Let’s say you’re casually scrolling through your Facebook feed. Some videos here, pictures there, and quotes sprinkled throughout. Maybe something will grab your attention and spark your imagination. That’s probably a given; being a writer is often about being inspired by the things that you interact with.
Now you go and you write, well, something: a poem, a story, an essay, or maybe just a small journal entry that you’ll save until you can figure out what to do with it. But what happens when you want to incorporate the material that inspired this piece? Do you just go with it and hope for the best? No, because someone created that material and they own some form of rights to it, and if they don’t, then the people who helped publish the material do.
So let’s talk about content licensing. The first time I ever ran into the problems you could have with content licensing was a when a vlogger I followed in junior high had to pull some of their videos because the songs they used in the introduction violated the copyright of those songs/the companies those songs belonged to.
I was so confused. What was the harm of letting someone use that song? If anything, the usage should have been taken as a compliment. But the more I’ve learned about what it really means to pursue a creative career, the more I understand why this is an issue. Sure, the user probably didn’t mean any harm by using the song, but someone put a lot of work into creating that music, and so did many other people, with the expectation that they would be compensated and credited for their work.
Okay, so maybe you’re still not convinced. Writers don’t use songs and it’s easy enough to credit someone for their words when you’re writing. But that’s not enough. With new technology, publishing is growing and expanding to something past just print. Thanks to apps, the Internet, ebooks, and smartphones, access is growing in a way that it hasn’t since the invention of the printing press in 1440s. And with increased access comes more ways to interact with writing.
Social media means it’s now possible for authors to interact with their audience, and the more fun, the more real the personality is on different platforms, the better of a connection is created and the more the fan base will grow. Simple, right? But how do you do that without graphics, without videos or music? Someone created all those things, and unless it was you, you have to license it from the creator.
Content licensing is also there to help you protect what you make, be it your compilation of essays, short stories, poems, or blog posts. Because while it might seem like a hassle when you are the one requesting permissions, you’ll be glad for it when it’s your work on the line.
Now that we’ve talked about concepts, let’s talk details:
1. What is content licensing? According to Wright Media, content licensing is the “distribution of media assets/intellectual property to any third party, generally for a fixed term, and for a negotiated fee. The license also specifies how the assets can be used by the buyer.” That means the contract you enter not only specifies how much is expected in compensation for using their material, but they get to tell you what you can or cannot do with their stuff. So before you go making plans about how you’re going to use the material, make sure you check what the terms are.
2. How is this different from copyright? Copyright is actually owning the right to be able to determine how your work will be used. Content licensing is the act of actually giving someone or obtaining the license/permission to use a work.
3. What kind of licensing can I do? As the creator, you have a lot of leeway about deciding how other people can use your work. Think of Flickr, an image forum that photographers can use to upload their work and build their portfolios. The users can also choose whether or not people can go onto the website and pick from their photos to use and how people will use it, using a Creative Commons license. In general terms, people might put their photos up for public use, which means anyone can use their photos for anything, they can change them however they want, and they don’t have to credit the creator. Some might ask that they be credited, some might specify their work for noncommercial use only, some might ask that their work might not be changed at all, or any combination of those. So before you license your work, make sure you think about each of these scenarios and pick the combination that makes you the most comfortable.
So, do you have to participate in content licensing? No. You could always create all your content yourself. You’re not obligated to let people use your stuff, either. Just know that this is an option that you could think about in helping to better yourself as a writer, so don’t write it off completely.