant, although I feel that with the internet being international, we should all be part of a common system using a common set of licences and this means accepting a standard jurisdiction perhaps.

There were some buttons developed at one point by a UK group that had UK on them and linked to a separate website. We are pleased to see these now dropped and more movement towards keeping as much standard as possible.

Opposition to Creative commons

Not everyone likes creative commons licences, and the development of an organisation. Some say its not needed or serves no purpose, as you can easily define what rights you want to give away, others feel it weakens copyright, which some see it as making too much available for free when they would like to sell you products or packages. Some also point out that some use of multiple symbols are not compatible when you look at the individual licences. However selecting composite buttons and using the Key page we have provided overcomes this.

Problems and overcoming them

The largest problem we see is in definitions, an example is commercial use, this mean different things to different people, and also allows some organisations perhaps to use images that they really should be paying to use. If we look at a large non profit corporation or charity, they often have high cost offices, executives on high salaries, and staff paid at the same rate as others in similar roles, they purchase advertising and spend money in other promotion roles, have a turnover many times what a small business does and is in all real sense a commercial organisation. Most picture libraries will treat a small charity like a small business and a large one like a large business. However under creative commons, do they have the right to use your images for free.

Another problem is in restricting the use of images from sites or organisations that you do not want to be connected with.  Let us suppose you have said that your images can be used by anyone, but that you have to have an attribution, (your name attached), now an organisation that you are opposed to uses your pictures and complies fully with your terms by putting your name under the images, and something suggesting you have agreed to the images use.  You and I will understand what has happened and why you can't do anything about it, but will the local newspaper before they list you amongst the organisations supporters. What about he appropriate use of your images, say you have taken a photo of your daughter walking down a street on holiday, she is happy, looks like she is enjoying the experience, fine, and you make this image available under a creative commons licence, with no or few  restrictions.  Now you come across it being used to promote an escort agency an organisation to promote the welfare of prostitutes or a charity site looking for donations to look after ill treated children. Now are you happy with its use under this licence. What about religious sites, witchcraft sites, or others with a message or topic to promote. Many of which can claim to be non commercial, and others that are not, will misunderstand creative commons with public domain.

We have looked at this in some depth, considered how it can sensibly be applied to our own images. Particularly in relation to the way images on our websites are used by others.

We don't want to restrict unnecessarily the use of our images, after all we are ourselves making a lot of use of creative commons images to illustrate our location guides, and by this means to be able to show you what you can photograph or see at each location. We appreciate others making their images available, and in particular that many allow us to edit them, so the images you often see on our website is far superior to those we have found. Having said this we don't want to have to ask large numbers of people to email us and ask for permission to use the images, our time is better used creating more location guides than in dealing with large numbers of emails. So an application of the creative commons licences is sensible for us to use, but we still have to overcome a few concerns.

On websites we use only low resolution JPG images so these are unsuitable for quality printed material, where usually a large  image is  required. You and I will understand that a small low resolution image that is shown on a website cannot do justice to the original and cannot be used to print a large quality edition, however not everyone else will. However as some may be tempted to produce a poor quality version of originals and this could reflect badly on our work we do need to control the use of images.

Ultimately we have to take a balanced view, and select those images that are sensible to make available and the conditions that we want to apply. Many of the problems can be eliminated by being selective of what images we want to see available in this way and  which rights we want to reserve. 

We have also decided to look at and use three options, Public Domain, BY-NC-SA and the CC+ option.

BY-NC-SA. This is a flexible arrangement suitable for many of our older images or images we don't feel we are likely to want to sell. It Allows redistribution, modify, tweak, and build upon, as long as they credit us, is for non commercial use, and available to others on identical terms.  All new work based on ours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.

This option made sense to us, as it allows as much freedom as possible but without getting in the way of sales and also meaning that those who believe in using our work for free, do the same with what they create from it.

Another possibility

Another route is CCPlus (CC+) this is a composite, you offer a creative commons licence plus a commercial use licence in parallel so offering something for everyone. This is being taken up by quite a few people and offers a nice mix. This is, for many of us who want to sell some images, the ideal compromise.

So its really two licensing options being offered.

The free creative commons licence with no modifications, non commercial use only and identified images.


A  commercial licensing option, similar or the same as that offered by picture libraries.

This makes a great deal of sense to us and is the option we have chosen to use for many of our images.

We have made the button above up, as no button exists so far, but the basis of the CC+ agreement is getting a lot of interest. You can get details on this from  http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Ccplus

Uptake of Creative Commons

You will see CC buttons on many images across the internet now and more sites using them all the time. Some of these include:

Another side of creative commons developing is the concept of Content Curators, people or organisations that collect and make available very large amounts of data. A long list of these can be found at  http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Content_Curators

Wider uptake in the UK

The difficulty we can see with the creative commons licences in the UK will be persuading people to use it. It would be nice to see far more information made available including content currently locked up in subscription services by universities. Perhaps eventually all organisations including universities, government departments and councils that have received public funds will be told they have to use such a scheme. Similarly charities should make their information freely available to all.

It would be particularly good to see those who claim to be charitable organisations or control property owned by us all, or held on our behalf to drop claims to rights over images of those locations. In particular the National Trust. These organisations often run a commercial picture library and are attempting to run a monopoly of images. Restrictions they imply or attempt to is in relation to commercial photography or photography for commercial use, so taking images that you make available under a creative commons licence is allowed, and doing this would help to break the monopoly of supply.

Finding out more

Other pages we have on creative commons.

Other sources

A large collection of tools and projects to help you achieve this can be found at http://creativecommons.org/projects/

You can find out more about creative commons from


This page:

Link directly to this page, with text or the button on right.

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