Scott Carpenter

On Verifying the Commons

Fred Benenson, October 27th, 2008

One of the most substantial challenges when working with digital media is the effort required in preserving it and documenting its existence. Hard drives fail, DVDs crack, and servers are taken down. Anticipating and mitigating these inevitable failures has helped cement a culture of redundancy in our private information technology infrastructure, but what of the commons? Projects and features like Archive.org’s Way Back Machine, Google’s Cache, and Wikipedia’s history, all provide glimpses of what once was on the Internet, but what happens when you need to verify that a work was released under Creative Commons?

In this vain, Scott Carpenter ruminates on the issues invoked when a popular Flickr photographer switches his work back from attribution to All Rights Reserved:

I had saved a handful of his photos to my hard drive, and checking another one, it also had been “taken back.” I left a comment on the one photo, pointing out this change in licensing. Terry’s work receives lots of comments on Flickr and this picture was posted almost a year and a half ago, so I didn’t expect much in the way of a response, but he sent me an email thanking me for my comment and saying, “Yes I had to change the rights as I started finding my photography being used without my permission for advertising and other professional media.”

As you may or may not know, CC licenses are irrevocable, but this doesn’t mean creators can’t cease offering a work under the license. When a licensor changes the license of a work (whether it is Creative Commons or otherwise) it simply means that whomever comes across the work in the future will be bound by the new terms and not the older ones. It does not mean, however, that the older licenses are invalidated. For more information about this read our FAQ.

As for the question of verifying whether a work was ever released under a CC license, the innovative ImageStamper.com can provide this exact service for flickr photos. We used ImageStamper to time stamp all 157 photos used in Jesse Dylan’s ‘A Shared Culture‘ so that we would have proof, going forward, that a particular work was released under a given license. WebCitation.org‘s archive feature provides essentially the same functionality for any given webpage and also provides a permanent URL for the snapshot.

Ultimately, this is the exact question we were interested in answering by creating the Creative Commons Network. Instead of providing proof of others choice to use a CC license, you can use the Creative Commons Network to show the world that both Creative Commons and you have verified that you’ve released a work under CC.

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CC Licensed Image on Rapid City/Gillete Phone Book

Cameron Parkins, September 10th, 2008

Sylvan Sunset | Scott Carpenter CC BY

It certainly isn’t the most publicized use of CC licences we have seen, but Scott Carpenter’s “Slyvan Sunsetappearing on the cover of the 2008/2009 Rapid City/Gillete Phone Book has us ecstatic nonetheless. While big names help gain wider exposure for CC, it is important to remember that these are tools meant for everyone, of which Carpenter’s photo re-use is an excellent example. From MTF.org:

Last September I received an email from someone at Yellowbook, saying that they were interested in using my picture for the cover of the Rapid City phone book […] I said that they were already free and welcome to use it under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license with which it was published, but that I’d be willing to relicense it as Attribution only, which I did, and also signed a form giving them permission to use it. I often wondered if I should have held out for money also, but seeing the small role of the picture, it’s just as well I didn’t. Something tells me they wouldn’t have paid much for that, if anything, and I’m simply pleased to get some exposure and have an artifact of free culture–the CC license–appear right there on the cover of an old media phone book.

Carpenter’s experience highlights many of the things we love to see – licences increasing content visibility, the ability for a creator to reach a separate agreement outside their original CC license, and proper and thorough attribution (even if we have to agree with Carpenter that a graphic designer might “balk at this kind of verbiage […] with the picture being such a minor part of the page”). Kudos to Carpenter and the countless others who use CC for everyday reasons and, every so often, experience surprising results.

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