All about Copyright and Creative Commons

Because I’m a Shaw scholar, 2020 was an important year for me. Shaw’s writings went out of copyright. I saved some money! I’ll explain how in a moment.

Sixty years after an author’s death, copyright protections expire. That means you can do anything with them. If you want to stage Shaw’s play Pygmalion as – say – a vampire story – go for it! It’s perfectly legal.

You should also know that anything published before 1926 is copyright free. 

Here’s a sampling of writers and artists who have works that are out of copyright: William Faulkner, Louis Armstrong, Igor Stravinsky, Diane Arbus, Dorothy Parker, and A.A. Milne (author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books).

Let’s use Milne as an example. You can publish – and sell – the Winnie-the-Pooh books. You can turn them into cartoons and movies – anything you want. But be careful! The illustrator, E. H. Shepard, died in 1976. His Winnie the Pooh drawings are still copyrighted. You can’t use them without permission – and paying a fee.

If this sounds like a lot of legalese, it’s not. Last year I published a book about Bernard Shaw (Language and Metadrama in Major Barbara and Pygmalion: Shavian Sisters). In the past, I had to pay a fee to get permission to quote from his writings. But now everything is available to anyone to use, free.

And there’s more. Below is a painting I wanted to use in my book. Normally I’d have to pay a permissions fee to use it. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns the rights.)

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon                    Gérôme courtesy of KGBO

But it’s out of copyright – hallelujah! It went into my book – in color – at no charge.

And there’s something else important going on. The Metropolitan (and many museums, galleries, and artists around the world) is supporting a movement to make art more widely available to the public. It’s called Creative Commons.

Notice, though, that the Creative Commons movement has rules. Many artists and photographers have generously made some of their works available at no charge. But you may be required to credit them. Always check the instructions (“license”) to see what the requirements are.

How do you find Creative Commons (often called CC) pictures? I use two strategies. One is looking up a subject in Wikipedia. Almost every picture they use has a CC license.

I also use Google frequently. Type your subject into the Google search box. Click Images. Click Tools. Click Creative Commons License, and free pictures will show up.

But beware. Copyrighted ads often show up. Don’t use those pictures! And carefully check the picture you want to use to make sure it has a CC License. Always look for the license requirements and follow them scrupulously. 

Creative Comments License

Image courtesy of Peter Leth, CC License


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