Copyright and CC for grant recipients

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The following information is intended to help grantees understand and implement CC licenses correctly.

Copyright Facts for Grant Recipients

All funding organizations and entities, whether foundations, governments or others, want their grantees to achieve the maximum possible impact and scale of their projects, and all grantees want to produce the most successful, impactful projects possible using those grant funds. Creative Commons public licenses are the global standard for accomplishing these shared objectives, by establishing the legal terms of reuse and sharing up front in an easy to understand, standardized way.

Grantees committing or required to the use of Creative Commons licenses and legal tools for content generated with grant funds should be aware of some copyright basics in order to ensure they have the rights they need to license the content generated using grant funds using CC. This is a summary of some of those basic considerations as well as general information designed to help grantees understand how to secure the rights they need to license their work under a CC license.

Some Copyright Basics

What is copyright? While different countries define the exclusive rights associated with copyright protection differently, at its most basic, copyright is a bundle of rights associated with creative works that can be used to stop others from copying, performing, selling, displaying, distributing, or otherwise communicating the work without permission.

What does copyright protect? Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, for example, novels, movies, poetry, songs, choreography, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way in which these things are expressed. In nearly every country, copyright protection is automatic – it arises at the time a work is created and reduced to a tangible medium, and exists in nearly all versions of the work.

Who holds copyright? As a general matter, copyright is owned by the author or creator of the work. Only the copyright owner can license or sell the exclusive rights to someone else.

Please note that while these copyright principles are generally applicable around the world, differences in copyright laws exist between countries. You should understand how copyright works and what it protects within your own jurisdiction.

Visit our FAQ for more general information about copyright.

Securing All the Rights Necessary

Once you have agreed or been required to release outputs generated using grant funds under a Creative Commons license or other legal tool, you need to be sure you have all of the rights you need to do so legally.

Copyright: works created by others. If you are not the original creator of all content included in the work, then you should ensure that you own the copyright in any commissioned work (through an express assignment), that the work is already licensed in a way that allows you to use it and license it as you propose, or that you have an agreement with the author stating that the work may be released under the same license you will use (or a compatible license).

  • New works or contributions you commission: If you pay someone to create content or produce a work that you plan to use as part of your grant output (such as a photograph, video, or research) and that person is not your employee, then in most jurisdictions you will need to either assume ownership of the work through a written assignment from the creator to you, or you should obtain written permission from the creator to use and release the work under the license you will appy to the final product (or a compatible license). Because laws different country to country, even if the person is your employee you may wish to have a written agreement in place that clearly assigns ownership of the work to you to avoid any doubt.
  • Existing works: Using content that someone else has already created is also possible, as long as you have permission to do so. For example, if you wish to use an image you find on Flickr it needs to be licensed under a CC license that allows you to use it in the way you intent. If it is not already licensed that way, you need to ask permission from the creator to use the work first.

Other rights: Beyond copyright, others may have rights that you will need to clear in order to use a work, whether you or someone else is the copyright holder. These are known as third party rights, and may include confidential information, trademarks, and rights of publicity/privacy. If you have obtained material that is confidential in nature from a third party, you should not include it in your grant output without written permission to do so. If you use a third party's trademarks, be sure your use is consistent with any trademark policies the company or person may have established, and ask permission if you are uncertain. For photographs, videos, voice recordings or other media, if a person or a person's likeness is identifiable (including voice), then whether you are the copyright owner or not you should make sure that person has signed a release form that allows you to use the photograph, video or voice recording in your CC-licensed work.

Additional Resources

Sample Forms

Creative Commons does not provide universal copyright assignment forms, work for hire agreements, or model release forms. However, a few sample agreements and other resources exist that may help you to better understands the sorts of agreements you may need to use to fulfill the terms of your commitment to licensing your grant work using CC. Creative Commons does not endorse any of these forms, nor may they be appropriate for your particular situation. Please consult your own lawyer if you have any questions or concerns.

Disclaimer

Please note that Creative Commons does not provide legal advice, and nothing hereshould be construed as giving legal advice, or creating an attorney-client relationship. The information and forms provided are for informational purposes only, and may not be appropriate for your circumstances or jurisdiction. If you have any questions about your rights and obligations, consult an attorney.


About Creative Commons and Choosing a Creative Commons License: Information for Grantees

About Creative Commons

Creative Commons (“CC”) is a nonprofit organization that produces public licenses for legally expressing a “some rights reserved” alternative to the “all rights reserved” approach of traditional copyright. CC also stewards tools that allow users to commit their works to the public domain. CC’s licenses and tools are free and easy-to-use, giving individuals as well as companies and institutions a standardized way to express the copyright terms that apply to their creative works.

Creative Commons licenses and tools allow authors, scientists, and all creators of content and data to increase the exposure and impact of their works by altering the default terms of copyright. If you apply a CC license to your work, users will be able to easily find, reuse and build upon your work, thus magnifying its effects and impact in culture or science without fear of legal recourse or the need for an attorney, as long as users of the work abide by the license conditions you have chosen (NonCommercial, NoDerivatives, and/or ShareAlike). By using a Creative Commons license or tool, you can ensure that the grant monies you receive that facilitated the production of your work achieves its full potential.

Creative Commons leads the space in public copyright licensing of non-software content, and our licenses and public domain tools are the industry standard. Groups like Wikipedia, Nine Inch Nails, MIT Open Course Ware and the White House agree that by offering works under Creative Commons licenses they can greatly increase the audience for and potential impact of their efforts. CC’s licenses and tools can help leverage the impact of your work.

Visit our Case Studies database to locate projects that use Creative Commons licenses that are similar to yours or in the same industry segment.

What follows is information about CC’s suite of licenses and public domain tools, and is intended to assist you with your decision about using a CC license or other tool for your funded project. We also describe a series of simple steps you may follow to choose a license or tool appropriate for your work.

Choosing and Applying a Creative Commons License

Creative Commons offers six different licenses that enable you to make available your copyrightable works on your terms. CC also offers CC0, a public domain dedication tool for surrendering all copyright associated with your work, and the Public Domain Mark (PDM), to label a work that is already in the public domain (such as pure factual information). Follow the four steps below to select the license or tool that best fits your needs and objectives.

Note: Some funding organizations may require a certain license as a condition of receiving the grant. Even where that is the case, you are encouraged to understand how the particular license works (Step 2, below) before applying your license (Step 4, below).

Step 1: Initial Considerations

If you have a choice of which CC license to apply, you should first familiarize yourself with Creative Commons. There is a list of general resources at the end of this document, including CC’s FAQs. If you haven’t used a Creative Commons license before, CC has compiled a list of considerations you may find helpful: Considerations for licensors and licensees. CC has also compiled Copyright Facts for Grant Recipients that you may also find useful to review. As with any intellectual property agreement, you should make certain that you have the rights necessary to license the work or commit it to the public domain, which may require obtaining permissions from third parties. These rights may be copyrights, but could also be trademark rights or rights of publicity or privacy.

In determining whether to use a Creative Commons license or tool, and if so which one, you should consider the nature of your work. CC’s copyright licenses are ideally suited to license media and other creative content. With a CC license, you may offer these works to the public for limited uses within the constraints you choose and discussed below. Creative Commons copyright licensing will likely be the best method for Media projects. For scientific data or an informational database, CC recommends utilizing CC0 and committing the data to the public domain so that it may be shared freely consistent with norms in the scientific arena. Creative Commons public domain tools may be the best method for data-heavy Information and Public Health projects.

However, you need not make a uniform choice for your content. For projects that consist of both creative content like text as well as data, you may license the text portions of your project with CC licenses and dedicate data sets to the public domain with CC0. CC licenses may be used with data, but the license conditions will only apply to those elements of the data that are protected by copyright (which, depending on national law, may only attach to original, creative selection and arrangement of data).

Step 2: Understand the License Components and Licenses

CC copyright licenses differ depending on whether you choose to limit use of your work to non commercial uses, whether others can make derivative works based on your work, and, if derivative works are permitted, whether those derivative works must be licensed on the same terms as the original work. All of the licenses require that users of works offered under CC licenses attribute the work in a method prescribed by the licensor, and you may want to credit the funder of your work.

For more information about choosing a license and for a fuller description of the rights and the permissions that accompany each license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/, or for more information about CC’s licenses and tools, reference the FAQ's.

Step 3: Select Your License

Creative Commons license chooser assists in selecting the license that is right for you by walking you through a simple selection process. You can find that here: http://creativecommons.org/chose/. The CC Australia website has a flow chart that may find of further assistance in determining the most appropriate license for your work.

If you are still unsure of which license best suits your needs, Creative Commons offers several other tools that may help. The Case Studies database offers great examples of how CC licenses have been applied to text, audio, images, video and educational works.

Step 4: Apply the CC License to your Work

If your work is published on the web, answer the prompts in CC’s license chooser and the chooser will guide you through the process of embedding html code in your webpage and applying the license to your work. The code generates a license button and a statement that your work is licensed under a Creative Commons license, or a corresponding CC0 or public domain button if you choose to use CC’s public domain tools. These buttons are designed to act as a notice to people who come in contact with your work that your work is licensed under the applicable Creative Commons license or is in the public domain.

For analog works, identify the license or tool you wish to apply to your work and either (a) mark your work with a statement such as “This work is licensed under the Creative Commons [insert description, e.g. Attribution 3.0] License. To view a copy of this license, visit [insert url, e.g. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/]; or contact Creative Commons at info@creativecommons.org” or (b) insert the applicable license buttons with the same statement and URL link.

CC offers resources on the best practices for marking works and on how to mark works on different media (pdf).

Additional Resources

Contact CC

If you have any questions or want more information about Creative Commons, please contact us at: grant-impact [at] creativecommons.org

Disclaimer

Please note that Creative Commons Corporation is not a law firm and does not provide legal services or advice in any form including, without limitation, via distribution of this information. No attorney-client relationship is created by virtue of distribution of this information or any of CC’s licenses.