How to Effectively Transfer or License Your Work

Below are three models or approaches to transferring or licensing your work that are relatively straightforward and therefore can be accomplished without the assistance of a lawyer. One caveat is that the first approach, the "all rights reserved" model, could be used in conjunction with sophisticated transfer/licensing transactions on a case-by-case basis, in which case the assistance of a lawyer would be more indispensable.

"All Rights Reserved" Model

You might decide that, although you want to display your work online and/or distribute it to your users, you do not want to grant to those users any rights beyond those necessary for their personal consumption of your work. In that case, you could adopt the "all rights reserved" model. This approach is not really a transfer or a license -- rather it is an effort to limit the scope of the implied license you give to your users when you post and/or distribute your work.

All you need to do is affix the standard copyright notice to each page of your website (and/or to any other materials you distribute) and add a short statement indicating that you intend to reserve all your rights. For instance, you may affix to each page of your website the following statement: "Copyright © [Year], [your name or name of applicable entity], all rights reserved." If you are distributing a podcast, you might want to include a short statement at the beginning of the podcast indicating that you "reserve all rights" in it. As a general matter, you may want to alter the rights reservation statement on your site to indicate that you are reserving rights only in the content specifically created by you.

Displaying an "all rights reserved" notice will not prevent fair use of your work.

Note: the concept of an "all rights reserved" model is adapted from the Podcasting Legal Guide © 2006 Colette Vogele of Vogele & Associates, Mia Garlick of Creative Commons and the Berkman Center Clinical Program in Cyberlaw. This Guide was produced as part of the Non-Residential Fellowship Program of the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School.

Using a Creative Commons License

Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to allow some reuse and redistribution of your work by others without giving up all control. They are licenses that you grant to the public at large at no cost, and they specify to what uses the public may put your work. There are six main types of Creative Commons licenses to choose from, and they vary based on several factors, such as whether the licensee (the person to whom you give the license) can create derivative works (i.e., alter, remix, or build upon your work) and whether commercial redistribution of the work or its derivatives is permissible. They all require attribution - that is, the licensee must credit you as the author in the way you designate.

Note: the most recent 3.0 versions of these licenses are not specific about the form of attribution. As a matter of best practices, you may want to require that the attribution include the name of your site and/or organization and a link back to your site.

The process of choosing the license that fits your needs is automated on the CC website. Once you choose a CC license, applying it to your online work is simple. According to the CC FAQ:

Once you have selected your license, and if you are applying it to an online work, follow the instructions to include the html code in your work. This code will automatically generate the "Some Rights Reserved" button and a statement that your work is licensed under a Creative Commons license, or a "No Rights Reserved" button if you choose to dedicate your work to the public domain. The button is designed to act as a notice to people who come in contact with your work that your work is licensed under the applicable Creative Commons license. The html code will also be include the metadata that enables your work to found via Creative Commons-enabled search engines.

For an example of how this works, the Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP) has licensed the content of its website under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License, a notice about which is displayed at the bottom of every page of our website as a footer. It allows users to copy, distribute, and remix the CMLP's original content, so long as (1) it is attributed to the CMLP in the manner specified; (2) it is not used for a commercial purpose; and (3) adaptations are distributed under the same or similar license.

Before you apply a Creative Commons license to your website, you need to consider whether or not you are the copyright owner of the materials that appear on your website. You can only apply a CC license to materials that you have created or for which you have express permission of the copyright owner(s) to license under a CC license. If everything appearing on your website does not fit this criteria, you might consider applying a CC license to only some elements of your website, such as your text and photographic images, while not applying the license to other elements to which you may have a limited license, such as photographs taken by a colleague or ad-related material. In that case, it is critical that you identify which elements of your website are subject to a CC license and which parts are not. For a great page that discusses issues you need to think about before applying a CC license to your website or other copyrighted material, see CC's Things to Think About page.

One side benefit of using a CC license is that you can incorporate Creative Commons metadata into your website, allowing users to find your work through customized Creative Commons searches via Google or other search engines.

Licensing your work under a CC license does not preclude you from entering into a separate license agreement with someone else, for instance for using your work for commercial purposes. The details of such a license, including whether or not you could grant the licensee exclusive rights to distribute the work commercially, would depend upon what type of CC license you initially select. There are services such as Lisensa designed to work in tandem with CC licenses to display commercial license terms and automatically collect license fees. Lisensa, however, takes a 10% cut of all royalties and is also fairly limited in scope at the present time. You may want to consult a lawyer when dealing with the sometimes complicated intersection between CC licenses and commercial licenses.

For more detail on what constitutes a "commercial use" and a "non commercial use," please see CC's Discussion Draft Noncommercial Guidelines.

Dedicating Your Work to the Public Domain

You may wish to dedicate all of your rights of copyright ownership in a work to the public. The public domain model could also be described as a "no rights reserved" model. You can do this by simply be putting a dedication notice on the work with language like "This work to which I own copyright is hereby released into the public domain" or "Everything on this site to which I/we own copyright is hereby released into the public domain." Alternatively, you can use a Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication.

More Complicated Licensing Models

The two sections listed below are mostly of academic interest if you choose one of the three models mentioned above, but they may be of more assistance if you choose to pursue transfer or licensing deals on a case-by-case basis. They give details about the formal requirements for a valid transfer or licensing contract, as well as information about the circumstances under which a copyright owner is entitled to terminate a transfer or license. These summaries of the law necessarily reduce some of the complexities involved, and readers are advised to consult with a lawyer when presented with issues of formal validity, consideration, and termination/revocation.


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