Why Archaeologists Should Use Creative Commons…for everything.*

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Photo of Jason Quinlan, early advocate of Creative Commons photography in archaeology. Photo by Scott Haddow.

Your powerpoint slides are probably okay, especially if you forbid anyone from taking photographs of your talk. The video of your excavations, that hilarious one that your intrepid students made that uses the popular song that you all sang while shoveling? Probably okay, as long as you never share it on YouTube. But to be able to publicize your efforts, and to share online with others, you must be cognizant of this great (and often unspoken) rule:

With great public archaeology, comes great responsibility…to copyright law.

“But I’m an educator! I’m not doing it for profit! I have only the very best of intentions!”

Sorry, folks. There are very strict laws about copyright in the US and the UK, even for the most angelic of researchers, teachers, and students. Did you know that in the UK you have to wait 70 years after the principal director, author of the screenplay, author of the dialogue, and composer of the music ALL DIE until you can use a movie without restrictions?** 70 freakin’ years. I know my artful multimedia museum display won’t wait that long. Are these laws sane, just, and better for innovation & society? No. But until the day that Lawrence Lessig rules the world, we are probably stuck with navigating copyright. Sure, you can fly the pirate flag, copy and distribute everything, but at least be aware you are doing it.

We could get into a horribly complex dissection of the disgusting entrails of copyright, but I’m going to assume that: 1) you don’t care about copyright law 2) BUT you’d like to keep your nose clean and 3) that you may actually care about contributing to the wider media discourse about archaeology. So let’s talk basic best practices.

1) USE – media with clear copyright. That photo that you scraped from the pdf? The photo posted online with no attribution? Not okay. Everything is under copyright, whether you see the © or not. The key is to use media that has been pre-cleared for use. This is Creative Commons (CC). For my projects, I try to use music, images, and fonts (yes, fonts!) that are available under Creative Commons.

There are a few varieties of CC licenses, and you can read about them in detail here, but I’ll quickly go over them:

88x31 Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) This means that you are free to use, share, remix, as long as you attribute the original work. My favorite license, as it asks (okay, tells) you to attribute my work, but please use it as you like.

88x31 (1) Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike (CC-BY-SA) This means that you have to attribute the work, and that you have to share the work under the same Creative Commons license. Many people (including myself in the past) thought that this was a good idea so as to spread the CC around, but ultimately it limits the ways that your work can be used. Screw it, just use (CC – BY).

88x31 (2) Creative Commons Attribution, No Derivatives (CC-BY-ND) This means that others can distribute the work but others can’t change it. This is a stupid license, don’t use it.

88x31 (3) Creative Commons Attribution, Non Commercial (CC-BY-NC) This means that you must attribute the work, but you can’t use it commercially. A lot of educators use this one, but I try to avoid it. What about the professional archaeologists among us? They need media too.

88x31 (4) Public Domain – Jackpot! This media has no known copyright restrictions. Most of the media labeled with this comes from our most worshipful friends, the enlightened librarians and archivists who have identified works that are in the public domain and then twisted the arm of their institution to digitize them and host them, for free. I love these people. With that in mind, it is kind to thank the institution. And buy your activist librarian/archivist friend a drink.

(added 30 July 2014)

CC0 No Rights Reserved (CC0) – As was rightly pointed out, I forgot CC0! Unlike the Public Domain license above, this is for folks who have made something recently and want to opt out of copyright protection altogether. It’s an amazing, gutsy license–I still like to keep my attribution attached. It’s probably one part wanting to respect intellectual lineage and one part ego-based.

2) CREATE – Once you know what the different licenses mean, you can start using CC media to create all your finest scholarly outreach. But where do I find such a thing?

We started a slightly shonky wiki that lists some of our favorite resources for free/CC media and tutorials, please feel free to add to it:
http://digital-makers-alliance.wikia.com/wiki/Digital_Makers_Alliance_Wiki

Better yet, Creative Commons hosts a handy search page for you to find images, music, and video here:
http://search.creativecommons.org/

You can also tweak your settings in Google Image Search to look for CC content.

I try to credit all of the photos actually in or near the photos, but if they’re in a movie, a list of credits at the end will suffice. I nearly fall out of my seat when I see an academic presentation that properly credits the authors of the media. It shows a commitment to authorship and multivocality as well as professionalism. Love your media makers. They make you.

3) SHARE – To me, using Creative Commons for sharing is at the very heart of public archaeology. You are explicitly sharing your academic or professional labor and giving permission to others to use it to build upon. Simple, but beautiful.

Flickr, Soundcloud, and Youtube all allow you to share your media under Creative Commons in a relatively easy fashion. The benefit to using “free” social media-based corporate hosting is that more people will see/use your content, and that it is better distributed to protect against catastrophic data loss. If you host it yourself, you can just put a CC license on the media webpage and share that way. Better yet, put the CC license in the object’s metadata and it will more likely stay intact. But don’t worry if that sounds too complicated.

Also, keywording your content makes it much easier for people to find and use. Happily, there is a pretty good guide on how to do this HERE. Sharing your excavation images online with good keywording can also save your bacon if you have massive data loss at 3AM on the way to your conference. whew.

Stu Eve and I talk briefly about some of the issues around Creative Commons and Open Access in our 2012 article HERE, but to be brief, archaeologists should use CC media by default, and adopt CC licensing whenever and wherever possible.

Do it because you want to stay within copyright laws. Do it because you want to show respect for fellow archaeologists and media makers. Do it because you want to make photos of archaeology available to everyone. Do it because you fear for the longevity of the archive. Do it because you had the worst time last week finding an example of a grave register to reuse in a short film. Do it because you hate stock photos of archaeologists with clean clothes and plastic whips.

Do it to put the past into the future.

—–
* I realize that there is some complexity here with indigenous knowledge, and with sharing precise archaeological locations, but for simplicity, we’re going to side-step it for the moment.

** The UK law is changing as of October 2014. Hopefully for the better, but it’s generally for the worse.

7 responses to “Why Archaeologists Should Use Creative Commons…for everything.*

  1. This is great, Colleen! As an information professional and the copyright officer at my school, I’d also like to remind everyone of the power of Fair Use (which would only apply to US professionals). The Center for Media and Social Impact has some great best practices guides that take some of the scariness out of figuring out Fair Use for different projects. Highly recommended: http://www.cmsimpact.org/fair-use/best-practices

  2. Thanks for the link, Kristy! I find that we need something that is completely clear and simple, so I avoided the muddy waters of fair use. It gets even worse when you make videos to show in Qatar in UK, but are an American citizen still. I mean, WTF? :)

  3. Yeah, copyright law is wacky and international copyright law is even wackier. I got all jazzed up about Fair Use after reading this great book, Reclaiming Fair Use (http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/R/bo11671240.html). For US readers, it makes Fair Use understandable and argues that we need to rise up and claim our fair use rights so they don’t get taken away from us. Very powerful stuff!

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  5. Coming from a background of computational intensive statistics and copyright law, Victoria Stodden has also dealt with the question of licenses for scientific research output in her ‘Reproducible Research Standard’ which recommends CC-BY for media (ie. text and figures), MIT for code (ie. data analysis scripts, we’re not in the habit of using or sharing these much in archaeology!) and CC-0 for data. See here for more details: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1362040 Her website has many slide sets and videos of presentations where she goes into more detail: http://web.stanford.edu/~vcs/

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