Creative Commons Licenses: Potential Uses in Public Safety & Government

Oct 24, 2016Social Media, Technology

In honor of Open Access Week 2016 (#OAWeek), we wanted to take some time to discuss the various types of Creative Commons licenses and their potential uses in public safety, government, and other applications.

If you’re not familiar with Creative Commons, you should be.

Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-understand copyright licenses with the goal of improving accessibility and innovation in the Internet age; it’s a “standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work – on conditions of your choice.” CC applies to a variety of different categories: arts/culture, legal, open science, education, policy/advocacy, open data, and (our favorite) technology.

Before we dive into the uses of CC images, documents, and other works, we have to discuss copyright and provide a disclaimer: almost everything on the Internet is covered under some sort of copyright law – including (but not limited to) social media postings, images, audio files, documents, etc.. While you may, inherently, know this, it’s become extremely easy to violate copyright laws on social media, websites, and other sources – sometimes without even realizing it. Violating copyright and/or “borrowing” images to use in social media posts, blogs, websites, press releases, and other materials is stealing and can often have financial or legal consequences. That’s why it is critical to understand where your images and other digital assets are coming from, and what license they are covered under. Just because you represent a government organization and/or use the works for not-for-profit functions, doesn’t mean you can violate these laws!


Check out our list of Stock Photo websites which are free for commercial use

When in doubt, assume it’s copyrighted material (unless the source/author explicitly states otherwise). Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to CC and why it’s important:

  • CC for creators:
    Creative Commons allows a creator to choose an appropriate license based on a variety of features. You choose whether you would like to allow adaptations of your work to be shared and whether your work can be used for commercial purposes; based on these choices, CC selects the appropriate license and gives the creator a badge/icon and HTML code to place into their website to notify would-be users/sharers how the work can be utilized.

This may seem like an extra, needless step when creating or posting things on your website, but helps sources such as Google, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia, Vimeo, and a variety of other sites to tag and organize images, audio, documents, etc. to allow for easy searching/sharing. Further, it discloses the exact way(s) users are permitted to use the work and provides plain-language descriptions of restrictions, attribution methods, and change management procedures.

  • CC for users:
    A user is any individual/organization that seeks to share/modify works created under a Creative Commons license (most readers of this blog will likely fall into this category). The beauty of CC is in having confidence that the works you share are legally acquired and available for re-use. When you find something covered under a CC license, you’ll see a tag that looks like this:   Creative Commons License
    This icon tells the user how the image or other work can be used. Further, if there are questions about the license, the user can navigate to that license’s page on CC for more information.

Some of our favorite SMEM (social media in emergency management) resources  are covered under Creative Commons licenses. For example, the popular VOST Workbook created for Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs) is covered under the “Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Sharealike 3.0 Unported License”. This means that anyone can make a copy of the workbook, but derivative works must provide attribution to the original author and cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Because the original VOST Workbook was created under this CC license, future versions of this document have been created and improvements made by other users/creators (such as this version by our friend, @sct_r).

So next time you need to find images or other resources, be sure to check Creative Commons and utilize the below searches to acquire the appropriate content:

Do you have a favorite CC resource that you’d like to share? Leave a comment and/or reach out to us on Twitter!

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