—Stacy Allison-Cassin, Music Cataloguer, Bibliographic Services (Scott Library)
My first professional librarian position was as the head of the library at a small, non-profit arts organization. The library collection was comprised of contemporary Canadian art music published by small Canadian presses (if published at all). In this role I repeatedly encountered situations in which researchers were unable to publish examples of this music in their papers because of copyright restrictions. Either the publisher was out of business, had been taken over by a multi-national corporation uninterested in the back files of a small Canadian publisher, or the original creator was unable to be contacted. In most cases this meant that the researchers could not continue their work in the way they had intended; in some cases they had to abandon their research entirely. While it is important to protect the rights of content creators, this lockdown of our cultural heritage, and the resulting inability of others to build on and enrich this heritage, struck me as being very problematic.
In Canada any intellectual work "expressed in a fixed manner" is automatically protected by copyright, including lecture notes, blog postings, emails and photographs. So while there is lots of useful material on the web, most if it is unavailable for use except under the conditions of fair dealing or with the express permission of the copyright holder. Securing permissions is necessary when there is a desire to build on the copyrighted content, such as the use of musical examples I cited above, or if the work is to be manipulated in any way. This may leave many resources on the web out of reach of users since it can be challenging to track down the copyright holders, or it may be too much effort if you're simply looking for an image for a presentation. As a creator, copyright law can make it difficult to freely share your work with others. For example, if you put a handout for a class on your webpage, another instructor wanting to adapt it for use in her class must obtain express permission from you in order to make changes and use it for her class - even if you posted the handout so others could use it. The Creative Commons was developed to help close the legal gap between content creators and users.
The Creative Commons is a non-profit licensing initiative that started in 2001 "...to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in `the commons’ - the body of work that is available to the public for free and legal sharing, use, repurposing, and remixing." The main concept of the Creative Commons is that of "some rights reserved," meaning the content creator decides the level of openness. Content creators can choose between different kinds of licenses to indicate what rights are waived and what rights are withheld. For example, a work can be available for commercial use, non-commercial use, or use only with attribution. Using a Creative Commons license balances the needs of content creators and users who wish to make legal use of creative content for things like teaching and research. The following short video produced by filmmaker Jesse Dylan illustrates this point:
Creative Commons licenses were specifically developed for the web environment, allowing content creators to take advantage of increased exposure and use of their materials, while also taking advantage of content posted by others. Adding a Creative Commons license to work you post on the web is easy and lets people know you want them to use your materials. It changes the default "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved". As creators and users of creative intellectual content, it is important that we create and use resources in ways that ensure future generations have access to our ideas and preserve the digital commons.
For more information about Creative Commons licenses see: http://creativecommons.ca/ or contact Stacy Allison-Cassin or Andrea Kosavic.
*Photo used by CC licence permission through Flickr user Olya