Pharrell, Happy and a Creative Commons copyright license

May 20th 2014 was the ‘International Day of Happiness’, a fundraising effort led by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund and very publicly supported by Pharrell Williams.

By way of contribution, Williams shared his recording of ‘Happy’ under the Creative Commons licensing model and encouraged fans to make a synced video to accompany the track. This appears to have been very successful for both Williams and CERF, with thousands of sync videos being created, all of which contributed to the impact of the 24hoursofhappy mashup. Williams message to fans included encouragement for those making and enjoying the videos to make a donation to the fund – a request that no doubt travelled further thanks to Williams involvement than would have been the case had the UN decided to promote a similar event without his support, perhaps licensing their own version of the piece.

Releasing a popular piece under an open licensing agreement highlights a number of interesting copyright scenarios, and also sets a new agenda for artists in making better use of the Creative Commons licensing model to encourage legal use of original materials. Williams might be the first of many to begin contributing to the Wikimedia Commons collection of freely re-usable materials.

Williams’ Version Versus Others

Where audio is concerned, the artist, publisher and label all have a copyright interest in the piece. Each of the parties with a copyright interest must grant their permission for the use of the piece. So in the case of Williams’ version of Happy, we can assume that the record label and publisher must also have agreed to the new licensing. Their permission only applies to one recording – the version from the Wikmedia site. The same license does not apply to the one you get from iTunes, Google Play or some other media store. Because these originate from a different source and are sold under different licensing terms, the license does not apply.

What Williams’ Creative Commons License Permits You To Do

Williams chose the Attribution Share Alike license (also referred to as CC BY-SA). He chose this license with a specific objective: to encourage and legally enable the production of essentially the same audio output with a new visual companion – an synced video, for which suitable licensing is normally permitted. This was reinforced to fans with his own suggestions for how to use the media.

The CC BY-SA Creative Commons License allows for the following:

  • you can remix
  • you can share your remix

In copyright terms, remixing is essentially building a derivative work from an original piece. Remixing might take many forms, but since Williams’ chose to release just the audio limited results can be expected, most of which will conform to the idea of a fan-made video using the audio track in its original form. However, with the opportunity to remix Williams’ has also granted permission for anyone wishing to create a new version of the recording the opportunity to do so – sampling, adjusting, re-sequencing are all permitted meaning that the result could be very different from the original piece. Remember that the remix permission only extends to the piece that has been shared under the license and would not be permitted for any other recording of the same piece (a live performance, for example).

What Williams’ Creative Commons License Requires Of You

In the context of the CERF appeal, most will not realise that the license that Williams chose does have some requirements. All Creative Commons licenses have very clear and specific terms of use and complying with them is part of the key to the CC model success. In this case, the CC BY-SA license requires this:

  • you must attribute the owner via the license
  • you must share your own media under the same license

Any CC license, just like any other copyright permission, requires attribution and each CC license will confirm the form that such an attribution must take. Even of the materials were in the public domain where licensing and attribution is not required, it still represents good practice to acknowledge the creator.

The final license point is significant – in sharing an original piece through a CC license, you are granting permission for another to remix and share again. The expectation of the CC licensing model is that the sentiment in which the original is shared is also replicated by anyone who reworks the piece. Perhaps not a concern for most, but worth keeping in mind that your media may be transformed or remixed under this license in a manner than you might not either anticipate or agree with.

UPDATE: Since posting this article, the file I linked to has been removed from WikiMedia for a copyright violation. It  would appear that the original share was not made by Pharrell or the producer / composer / owner.  Whilst Pharrell has previously indicated that he would encourage individuals to participate in a charitable activity in order to support a good cause, so far as I can tell, there is no clear permission granted to anyone else to use the piece for anything other than the cause first indicated (that of the CERF appeal). Considering using the piece for your own production? Proceed with caution.

Six more myths about copyright in education

I’ve written about copyright myths before. Since then, several more have come to my attention. These are six more popular misconceptions about copyright in education.

Copyright applies no less to education than any other sector, but content users are often confused about what conditions of copyright do (or do not) apply to educational use.

1. Creating a derived work from the text of others is okay

This is plagiarism. Whilst not directly in the ‘copyright’ conversation, it is closely created. The resulting derived piece will almost certainly show evidence that the source has in fact originated elsewhere. Instead of reworking, this is best approached by applying your own understanding or interpretation of the original piece (or pieces) with the result being a uniquely individual result – an expression of your own view or interpretation of facts. If you must use original content from another authors’ work, clearly quote and cite the source.

2. Modifying a piece n times will result in it being sufficiently different that copyright no longer applies

Copyright still applies. The number of times you modify a piece does not impact the likelihood of infringement. In the case of artistic works, copyright infringement is likely to be decided based upon the modified element(s) and whether these form a significant component in the finished piece. If the original elements maintain a recognisable original form, and also are significant in establishing the message in the new work, then a copyright infringement is likely. If however the original elements are not significant or even not immediately recognisable, then the likelihood of infringement is reduced. Best advice: obtain permission anyway.

3. Exam papers are circulated so widely among staff that copyright clearly doesn’t apply

Exam boards typically have their own guidelines about reproduction of their past papers. These vary from one board to another. Some will allow for exact reproduction only. Others will ask that reproduction is by specific methods only (for example, printed from an original, but not duplicated with reprographic devices like a photocopier). Constraints regarding the location of use may mean that you cannot upload a copy to your VLE, since access to papers is then possible away from campus. Bottom line: check with the board rather than making an assumption.

4. I get lots of useful resources from an online community and nobody ever mentions copyright

Before sharing any content in an online community, you may wish to check your own copyright entitlement. Are you waiving your entitlement or transferring your rights by uploading? There should be clear terms and conditions to explain this. Before downloading and using content, you should also check whether the owner has specifically indicated that you may use the content without requesting any further permission. The chances are that in a community of individuals with shared interests each of those sharing the content will be pleased for others to use it. However, you may wish to check this first and avoid making assumptions that might be incorrect.

5. Using big brand names in my teaching resources is okay because large companies aren’t interested in small infringements

Big brands are no different from a small business just around the corner – their logo (and any associated trademark) is their intellectual property. You must acquire permission before using it. In many cases, you might find that there are exceptions to using their logo or trademark in an educational context – but you still need to demonstrate that this is the case with a suitable reference to permission. Its unlikely that multinational companies will be concerned about your use of their logo in an educational context, but you must also consider whether the use of that logo might transcend the original context and end up somewhere else resulting in negative brand impact. Consider how the Tango fizzy drink brand was negatively impacted by the playground ‘slapping’ craze. While not a copyright issue, the drinks company subsequently had to reverse the negative impact the craze had on their image.

6. My assumptions about copyright must be correct because they are shared by others

Making assumptions about copyright is inherently risky. Don’t make assumptions, but instead keep these key points in mind:

  • Always be mindful of and identify the copyright owner, whatever media you might be intending to use.
  • Always be aware of the licensing entitlements of your organisation, which might enable you to use certain pieces without needing express permission to do so.
  • Find out who has responsibility for copyright compliance in your organisation and ask them for guidance – they will have lots of good advice for you.
  • Always clearly acknowledge the copyright owner and the permission you have acquired or your licensed entitlement to use their materials.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy reading the it’s predecessor, ‘Six Myths About Copyright In Education‘.

Disclaimer: I’m not a copyright professional, but have gathered the information here form a variety of different sources, each of which offers an independent view of copyright. If you really don’t want to fall foul of copyright law, make full use of professional resources and always, always seek permission for anything you wish to use. Naturally, I will be happy to receive corrections from copyright professionals who may wish to offer corrections to the above.

Six myths about copyright in education

Copyright applies no less to education than any other sector, but content users are often confused about what conditions of copyright do (or do not) apply to educational use. These are six popular misconceptions about copyright in education.

1. I’ve attributed the work, so that makes it okay, right?

Wrong. Attribution is generally required in addition to having permission to use the copyrighted material. If you don’t already have permission to use the media, then attribution is meaningless.

The exception here is when attribution is included with a license under which you are using the work – Creative Commons, for example, or referencing your licensee such as Shutterstock. If these cases, permission is not directly sought, but granted under the terms of a license – which must also be quoted in your attribution. In the UK, copyright license for educational use is often granted by the Copyright Licensing Agency for many works. If you are a teacher in the UK, you can use the Schools Copyright online tool to help you decide whether the CLA license covers you for this. Just make sure your organisation is covered by the CLA license.

2. I’ve found a great image using a search engine – can I just copy and paste?

No. By default, images you find on the web are already presented with copyright terms attached – whether you immediately see them or not. In other words, someone else created them and retains the copyright as the owner, even if no copyright symbol or statement is attached.

Any image you find online should always be presented with a suitable attribution statement, including permission or terms under which the content is used. In order for you to use the image, you must obtain the same copyright permission as any other work.

Some search engines offer tools that will help you find images that have specific license characteristics. For example, you could search for images that include permission to rework and reuse – remembering that if you choose to use one of these images, you still need to provide correct reference to the license and usage terms!

3. I’ve found a work that someone has already modified, so it must be okay for me to use, or modify!

No. Reworked pieces are still subject to copyright terms. You cannot reuse or rework them without prior agreement from the copyright owner of the original piece. Reusing or further reworking a piece leaves you liable to the same copyright infringement as the previous user. If no permission has been sought and granted, you will both be compromising the terms under which the work was originally published.

4. I found a work that is covered by the Creative Commons license, so I can do what I please with it!

Not quite. You need to check the type of license that has been granted for the work in question.

Creative Commons licenses offer different levels of entitlement for re-use, ranging from simply being able to re-use to full entitlement to rework the piece as long as you are credited for the original.

5. I created an awesome study resource – that makes me the copyright owner!

Not always. In many cases, a piece created whilst working for your employer and for the benefit of the business, copyright ownership is inherited by your employer. The Intellectual Property Office writes:

Where a written, theatrical, musical or artistic work, or a film, is made by an employee in the course of his employment, his employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work (subject to any agreement to the contrary).

6. I’m an educator – copyright doesn’t apply in education

The biggest and most dangerous myth of all. Education is no different from any other sector and copyright terms still apply.

Concessions are often (but not always) made for many works to be used in an educational context – by which I mean that the work is being used to support the learning activities of students in progression toward their qualification or for research. The IPO explains that duplication of a work is not permitted unless through the hand of the teacher or student where suitable license is held.

Education has two distinct areas of business – delivering the curriculum and running the business. Curriculum delivery falls right within the boundaries of concessions offered to educators, but business elements do not. Staff performing business functions in education must adhere to the same terms as any other sector when using copyrighted works.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy reading the follow-up ‘Six More Myths About Copyright In Education‘.

Disclaimer: I’m not a copyright professional, but have gathered the information here form a variety of different sources, each of which offers an independent view of copyright. If you really don’t want to fall foul of copyright law, make full use of professional resources and always, always seek permission for anything you wish to use. Naturally, I will be happy to receive corrections from copyright professionals who may wish to offer corrections to the above.