Understanding copyright, creative commons and the public domain

Creative Commons

Coming from a music background, it is very important to understand the rights that you have in regard to your work and also knowing what is fair use of other peoples work without infringing on their rights. When creating music I have always been interested in trying to use audio clips from movies or shows in the music to add another dimension to the song. I love how White Zombie used old horror film audio clips in their intros or breakdowns in songs to express themselves. It always added something interesting to the song that caught my attention but when it came to trying to use audio clips in my own music I didn’t know where to start to find out what I could use or not. Since then I know more about copyright, I took an online course in music management which dealt a lot in copyright and researched it online from a music and film background. Copyright laws are different in each country but they respect and protect copyrights through international agreements such as treaties and conventions(Rosso, 2015). So in Ireland the copyright on a piece of work runs out 70 years after the last creator’s death then it will go into the public domain for free use. It is also good to know that there are no steps to copyright a piece of work. Once it is created, it is under copyright. Although it is advised to label your work with a little copyright symbol on it somewhere (Copyright Association of Ireland, 2015; prezi.com, 2015).

The public domain is this wonderful place where you have free uses of anything that falls under that heading— usually any work that’s copyright has expired or work that has given away its copyright. With works that are in the public domain you are free to make derivative works of that piece without permission. Two other forms of protecting your work that are not copyright are patents and trademarks. Patents are used for inventions and trademarks are used for visual combination of a logos, slogans or images. They both have their own rules on how and how long they are protected for (Rosso, 2015). Creative commons is a more recent idea that I had never really paid attention to until it was mentioned in my lecture one day and then watched the documentary ‘The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’. I kept seeing it everywhere on the web and couldn’t get it out of my head. It is an amazing tool to inform people looking at your work what they can and cannot do with regard to your work. The first thing, I think, people mix up with creative commons is that it is not something that rivals copyright. Your copyrights are still in effect and creative commons works in parallel with it (Rosso, 2015).

There are many sites out there that have music licensed under creative commons— like freesound— and if you go to soundcloud you can type in “creative commons” to the search bar and a list of tracks comes up that are licensed under creative commons. You can even find lists of films or video clips licensed under creative commons. With the rise of the creative commons license it is opening up the web and its users to more creative and collaborative ideas that can be shared all over the globe. I am looking forward to the day (and hopefully it will come) when we have an open web full to the brim of creativity being shared with everyone.


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