Now this photo was licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license (here is a full description of the 3.0 version of this license) which means that it can be used for commercial purposes provided the image is credited to its author and the resulting work (in this case the ad) must be licensed under a similar Creative Commons license. Provided Virgin Mobile complied with these conditions it was pretty much free to use this image in the billboard. If it didn’t license its billboard under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license then it is violating copyright.
Another image used in a billboard has also proved problematic. This next billboard features a girl from another Flickr user’s account and it raises another issue, namely whether a release from the girl (or her parents if she is underage) was necessary and, if so, whether it was obtained.
I wasn’t able to find the source image (there were just too many to find it in the time I had to write this post) but the image is apparently credited to a user called chewywong who has applied an Attribution NonCommercial license to his photographs. What I don’t know is which license was in place when the image was sourced from his collection. I would assume a license permitting commercial use of the image was applied at the time. Either way, this image raises two further issues. The first is what the NonCommercial element in a Creative Commons license actually means and here I am going to point you to the excellent interview Colette Vogele conducted with Mia Garlick, General Counsel of Creative Commons, about the meaning and appropriate use of the NonCommercial element of Creative Commons licenses (there are a number of very helpful links in the show notes).
The second issue is that Creative Commons licenses are perpetual. This means that once an item has been licensed under Creative Commons and someone makes use of that item under the license, that licensed use of the item can’t be revoked. The typical wording from the legal deeds regarding the grant of a Creative Commons license is as follows:
Subject to the terms and conditions of this License, Licensor hereby grants You a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual (for the duration of the applicable copyright) license to exercise the rights in the Work as stated below
It is important to realise that a Creative Commons license is a license to make use of your content. It has legal force as a contract between you and the licensee (person you grant the license to) so you really should do your homework before simply applying a license to your works. A number of people have apportioned some of the blame to Creative Commons for failing to properly educate people about the use of Creative Commons licenses and some have even spoken out against using Creative Commons licenses altogether. This is both unfair and unfortunate. If you visit the Creative Commons site there are a number of pages on the site to help explain Creative Commons licenses and how they work. Here are a few:
There is also an organisation dedicated to educating people about Creative Commons licenses and showcasing uses of the licenses in various media called iCommons. I have worked with iCommons here in South Africa through The African Commons Project (where I am a Fellow) to introduce Creative Commons licenses to businesses for use in their projects. Educating people about Creative Commons licenses is very important and it is equally important that people be educated about the benefits of using Creative Commons licenses.
Here is a great video on Revver about Creative Commons licenses that is really worth watching and sharing. There are more videos about Creative Commons licenses here too.
If anything the Virgin Mobile campaign highlights a very interesting application of CC licensed content in the mass media. It brings CC licensed photos into the mainstream and while there are people who may have applied licenses they don’t fully understand, in the end this campaign is important for Creative Commons as a whole because it shows people just how powerful these licenses are and how conducive they are to meaningful sharing.