Creative Commons licenses are a flexible way to share content while building on the strong foundation of traditional copyright law.
Simply put, Creative Commons licenses allow the shift from “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved,” enabling you to share your work under terms of your own choosing. This gives you control over distribution, and the non-exclusivity of the licenses means you can retain all commercial rights if desired.
Creative Commons licenses all start with an attribution (BY) condition attached. This simply means that when content is used or shared the original creator needs to be credited. The BY condition can stand on its own as a license or, more commonly, with other conditions attached.
A Non-Commercial, or NC, condition can be attached to prohibit commercial use. A no-derivative, or ND, condition can be attached to allow verbatim sharing but no adapting or remixing. If derivatives are allowed a ShareAlike, or SA condition can be attached to ensure that any remixes or mash-ups are released under the same terms you originally specified.
That's it. These Creative Commons conditions provide a simple and easy way to mitigate the hassle of sharing a film online and encouraging dialog around a film's release.
How filmmakers have used a few of the different CC licenses in the past:
CC BY-NC-ND Viral campaigns, Trailers, and Digital Sharing
CC BY-NC-SA Remix Contests, Community Edits, and Source Material
CC BY-SA Distribution and Non-Filmic Materials
CC BY Press-ready materials
These case studies can help you learn more about how filmmakers use Creative Commons licenses in their work.
Talented animator, writer and producer Nina Paley released her film, Sita Sings the Blues, for free under a CC Attribution-Share Alike license in March of 2009. An adaptation of the Indian myth Ramayana, Sita Sings The Blues was renowned not only for its filmic merit - it received critical acclaim from the New York Times, Roger Ebert, and many others - but also for Paley's well-documented struggle with song-clearing rights. Her struggles with clearing these rights informed her decision to openly license Sita, thereby ensuring that her film would always remain easy to obtain and that any derivative works would also remain open and free. Sita Sings The Blues has been downloaded over 150,000 times on Archive.org alone. In allowing commercial reuse, Paley gave others a financial incentive to promote her film and distribute it for her - a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal assessed its revenue at $55,000, an impressive amount for a film that had spent nothing on promotion or advertising. Similarly, the film's popularity has given Paley a platform for speaking arrangements, a financially lucrative market.
RiP: A Remix Manifesto was released under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial license, allowing the film to be shared broadly across the web and enabling interesting paths for derivative works. Conceived by documentarian Brett Gaylor, community editing of the film was achieved through open-source video platform Kaltura; the soundtrack was similarly sourced through music community ccMixter and released under the same license. The film, which follows the story of DJ/mash-up artist Gregg Gillis (Girl Talk) features interviews with leaders from the free culture world and paints an intriguing picture of the current legal landscape for musicians that rely on sampling as an artistic technique. More impressively, the film was nominated as a candidate for Best Feature Documentary at the 2010 Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.
Filmmaker and artist Vincent Moon first gained notoriety with his verité style performance pieces for French music blog La Blogotheque. Over the past seven years his creative output has been prolific, releasing music documentaries that range from impromptu performance Take Away Shows to event-based projects like Temporary Areas to Long Portrait features on rare musicians. Most recently, he launched a new label petites planétes, which also features music documentaries in his distinct and influential aesthetic. All of his work is available under a CC BY-NC or CC BY-NC-SA license.
Nasty Old People, a feature film from Swedish director Hanna Sköld, premiered on October 10th 2009 at Kontrapunkt, a gallery space in Malmö, Sweeden. The film was simultaneously released on The Pirate Bay (and other bittorrent sites) under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license. The film's free online distribution increased visibility around the project, which led to community donations that have helped Sköld recoup much of her initial investment (a €10,000 bank loan). The film, which is originally in Swedish, has seen sixteen different subtitle tracks created by its community, a process legally enabled by allowing derivative works.
To promote The Tracey Fragments, a Canadian film starring Ellen Page, director Bruce McDonald turned to CC licensing. Specifically, all of the footage from the film was released online under a CC Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike license for fans to download and rework into music videos, new trailers, or even to edit and remix the entire movie. The film's soundtrack, written by indie collective Broken Social Scene, was also released under CC BY-NC-SA. To further promote the project, a remix contest was held in which the winner recieved a Tracey Fragments/Final Cut Studio prize package.
Australian family drama Two Fists, One Heart saw a wide-release in its home country that was coupled with a stand-alone site, Cut Your Own Scene, where fans could download rushes (unedited footage) of the film for free under a CC Attribution license. Footage from the film could be put to any use as long as Two Fists, One Heart was attributed with a link back to the official movie page. Much of the footage was unused in the film, maximizing the usefulness of a resource that would normally have been wasted. To encourage reuse of the footage, the five best scenes were posted on the Two Fists, One Heart promotional site and the winners received personal feedback on their edits and film careers.
Blender is a free, open source, 3D content creation suite used by bedroom auteurs to The History Channel. To promote the project, two short films, Elephants Dream and Big Buck Bunny, were released online under a CC BY license with wide-ranging benefits. First, the films acted as teaching tools - all the files were included in the release and those looking to better understand the program could use them to see how different compositional techniques were achieved. Second, the films generated positive promotion from having an easily shareable (and enjoyable) short film - not only were the films discussed and promoted online (promoting the Blender platform in the process) but Big Buck Bunny saw unsolicited airplay from a Worchester, MA local TV station. Lastly, the CC license enabled the creators to "give [their community] back the project results in a way [they] would have liked to receive it... meaning, freedom to re-use, also for commercial work."
Here's a brief sampling: