Are Creative Commons licenses enforceable?

CC licenses come from Creative Commons, a non-profit organization. (Image courtesy Creative Commons)
CC licenses come from Creative Commons, a non-profit organization. (Image courtesy Creative Commons)

With the widespread use of the Internet, it’s never been easier to exchange information and share art, music and a host of ideas online. For those that want to protect their ideas, there are copyrights. For those who want to offer up their content to the public for use, there are Creative Commons licenses that grant certain terms and protections.

But, what are Creative Commons (CC) licences and are they enforceable?

CC licenses come from Creative Commons, an international non-profit organization that holds ground globally since they have affiliates worldwide. So, there’s no need to worry if the CC licence won’t be applicable in your country. The system operates as a self-serving entity, where people are able to access tools and can add a CC license to an existing copyright. It’s a source for all things CC, minus the legal advice.

The rights granted under licenses range from full public use (public domain), a selection of uses with acceptable uses of the material (some rights reserved) and for the creator to maintain all rights (all rights reserved).

Under CC, there are six specific licences: Attribution, Attribution-ShareAlike, Attribution-NoDerivs, Attribution-NonCommercial, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike and Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. Materials that are licensed under CC are indicated with a “CC” symbol and the type of license the material holds posted on the web page.

These licenses could be applied to a myriad of things like photography, royalty-free music and more. It’s also free to use.

Depending on what the license says, this dictates the way users are authorized to utilize the given content, and yes, those guidelines are enforceable by a court of law in Canada and internationally.

Examples of CC licenses being used in court decisions range from a variety of countries, including Israel, the United States, Germany and Spain.

However, CC licenses contain something called a severability clause, which allows the court, depending on the jurisdiction, to render parts of the agreement unenforceable but enforce the remaining requirements covered by the license.

Rather than breaking the rules, if a person wants to use the CC-licensed content, the Creative Commons website recommends that they ask the rights holder for permission. If permission isn’t requested to use the content in a way that violates the licence and it’s used in the violated method, the person taking the content could be liable for copyright infringement.

So when it comes to copyrights and CC licenses, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and be sure to follow and respect the permissions of the content.
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