Friday, 7 March 2008

Images and applying licences

There are many situations where you wouldn't want your property stolen or misused. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect your work (if you want it to be protected). In the software industry there are a vast array of open source licences and the most popular has to be the GNU General Public License. Microsoft has it's own, proprietary, End User Licence Agreements (EULAs). An example of one of these is the licences is here. Microsoft also has it's Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) and the music industry has a history of using Digital Rights Management (however, DRM is no longer used by some major music companies. An example of this would be Warner Bros.).

You also have a number of choices when dealing with images. First of all, there's the standard Copyright, where all rights are normally reserved. This means that the only way to do anything with the image would be to ask the permission of the owner (or pay for it if there's some form of revenue model in place). This can be considered very restrictive, but it does mean that nothing will happen if you don't want it to. If someone does try to break that licence, you could ask them for a share of the profit, get them to stop using the images, or in some cases you could take them to court.

When dealing with images, I apply licences, but they aren't forms of Copyright. I use licences created by Creative Commons. These are less restrictive, but they still have rules that you must follow. For example, their Attribution licence means:
"You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give credit the way you request."
Another example is the Attribution-Non Commercial-Non Derivative Works licence, which means you can use the image if you give credit to the author, but it can't be for the purposes of earning money and you can't change it in any way.

What do I use?
  • Photos - for all my photos I use Creative Commons Attribution. I like to have credit if my pictures are used for anything and I don't mind if it's commercial or not-for-profit. I don't mind people changing the pictures, simply because I'm not the best photographer and someone else could dramatically improve what I've done. However, if my standard improves, I might change my licence.
  • Photo-edits - Recently, I've been doing a lot of work in Adobe Photoshop. I take photos and play around with the program's various features to see what works. If I produce anything that I think is decent or better, I apply an Attribution-Non Derivative Works licence. This is because (as I've already said) I like getting credit for my work and if (either myself or someone else) can earn money from what I do, that's great. However, I have started to put a lot more time into making these photo-edits good, so I wouldn't want people altering them.
Other aspects of my policy
If I ever make a photo-edit using someone else's photo, I always ask permission first. They might not have the same licensing system as me, so if I took something they did without asking, I would be stealing. Also, if someone didn't want me to take a photo of them, I would never question their decision or forceably take a picture. If I did the opposite of that it would be unfair and could be considered an invasion of personal space. I would also remove a photo or photo-edit from the internet if the subject asked (they might not like what I've done).

One thing I've started to do recently is change the licence type on an image if someone made a request. For example, if I uploaded a photo, they might not want profit made from the work. I wouldn't question the reasons and in that case I would change the standard Attribution licence to Attribution-Non Commercial.

Enforcing Creative Commons
There is one notable case where breaking one of these licences initiated a court case. Adam Curry, a former MTV presenter who is currently the Founder and President of Podshow (a successful podcasting network) frequently posts photos to the online photo galler Flickr (a website that I use). The licence that he uses is Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike. However, a dutch gossip magazine used four of these photos for commercial purposes (i.e. selling their magazine) without asking permission. When Adam Curry found out about this, he took the magazine to court and won. This is now used as a test case.

Not using a licence
There are many people who don't apply licences to at least some of their work. This is fine if they don't mind people doing anything with what they've created. However, it might be difficult to e.g. win a court case if your image was used in a way that you didn't like. The person who did something with the image would not be under any obligation to remove it from wherever it was placed/posted.

So, licensing can be important. You must also remember that their are plenty of choices out there, so it's likely that you'll be able to find something to suit your needs. I have a licensing policy, but as you can can see I allow some flexibility.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: Photography, Photoshop, Images, Licensing