Copyright and Doing It Right

Something you may not know about the Eiffel Tower is that a night time photo of the structure costs more than a day time photo. That's because there are not one but two copyrights to consider at night: the tower and the lighting design that's only featured after dark. This was the introduction Martha Rans made during her session on Canadian copyright and Creative Commons at the 2012 Northern Voice Conference. Nothing beats a piece of cultural trivia at the top of a session designed to navigate and translate the Canadian copyright system.

The Northern Voice conference brings together bloggers and web enthusiasts to talk shop and, every year, Martha -- a copyright lawyer and director of the Vancouver-based Artists' Legal Outreach -- is invited to share what she knows about Canadian copyright. And, trust me, copyright is everywhere. To quote Martha: " it doesn’t matter if it’s high art, low art, pop art, bad art or not art at all."

Artists Legal Outreach is a group that provides legal advice to artists in Canada. On their website, Martha and her team explain how Creative Commons licensing works, the six different licenses available, and the four different conditions that make up each license. All of the content on artistslegaloutreach.ca is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada license and is best referenced by looking at the website, directly.

One of the four conditions of a Creative Commons license is "Noncommercial." According to Martha and Artists Legal Outreach, if you want to use someone’s work licensed under the Noncommercial condition and if your work or organizations makes money in any way, you can’t. As an online community manager and someone who deals in online content on behalf of non-profit organizations, I'm often faced with the question of what's considered commercial* content. The obvious answer is anything that generates a profit on behalf of a business or company. But when you actually consider what's considered "commercial" under Canadian copyright, it's not necessarily cut and dry. For example, I use a tool called Compfight.com to search for photos on flickr licensed under Creative Commons. I'm careful to search under "commercial" conditions because money still changes hands when it comes to fundraising initiatives. When I asked Martha about this, she explained to the audience how we need to "unpack what we mean by commercial."

Upacking Canada's copyright system and all the things we don't understand about it is a huge challenge. To complicate things, the US system is very different from Canada's copyright laws which makes things particularly interesting when you consider the domains and content we share on a day-to-day basis. That's why Artists' Legal Outreach is so valuable to Canadians trying to navigate their own copyright system. Martha and her team work to break down the rules legislation by piece of legislation.

As an individual or organization who uses content from the web, the best thing you can do for yourself is knowledge-up on Creative Commons, use your common sense and always take care to attribute the work you use. And maybe stay away from posting night shots of the Eiffel Tower.

*See Martha's note, below.

This photo is by flickr user Darren Barefoot and it's licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license or CC BY-NC 2.0. Of course, you can see for yourself.