In the everything’s-free, share-and-share-alike culture of the Web, it often comes as a surprise and a disappointment to students that celebrity photos on news organizations’ websites are valuable copyright-protected property.
Students want to talk and write about Rihanna and Li’l Wayne and (for some unearthly reason) Kim Kardashian, and they need illustrations to accompany their stories. Where to turn?
Well, while it still is normally the safest and most polite route to seek reprint permission from the owner of the photo — or to come up with your own illustration as a work-around — a nonprofit student media organization has another alternative: Photos shared with the public under a Creative Commons license.
Wired Magazine, the geek-out journal of all things at the intersection of entertainment and technology, has just announced it’s making the photo resources of Wired.com available for reuse under a CC license — starting with this gallery of images that includes Steve Jobs, Olivia Wilde and Jake Gyllenhaal.
When a photo or cartoon or video or song is licensed with the CC logo, that means the owner has agreed to allow limited republication of the work without the need to ask permission or pay royalties. It’s a voluntary alternative to copyright protection that is meant to promote wider sharing.
CC licenses come in several forms, and it’s important to read the fine print to make sure you are not exceeding the scope of the owner’s consent. But as a general rule of thumb, CC-licensed works are free to use — with proper attribution to the creator — in the news, feature or editorial pages of a not-for-profit publication such as a college or high school newspaper. Remember that ads have their own right-of-publicity rules — Wired’s photo of Seth Rogen is fine to use in a celebrity lookalikes feature, but not to use in an advertisement for Pineapple Express Pizza without the celebrity’s written release.
Some CC licenses also specify that the work is to be used without “adaptation” — meaning it’s fine to re-size a photo but don’t otherwise alter its content or composition. Others permit adaptation freely. Again, read the fine print on each photo’s license. (An example of CC license wording is here; the organization has done its best to strip the terms down to a readable few.)
So keep checking the Wired.com photostream on the Flickr photo-sharing site here — and look for the Creative Commons insignia on sites like Flickr to keep your publication on the safe side of the copyright cops.