The relationship between copyright and license

Even though I’ve been releasing my artwork under Creative Commons for several years, today was the first day I really thought about the relationship between copyright and license.

It all started when I received a message on Flickr inviting me to participate in a photography contest on a saltwater aquarium site.  I have a ton of great images from the California Academy of Sciences that I could submit, so decided to check it out.  The rules are pretty standard, but the following declaration they requested gave me cause for alarm:

I YOUR NAME certify that I am the author and sole owner of the material I am submitting to I understand and agree that may use my material anywhere on I understand and agree that may resize my material if needed. I understand and agree that I remain the owner of the Copyright of all material submited [sic] to and that a Copyright notice will be add [sic] to my picture.

Copyright notice will be added this way: ⓒ YOUR NAME 2008.

This immediately reminded me of Flickr users who go out of their way to add those copyright notices to their photos and specify that all rights are reserved, do not use without permission, etc.  I respect that some people need to maintain extremely tight control, but being so limited in how I can share these works (and link back to them) drastically reduces their art’s value to me.  The copyright symbol is a mark of disgrace, and I want nothing to do with it.

I mentioned my predicament on Twitter and got some enlightening (and memory jogging) responses.  I remember now how copyright is automatic and exists for all creative works.  It means that you have control of the work, but the copyright (and the copyright symbol) isn’t what makes someone a creative dictator or anarchist.  The license is what specifies how others can use the work.  That license can be all rights reserved or one of the Creative Commons licenses, but the copyright still exists.

I think why this was a point of confusion for me is because I’ve never seen ⓒ specified on a photo without the intent of all rights reserved, and I didn’t want the stigma of a more restrictive license just because of this contest.  I wrote the organizer back to say that I would prefer that my photos not be watermarked at all, or to use CC-BY-SA if they must add something.  I may be over-drawing the line, but there’s no shame in defending your principles.

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