Grabbing Internet Resources is Easy, But Should They Be Used?
At Eye we produce documentation and software. In doing so we often use tools and materials that have been developed by others. Some of those tools and materials are free. Free stuff is great, it reduces your costs and the altruistic people who give it away do not want to be encumbered with chasing payments, they enjoy the creative process itself and want to share and show off their output. Their reward is the goodness that flows from people using and appreciating their creations, and maybe some publicity. Sharing is also infectious, we give back by publishing articles and resources on this website (and OK maybe get a little publicity).
There is so much available on the Internet and it is so easy to move digital resources around that a culture has emerged that assumes everything on the Internet is free, or should be free. Now that would be wonderful if true. However people and companies still need to pay their bills and thus some need rewarding for the time an effort they put into their creations, be it products, services, music, art, writings, film or software. They have the right to sell their work and not give it away. Everyone should respect those rights, it is fundamental to the way economies work, without payment for creations there would be no flow of money which would result in stagnant markets and poverty for many more than at the moment.
Copyright Allows Those Who Create to Earn Make a Living
It is easy enough to grab digital creations from the Internet, even creations that should be purchased are readily available for no payment if you know where to look. However, just because if can be done it does not mean it should be. If you walked into a book store and picked up a book, and walked out without paying you would be committing a crime. If you download an e-book that should be paid for without paying you are doing the same type of crime. This applies to many types of digital creations not just books, as soon as something original is created it becomes protected by law, the law of copyright, and applies to many types of media: books, music, films, television shows, videos, pictures, cartoons, audio recordings, software and writings (such as blogs) in general.
Copyright is easy enough to understand, when explained clearly. When you, or someone (person or organisation) creates an original piece of work (for example this article or our logo, Tek Eye the Blue One Eyed Robot) then you or they have the last say on what can be done with the creation. You, or they, have the right to control the production and sale of any copies (hence the term copyright), and the right to maintain ownership of the original. The creator of the work automatically becomes the “copyright holder” without needing to do anything at all (although in some countries the copyright can be formally registered to help protect the work). At the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) there is a comic that helps explain the benefits of copyright. The copyright lasts for the whole of the creators life plus 50 to 70 years (depending upon the country), or 25 to 120 years from the creation or public performance date for an organisations work (again depending upon the country).
Can I Use Something I Grabbed from the Internet?
If want to use something from the Internet you need to know if it is in copyright. It must be assumed that everything on the Internet is in copyright unless you know otherwise. Since by default it is copyright as soon as it is created, then by default you cannot use it, unless it is at least 150 years old. Why 150 years? Well most humans die in their eighties and 70 is a common enough maximum number of years after death that copyright applies. Once the copyright period expires the work becomes Public Domain and is free to use for any purpose.
Controlling Usage Through a License
Whilst everything is under copyright by default there are plenty of resources available that can be used, because people and organisations have given up their copyright on their creations. You can give up your copyright simply by publishing a statement to that effect with the work. Sometimes people want to ensure that the generosity they are showing by allowing the free use of their work is carried on in the future by the people using or modifying the work. If the work is placed into the Public Domain that cannot be done, future users could and do, take Public Domain works and sell them commercially. What is needed is a license, which can be applied to the work by the copyright holder. The license can allow use but with conditions attached, such as no right to sell it, as well as use it but give attribution to the author. In fact there are many types of license available, such as Open Source Licenses for software and Creative Commons Licenses for other works.
Is it Really Free?
If a work is in the Public Domain then yes it is truly free. You can do anything you want with it. Use it, change it, sell it. If it has a license attached that allows free use it may not be truly free (since you may not be able to change it or sell it), but that may not matter, since you might just want to pass on a few copies to friends or use it on a blog. Here at Eye we believe that life should be as simple as possible. In that sense if you do not care about what happens to the work you produce simply place it into the Public Domain so every one benefits. If you want to ensure that other people do not make money off your work attach a license that forbids it. If you do not want your work to be modified than attach a license that forbids it. Finally if you want to make money out of your work keep your copyright.
Some Sources of Really Free (Public Domain) and Free to Use Resources
Here at Eye we will endeavour to state where we get some of the freebies we use from and proved links to them. Most of the resources we use come from the following sites:
- Wikimedia Commons – Images, Sounds and Videos
- Open Clip Art Library – Public Domain Clip Art
- Flickr – Has a group with Public Domain Images
- Open Font Library – Free to use Fonts
- Open Game Art – Free to use Game Resources
- The Free Country – Lists Free to Download Software
Kudos to anyone that has given away something entirely free of restrictions.
The hammer and spanner image was from Open Clip Art Library user Andy.
The bag of money image was from Open Clip Art Library user johnny_automatic.
The copyright symbol is in the Public Domain, the image used here was based on Copyright.svg from Wikimedia Commons.
The Tek Eye One Eyed Robot image is copyright Eye Internet Limited 2012.