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Content marketers guide to Creative Commons and copyright


Whether you are on the creative or publishing side of the content marketing community, a service called Creative Commons can help you reach your goals of getting more exposure or finding better images to promote your work.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that developed a structure to allow creators to share their work, while pre-authorizing the type of use you will allow. 

The organization is founded on the sharing community concept. Great work is meant to be shared, and Creative Commons has the tools to help you do it.

Creative Commons solves a problem for publishers as well. If you start a content marketing campaign, you quickly realize that finding good illustrations can be a challenge. You don't want to right click images from a Google search. Inadvertently publishing copyrighted material can be a costly mistake.

Creative Commons provides thousands of images, all cleared for use, without worrying about legal issues.

How it works for creatives

A writer or photographer who wants to get her work seen by more people could consider making it available under a number of CC alternatives. This strategy will pre-authorize anyone to use your work on their platforms, giving you more exposure. Just think about your creations being seen on popular blogs that link back to you. This can be an effective strategy to get more traffic.


Creative Commons uses four elements to construct a license:

  • Attribution - Every license has this component. If you use the work, you have to give credit. 
  • Commercial use - Can you use the work to make money? Decide if you want images only used on editorial or educational outlets like blogs or schools, or if you don't mind someone selling your images on T-shirts, for instance.
  • Derivatives - Can someone remix the work? Your images might inspire a designer to create something totally different. Are you okay with that?
  • Share alike - If someone creates a derivative, do you want them to use the same sharing licenses you did? You can instruct derivatives to be shared freely, if that's how you prefer your work to be used.

These four elements can be combined to create six licensing alternatives. It might seem like that can easily get confusing, but Creative Commons has a cool Help Me Choose function on their website that walks you through the key questions and produces the right option. It even gives you the HTML to embed into your site.

How publishers can use Creative Commons

Let's say you are planning your ebook, which will require lots of illustrations. Stock photography could get expensive, and we all know a Google search is a risky alternative.

Search for images that meet your criteria and are available under Creative Commons. Flickr is one of the largest databases of images that allows you to filter by different types of CC licenses. For a wider search, try the Creative Commons search platform here

If you are using an image from Flickr or elsewhere, it is best to download the file and change the filename to one that includes your keyword. Upload the file to your site, and link back to the author's site. This gives the author the appropriate credit and traffic, but lets you get some SEO benefit from the new name.

What about the scofflaws?

Unfortunately, there are evildoers who might use your images without giving you appropriate credit -- or worse yet, would take credit for your work. What will you do then?

As a creative, you should know that your work is protected the moment you create it. You don't need to do anything for it to be covered by copyright. If you want to be able to collect damages, you will need to register each creation with the U.S. Copyright office. Registering costs only $35, but you will have the confidence that you can be compensated for any unauthorized use.

How will you know if someone uses it? If your work is a digital image, there are companies that will provide a signature embedded into the file. These services scour the internet to find any uses of the file. When you get a hit, you can check to see that the work is being used as you outlined.

You will have to decide if it is worth the time and expense to go looking for misuse of your images. For a photographer who derives income from selling images, it might be worth it.

I wouldn't get too paranoid. Most people will use Creative Commons images the way they were intended. The system was built on the principles of sharing and community, after all. 

Whether your goals are sharing your images with a wider audience or finding better illustrations, the community should have options to help you find success.

Lynford MortonComment