Permission

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We start with the idea that pretty much everything you use in a creative work that doesn’t come originally from you and that comes from someone else must be used with the permission of the original owner.

Every time you use someone else’s work with their permission, it comes with a license. Stock, even free stock, clearly falls into the category of creative content that is licensed. The same is true when someone uses your work with your permission even if it isn’t stock. The license is frequently a legally binding contract. To be a “contract” it doesn’t have to be in a formal document or in a signed writing and it can even be just implied by behavior. Violations of contracts that relate to creative content can have special consequences like turning the person who exceeds the scope of the license into a copyright or trademark infringer.

DeviantArt is a permission society. In extraordinary ways full of generosity, members go out of their way to help other members and to share creative materials with each other. By learning about licensing, you begin to appreciate that the permissions given when sharing, even on DeviantArt, do have limitations and it is very important to pay attention to what someone is saying or what they mean when they give permission.

If you understand the terms of the license you are receiving or giving, you can avoid unfortunate misunderstandings, potentially significant economic consequences as well as, ultimately, legal repercussions. The failure to follow the terms of a license for a stock photo, for example, can also damage your reputation with clients and lead to embarrassments if the work has to be removed. It’s your creative work and your reputation. It is worthwhile to take the time to understand how licenses work.

A license gives someone permission to use someone else’s work subject to conditions. Not all licenses are the same because the conditions for the licenses can be so varied. Some licenses are broad, allowing anyone to use the work for any purpose. Others are really narrow: for example, only allowing the use of an image on the web in a low-resolution version.

Here are some common elements found in licenses of creative content. None of these are automatic. It’s up to the people creating the relationship to sort through what they mean in the license they are making together:

  • Payment.

    Many licenses require payment. Sometimes, this can be a one-time payment. Sometimes, it involves paying royalties over time. Payments or royalties can also be tiered — for example, the license can contain an actual schedule of the fees that apply for different types of uses.

  • Attribution/Credit.

    Some licenses require you to credit the original artist or source. A license can also dictate the location and size of the credit or require a copyright notice in a specific form. Some licenses require that you indicate or report back on how you used the licensed work (even if it is stock used only for reference and not immediately visible in the second work).

  • Scope.

    Some licenses restrict how you can use the work. Sometimes, the license permits any use, as long as it is not commercial. Some may limit which rights are granted to the user, like permitting reproduction but not distribution. Some may dictate the context, like prohibiting use in something distasteful, obscene or hateful. Others can specify what can be done to the image such as not permitting the image to be cropped or otherwise altered.

  • Place.

    Some limit where the work can be distributed, like appearing only on a social site, only for the web, or for use only in a specific project.

  • Size.

    Many licenses limit the size of the image being licensed. This happens naturally when the image is provided on the Web as a download — the license attaches to the size of image in the download. If you were to ask for a larger size image, the price and other terms might change.

  • Duration.

    Some licenses give you permission for a limited period of time. Once that time is over, you can no longer use the work.

  • Exclusive or Non-Exclusive.

    Most permission-based licenses result in what the law would classify as a “non-exclusive” license.  This means that the person giving you permission to use a creative asset is free to license the exact same image to anyone else even if it is for the exact same type of use in the license you received. An “exclusive” license is the opposite:  the person who gives the license can’t license another person for the same thing. The exclusivity can apply to some parts of the license, such as duration or scope. Or the exclusivity could apply forever and for everything.

  • Not Transferable.

    Most licenses of creative content are personal.  When you license an image you are generally given permission to use the image in particular ways for yourself but you can’t pass on the permission to someone else. So for example, even though you might be licensed to sell a digital work that used the licensed image in some fashion, you can’t re-sell the image you licensed.

  • Representation of Ownership.

    When you license a work from someone else it’s a good idea to have her or him tell you that they actually have the right to give you the license; for example that they are the copyright owner and/or author of the work; that it is original to them; and/or that they have the right to give the license. In many cases, if someone licenses to you an image that they don’t own, the actual owner can come after you as well.  The person licensing the image may only be able to make some representations of ownership. For example, a license for a cosplay image involves the costume, the model, the photographer and the company that owns the character being cosplayed. So, it’s unlikely the photographer alone can give you a license for all of the rights you might want.

Permission
Artist Creditkozispoon

When you find an image on the Web or IRL, the default is that you do not have any permission to use the image in any way other than looking at it (or holding it, maybe). But if, for example, the image has a download button or a social web share button next to it, then the button is a form of permission. Still, it could be very difficult to figure out what that permission actually means and how far it goes.

Keep in mind that the scope of the permission will tend to be very narrow if it comes out of casual behavior instead of from a more detailed statement from the owner. If someone says to you, “go ahead and download it” then from a permissions point of view all you can do is download the image. The owner may not have intended to let you re-post it or use the image as stock.

Some communities establish their own social rules around the use of content. The Adoptables community, the Stock community and the Horse community on DeviantArt are examples. These rules can become part of an implied license or part of the actual license and as such they become part of the contract covering your use of the work. As a result, it’s a good idea to learn what the rules are. Frequently they appear on user pages in Journals.

DeviantArt also gives members the ability to declare their license terms and permissions up front as part of the artist’s comment area under the deviation. This is a better practice than writing a general Journal because the comment is closer to the image.

Many creative people use the Creative Commons licensees. We have a link to Creative Commons below and its explanation of its licenses. They come in different types designed to give permission for uses with or without credit; with rights just for the web or for all uses; for only non-commercial or also for commercial uses; and, with or without the right to “re-mix” the work. DeviantArt allows users to select a Creative Commons license on submission.

When you upload your content to a website, you frequently are asked to agree to the website’s Terms of Use.  Those Terms usually create a license from you to the website. If you’ve read this far you can tell it’s important to understand the terms. Some websites, like DeviantArt, write their licenses narrowly, making sure you retain as much control as possible. Other websites write very broad licenses, and they obtain rights beyond what’s necessary for the website to operate. A controversial example is when websites claim to own the content that users upload to the site.

Finally, there are situations where you may think you don’t need a license or permission. For example, using someone’s digital copy of a very old panting or of an antique. But if the copy shows any original contribution from the person who made the copy, you would need permission. There are other exceptions discussed in this series such as “fair use” under copyright. Even “fair use” is a form of limited permission, put into the law, to use a work in a way that would otherwise require specific permission.

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Some Sample Licensing Journals
From Deviants:


Horse Community

  1. Breeding Rules


Adoptables Community

  1. Adoptables Rules

Some Sample Terms of Service:


Read More On This Topic

  1. Creative Commons
  2. Stock



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