Etsy Journal

Explore ideas and inspiration for creative living

Sarahsays Copyrights: Creative Commons Licensing

by Vanessa Bertozzi

Oct 9, 2007

You're walking through an art museum and see an amazing work of art. It's inspiring. Maybe you feel compelled to knit a sweater with its crazy color combo. Or maybe you just want to keep a personal scrapbook of your tour through the museum.  Or maybe the fluid lines of the artwork hit you with the creative impulse: you have the urge to translate its forms into a unique piece of jewelry to sell in your Etsy shop. You whip out your camera to take a photo of it and Hey!!! a museum guard rushes up to prevent you from taking the photo. Why? Because the artwork is under copyright. It's a puzzling moment many of us have experienced. Perhaps you weren't intending to make money off your image of the artwork. Perhaps you were only intending to "remix" its features into a new work. At moments like these, many of us heave a sigh and balk at the litigious constraints in which our society has cloaked creativity. But then again, many of us have been on the other side of such situations.  Perhaps you've found that others are making exact replicas of your truly unique work and selling it for profit, without giving you any credit or attribution.  Is there any in-between? There are new alternatives: artists and craftspeople now have options to share some of their ideas if they choose to do so. This is somewhere in between folk art — where artistic expression moved freely through cultures, the predecessor of public domain — vs. complete individual control — where the artist or copyright holder can prevent any sort of copying. Below, SarahSays gives us a breakdown of Creative Commons Licensing, a set of licenses developed for those instances in-between. This is incredibly important information, and very relevant in the digital age. Replication of artwork is quick and easy, but so too is viral marketing.  As artists and web entrepreneurs, we find ourselves tailoring copyrights to our individual needs more and more.  The open source movement has been promoting the idea of sharing information and computer code for the greater good and betterment of society for some time now (some say since engineers first invented the internet, though 1998 is the date for when the term was coined. See Wikipedia's entry on open source). The key concept here is that new works (and therefore the stuff that makes up our culture) build upon the works of the past, as Lawrence Lessig puts it. Creative Commons, a non-profit organization founded in 2001, brings more choice to the issue of copyright for artwork. Please read on for Sarah's article. — Vanessa  Generally and according to U.S. copyright law, when an artist creates a piece of art, the artist can prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the work.  Some people argue that "All Rights Reserved" — the default copyright — is too broad and lasts too long, and as a result, U.S. copyright law stifles creativity.  In order to allow others to use the work and to encourage further artistic expression, an artist may choose to loosen some rights under copyright law. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing an easy way to share information.  An artist can choose which rights to retain and which rights to license to others.  The aim of Creative Commons is to increase the sum of raw source material online and also to make access to that material cheaper and easier.  According to the group “a single goal unites Creative Commons’ current and future projects: to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules.” The copyright owner may use Creative Commons licenses to grant some or all of their rights to the public while still retaining other rights. The Storque is written with Creative Commons licenses. There are many benefits from Creative Commons licenses.  A photographer can choose to post a photo on the web and still express a preference of how the work is used: the photographer doesn't mind if people repost his image on their blogs, but they must credit him, for instance.  A musician may legally sample and be sampled, without the hassle of clearing copyright and obtaining permission.  New artists may benefit from increased exposure. The following is a list of the Creative Commons licenses along with the icons: All Rights Reserved (Regular Copyright): If you do not choose any license or transfer a right to another party you retain all copyright rights.   Attribution: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give you credit.   Noncommercial: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.   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: You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.   Public Domain (No Copyright Attached): The work is available for use in any way by anyone.   The following is a list of combinations of Creative Commons licenses:  If you select “Attribution Non-commercial, No Derivative” you are granting others permission to copy your work and share it, but the person must give you credit and link back to the work, the person cannot change the work, and the person cannot make any money off of your work.  This is the most restrictive Creative Commons License.   If you select “Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike” you are granting others the right to copy or share your work, change or build upon your work, but the person cannot make any money off of your work and the person must give you credit and link back to your work.  All new work based on your work will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.   If you select “Attribution Non-commercial” you are granting others the right change or build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.   If you select “Attribution No Derivatives” you are granting others the right to redistribute the work, the person must give you credit, the person can make money off of your work, but the person cannot change the work.   If you select “Attribution Share Alike” you are granting others the right to remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. New works will also allow commercial use.   If you select “Attribution” you are letting others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of the Creative Commons licenses offered.   Further Resources: For more information on Creative Commons and to learn how to select a license visit For more information on U.S. Copyright Law visit Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture book. Students for Free Culture. Electronic Frontier Foundation. SarahSays' column is not legal advice, but shared legal information. If you're in a situation where you need to take the issues addressed here further, please talk to your lawyer!
Vanessa Bertozzi

Vanessa Bertozzi is a Senior Program Manager for Etsy Wholesale. Since starting at Etsy in 2007, she has launched the Etsy Blog and led teams focused on seller education and community.