When a work, such as a video, is uploaded onto YouTube or a photograph uploaded onto Flickr, people often believe that because it is being made available on the internet, it is free for them to download, distribute or use. This is a common misconception and what many people don't realise, is that, more often than not, copyright vests in those particular works. Unless you have been authorised by the owner of the copyright (for example, in the form of a license), you cannot simply do what you want with the work.
It's vitally important to ensure that when you are using or downloading works from content sharing and knowledge-based platforms such as YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia, you have the authorisation or license to do so (or, in the alternative, to ensure that the work or content is not protected by copyright). One way to do this is to see if a Creative Commons license has been assigned to the work or content, before downloading or using the work.
There are just over a handful of different types of Creative Commons licenses. For example:
- An "Attribution ShareAlike CC BY-SA" license allows the public to use, make changes to and distribute a work for both commercial and non-commercial purposes, provided the original creator or copyright owner is credited and any new or derivative work created is licensed under identical terms. Wikipedia uses this type of Creative Commons licence.
- An "Attribution-NonCommercial CC BY-NC image" license allows the public to use, make changes to and distribute a work for non-commercial purposes, provided the original creator or copyright owner is credited, although any new or derivative work created doesn't need to be licensed under identical terms. The Brooklyn Museum uses this type of Creative Commons license on Flickr.
- An "Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND image" license only allows the public to download and share a work, provided the original creator or copyright owner is credited, the work is not altered in any way and the work is used for non-commercial purposes. TED Talks videos use this type of Creative Commons licence.
If you do not comply with the terms of the license, you will no longer have the right to use the work and will be open to a possible copyright infringement claim by the owner of the copyrighted work.
As a first step, if you are looking for particular content to use online, conduct a CC Search (using the following link: https://search.creativecommons.org/), check the Creative Commons directory (using the following link: https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Content_Directories) or use the search filters on content-sharing platforms. Always double-check search results to ensure that you haven't been misled regarding the type of licence (if any) applied to the work.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.