More thoughts on copyright

I got in a discussion behind the walled garden of Facebook about hymns, copyright and what we (as ministers and content providers) and I’ve brought some of my comments here. In particular, what do we do with hymn texts we think are in the public domain, and thus subject to republication, reuse or adaptation. But the text may seem a little one-sided…

It’s easier to show something is in copyright, than prove that it’s not. The before-1923 date is true, but there are works up to 1977 (when the law changed) that may be in the public domain. And that doesn’t got into the issue of licenture, including permissive licenses; see Creative Commons. It’s a tricky business. A fun place to start:

Another thing to keep in mind: liturgical elements that ministers write. Each of us have created copyrighted content. You don’t need to register an item to have copyright anymore. We can give permission each time (a pain), watch our works get cribbed without permission (annoying) or have it left untouched by the skiddish (a waste).

We can be good model of stewardship by providing our own “some rights reserved” licensing, using a Creative Commons model license. I’ve written about it, and license some works, but the Open Siddur people make a strong, maximalist case for licensing creative works, so they get the link.

Creative Commons-licensed Unitarian Universalist sites and resources

Following up on the Creative Commons theme. Here are some congregational websites and like resources that are covered in full or part by a Creative Commons licence. The headers to each section go to a human readable version of the license, presented here starting with the most permissive. (Check the version of the individual licenses made on each site; they have evolved.)




What else here has a Creative Commons license?

So, again on Facebook, a discussion about Creative Commons licensing and the problem (both real and imagined) of using another person’s copyrighted work without permission. As I’ve written before, this unauthorized, unlicensed use has a special place in our history (The 1811 “pirate edition” of the Treatise on Atonement), and that our forebears made a similar, liberal license provision almost 80 years ago.

I’ve moved to licensing particular posts and resources to highlight that they are available under that license. Let’s be clear: a lack of a Creative Commons license doesn’t affect your fair use. (Indeed, my “flaming nectarine” is, I contend, fair use parody. I do have a plan when I write.) Or I could make a particular (just to you!) license for the work. Or I could take a request to license something.

But it does mean everything else isn’t objectively and permissively licensed. This is the kind of ambiguity kills innovation and the measure of use the creator often intends. But one licence doesn’t fit all situations.

One example. The CC-BY-ND-NC is the most restrictive “liberal” license; that is attribution, no derivitive works and no commercial use. It is, in essence, “pass around and post” permission. Not ideal, but the de facto standard for most preachers, with the understanding that a CC-BY-ND-NC sermon could be repreached as-is and without pay. (It’s the lack of attribution that I hear caeses grief.) But it couldn’t be translated, the preaching couldn’t be made into a recording or (to stretch the point) not be made into a screenplay under that license.

A make-it-your-own guide, say for an RE program or HR manual, is a derivative work, so the no-derivitives plank wouldn’t make sense. A non-commercial provision would make publishers shy away. And so forth.

It’s interesting. Reviewing by use statistics, the two posts that get regular, evergreen attention are for an image of a seven-pointed star to be use as a non-cross emblem for Christians, and a Sunday-only calendar for worship planning. (I’ll go back and add a public domain declaration, not available then.)

And, oh, I drew up a public-domain flaming chalice image for anyone to use a few years ago. High time to get those licenses set.

I also licensed my deck from my presentation at the UU Christian Fellowship Revival a couple of years ago.

But every once in a while, in UU circles, I run into an ad-hoc semi-permissive license. The intent is good, but confusing and ambiguous.

The rights around the new UUA logo is a case in point, and its ambiguity and tentativeness wouldn’t fill me with confidence if I was in a congregation and was about to commit to a design re-do. Can you remix the logo for congregational (not the UUA proper) use? Or the background wallpaper-like image? What about applying the color scheme or wordmark into an existing congregational design?

The advice — “Congregations are welcome to download and use the new symbol for their own outreach purposes” — doesn’t really help in these cases.

Easier to find images for reuse

The BoingBoing-noted launch of a Google image search feature makes finding images sorted by Create Commons license much easier.

Take, for example this search for images labled unitarian or universalist that are available for reuse and modification, but not in commercial applications.

Useful, too: found this nineteenth-century picture of old First Universalist, Minneapolis, which looks like the spitting image of (still) First Universalist, Providence. Who knew? Makes me wonder if there was a relationship or influence, like through its ministers or through Tufts. (One of Tufts’s presidents of the period was a former minister at Providence.)

NYT: Lessig on orphan works copyright

Stanford Law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig had an opinion piece in the New York Times today worth reading, even if copyright issues aren’t your first concern. (“Little Orphan Artworks“)

The problem is that there quite a few mature works that are not old enough to be in the public domain but where the intellectual ownership is unknown. But there’s no registration and the proposed federal standard — to make a “diligent effort” to find the owner — is, in Lessig’s opinion, too much of a burden for those who might make use of a work that would other be lost to society. He proposes, within limits, a simplified, inexpensive and competitive registration system. I agree.

This matters for people in church life because so much of our soft culture — including songs, meditations, graphic images, recordings, sermons, liturgical elements, printed articles and the like — is of unknown or apocryphal origin. Can it, ought it be used? Or do we just turn a blind eye? An orderly system of rights maintenance makes for good boundaries and better practice.

UUMA letter: creative crisis control?

I’ve got little to add to the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association decision to move their before-General-Assembly meetings to a location outside the port security area, and thus avoiding the brouhaha around an ID check for General Assembly proper. The UUMA decision seems right, the tone of the letter is appropriate and avoids it the lugubrious excesses the loudest voices have made.

The form of the letter itself interests me. Daniel O’Connell reprints it in full — so I shan’t — along with the license at the end, which is:

Please feel free to distribute this letter as you see fit; we only ask that you distribute it in its entirety.

This is, in spirit, a liberal license, not unlike the Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works license. That formal license might be worth considering if you have a similar message or document or resource you want to get out unaltered. (But, despite the request, I think excerpting would be fair game, under fair use.)

The original letter, in context.