As your research progresses, your collection of family photos and documents grows into an archive. In addition, you will likely want to share both your research and items from your archive as published histories. One of the first issues to be addressed in the display and distribution of your archives and publications is copyright. In reference to building an online personal archive, there are two concerns. First, do you have the necessary rights to the items you want to include in your archive, and second, what rights do you want to assign to the items you publish?
The American Library Association has several tools related to copyright laws and guidelines which help you quickly determine a publication’s copyright status. Another helpful resource is from Smashing Magazine. It’s a very informative article that discusses copyright issues for online content. It received so much attention that they have now made the article available as a PDF download. This is a very handy resource that should be a part of every researcher’s digital library.
If you look down the sidebar at my Moultrie Creek Gazette blog, you will see the Creative Commons graphic. Follow the link to the license information and you will be pleasantly surprised that the license text is written in plain language. There is also a legal version of the license at the Creative Commons site as well as a machine readable version (so search engines and web apps can identify licensed work). What does Creative Commons do? It adds flexibility to existing copyright law.
While I do want credit for the works I create, I don’t mind if others use my works in their own creations. This is especially true in my family history projects. That doesn’t mean you have unlimited rights to my publications or postings. Creative Commons offers the flexibility to create a license that suits my needs. For example, the short name for my license is “attribution-share alike” which means you can use my stuff if your work includes credit to me and the work you create using my stuff will be shareable to others. I don’t limit the number of copies you can have, keep you from giving my work to someone else or make you ask my permission to use my stuff. All I want is credit for my efforts and that you don’t try to lock my work up by including it in a strict copyrighted publication.
The beauty of Creative Commons is that it gives you the flexibility to determine how your work can be distributed. There are several different options you can incorporate into the license you use. Will you allow commercial use? Modifications of your work? How will others attribute the work to you? At all times you retain copyright to your work. Whether you are building an original work and including family treasures or offering scanned copies of existing photos and documents, Creative Commons gives you the opportunity to choose how those works can be used by others.
Visit the Creative Commons site to learn more.