Tips on Using Footage with a Creative Commons Copyright

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Copyright law is one of the most challenging aspects of video film production for anybody involved. What you can and cannot use without notice and approval can be confusing for even the most experienced producer and violating the ownership law is something that can happen simply by mistake. It is important to understand what type of copyright a piece of footage has and what restrictions it entails. One of the more common types of copyright people use is the Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons

The license itself was developed by a non-profit organization of the same name with the goal of further expanding the amount of creative works available to artists. What the license does is allow artists to grant some or all of their rights to open uses, and the amount is indicated on the type of Creative Commons license the work holds. Each license is constructed by listing a series of restrictions that the author would like to hold. This is done by deciding whether they want the footage to have proper attribution, whether it can only be used for Noncommercial purposes, whether derivative works can be allowed or not, and whether is can be distributed or “shared alike.” For example, if someone wants to make sure that their footage will be attributed to them and will not be used for commercial purposes then they would label it an Attribution-Noncommercial license. This can be confusing and each combination has its own set of specific rules.

One of the more common Creative Commons combinations is the “Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works” license. What this license indicates is that you are free to share, distribute, and transmit the work, but only as long as a series of guidelines are met. First, you must attribute the work to the author in a way that does not indicate that they endorse the work you have created. The best way to do this is to either put a credit on the footage in the film when you use it, or prominently in the credits. Second, you cannot use it for any type of commercial distribution purposes. This means that you cannot simply employ it into a film that you intend on selling later on. If this is your intent you must contact the owner of the copyright and get written approval from them. Lastly, you cannot alter their work in any way. This does not mean that you cannot use a segment from it, but it does indicate that you cannot legally remix the footage to create something else entirely. All clips used must be strait from the footage and not altered. There is a less restrictive version of this license that some artists choose to use which is the “Attribution-No Derivative Works” license, which has the same restrictions for this license but does not necessarily restrict you from using it for commercial purposes.

Another very prominent Creative Commons combination that video authors use to share their work is the “Attribution-Share Alike” license. With this you have the same freedoms and restrictions as the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Work license except you are free to remix the footage in any way you see fit. You still must attribute to source of the footage, and if you distribute the work you derived from remixing that piece you must do so under Attribution-Share Alike license as well.

There are two newer types of licenses that have been recently developed that do not fit into this “combination” model of other Creative Commons licenses. The first is the sampling license, which is sub-divided into the “Sampling Plus” license and the “Noncommercial Sampling Plus” license. The Sampling Plus license states that parts of the work can be copied or changed for non-advertising purposes and the entire work can be copied as long as its not being done so as part of a commercial enterprise. The Noncommercial Sampling Plus license allows the same restrictions, except the entire work can be altered or copied for noncommercial purposes.

The second new Creative Commons license is not one that home digital video producers will come into contact with often, and is called the “Developing Nations” license. This gives less copyright restrictions to work produced by countries that the World Bank determines to be “no-income countries.”

Always Be Aware

If you do not pay attention to the copyright restrictions on footage you are going to be using then you can find yourself in hot criminal and civil waters. It is important to get all your footage from locations that declare the exact nature of the copyright held on the footage and who owns it. Even though knowledge of the type of copyright will help you make choices on what to use and how to use it, it is often best to contact the copyright holder anyway just to be safe, and get something from them in writing. Knowledge of these types of licenses is also important to protect you as you begin to distribute your own film projects.

This post is part of the series: Rights and Protection

Here are articles about rights and protection, such as WGA registration and copyright, around your video, film, and screenwriting projects.

  1. How to Work With the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Registry
  2. What is Copyleft?
  3. What are Synchronization Rights?
  4. Using Public Domain Stock Footage
  5. Using Footage With a Creative Commons Copyright