Since you’re going to be using lots of different media for your projects, it’s probably a good idea to go over what kind of things are safe to post and re-post on the Internet.
Alas, we’re not legally allowed to reuse and remix anything we want. Say, for example, I wanted to illustrate this post with this photograph of Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu. Sadly, I cannot, because it’s under copyright by the European Pressphoto Agency. (In practice, would anyone know? I don’t know. But it’s good to be aware of these things.)
Fortunately, smart people have thought about the problem of reusing and remixing stuff you find on the web. And there are a few categories of media that you’re safe to use.
Creative Commons licenses are designed to be less restrictive than regular copyright licenses. By attaching a Creative Commons license to something you create, you can give other creators various levels of permission to re-use your stuff:
- Other people can do pretty much whatever they want with your stuff — remix it, tweak it, whatever — as long as they give you credit. That’s called CC-BY.
- Other people can do whatever they want with your stuff, as long as they give you credit and allow others to do the same with the stuff they make from your stuff. That’s CC-BY-SA.
- Other people can post your stuff, but they’re not allowed to remix it or create derivative works from it and they must give you credit. That’s CC BY-ND.
- Other people can repost and remix your stuff, as long as they give you credit, but their new works must be non-commercial. That’s CC BY-NC.
- Other people can remix your stuff, as long as they use it non-commercially, give you credit for it, and give other people the same license terms with the new work. That’s CC BY-NC-SA.
- Other people can share your work, as long as they credit it to you, but they can’t change it in any way or use it commercially. That’s CC BY-NC-ND.
There’s also a category of stuff that’s under even fewer restrictions than Creative Commons licenses. That’s material in the public domain. Works enter the public domain in a number of ways: they age out of copyright restrictions, they’re published by the government, or the creator explicitly dedicates his or her work to the public domain. If work is in the public domain, you can do whatever you want with it. This chart is the best guide I know to determining whether something is in the public domain. A good general rule of thumb: If something was published before 1923, it’s probably in the public domain.
Finally, even if something is under copyright, there’s a chance you can use it, depending on the way in which you use it. The name for this category is “fair use,” which generally means you’re using a portion of the work for a non-commercial purpose, and your use won’t detract from the work’s commercial value. Fair use is murky, more the product of a set of decision calls than one hard-and-fast guideline. Here is a worksheet designed to help you evaluate whether you can use something under fair use.
Finding this stuff
A number of search tools make it relatively easy to identify material that you can remix and repost.
- Creative Commons Search allows you to search for images, music, video, sound with different levels of CC licenses.
- My favorite way to locate CC-licensed images is to use Flickr’s advanced search feature.
- Everything on Wikipedia is published under a CC license or is in the public domain.
- The Internet Archive offers a wealth of video, texts, audio, and other media to reuse.
- Many DH people are aware of the importance of CC licensing and explicitly attach CC licenses to their work. For example, if you look closely at the bottom of Bethany Nowviskie’s blog, you can see that she’s licensed it CC-BY.
So look for the Creative Commons license, or check to see if something’s in the public domain, and you should be good.