Licensing your content


As more and more content finds its way onto the web, the rules about what users can and cannot do with that content have become unclear.

Alhough copyright law is well-established and enforced in most countries, especially in Europe and the Americas, the Internet has created a truly international culture - one that is more tolerant of sharing and reuse than the law often allows.

While some traditional media companies have often struggled with this culture shock as they’ve begun putting their works on the web, others have leveraged this openness to their advantage and have used it to both raise their stature on the web and create new revenue streams.

A good licensing strategy can be the difference between success on the web and a disaster. A poor one can lead to frustrated users, unnecessary legal action and even content theft.

However, there are companies and tools available to help you get the most out of your content and license it in a way that is right for your organisation.

Creative Commons

Popular with bloggers, authors and freelance journalists for years, Creative Commons (CC) is easily the fastest and most popular way to license content posted to the web.

Creative Commons works by having copyright holders select from a variety of licenses for their works. Copyright holders can, for example, choose to disallow commercial use of their work while permitting non-profit republishing. They can also disallow the creation of derivative works, permit them altogether or only allow them in cases where the newly created work is licensed under the same terms.

The drawback to CC licensing is that, once the license is applied, there is little way to track who is using your content.

Once the license has been selected, the rights holder is given a badge or button to place next to their content as well as some machine-readable code to help search engines detect and identify the work as CC licensed.

Obtaining a CC license is free. All licenses are backed by a well-known nonprofit, the Creative Commons Organization. Also, CC licenses have stood up in court cases  and many who have had their CC licenses violated have been awarded judgments.

The drawback to CC licensing is that, once the license is applied, there is little way to track who is using your content and if they are following the terms of the license. Without actively searching for your content, which can be time-consuming and cost-prohibitive for large rightsholders, there is little way to see what others are doing with your work.


Having already partnered with several major media companies, including the Associated Press, Reuters and Penton Media, iCopyright has established itself as a partner for licensing content.

iCopyright works in much the same fashion as Creative Commons and starts with rights holders choosing the license that is correct for them. However, unlike Creative Commons, the license can be narrowed down to allow or disallow specific usages such as e-mail distribution, print reproduction and posting on the web.

Unlike Creative Commons, though, it is not limited to merely giving away rights, but can also sell them. This allows users to purchase and receive instant permission to reuse a work.

All of this is handled through a badge or a link that the iCopyright system places on each work. Clicking the link takes the user to a pop-up where all of the available licensing options are presented and invites the user to either view a sample or initiate the service.

The iCopyright logo and information travels with the work on each site it is used on, thus letting rights holders track uses of their work and, in some cases, detect those who misuse it. It also enables visitors who read the work on the licenser’s site to then license it the same way.

The iCopyright system is ideal for syndication services that want to encourage redistribution of their work but also charge for it. Though its logo is not as recognizable nor as popular as Creative Commons - thus meaning it may confuse some users - it offers a great deal of licensing flexibility and some reasonable tracking capabilities.

Copyright Representative

The most common method of handling content licensing on the web is through a designated copyright and permission representative. This person is generally connected with the legal department and/or marketing department of the company and is responsible for approving or denying all incoming permissions requests.

This allows for maximum control over the company’s content and allows the permissions agent to approve or deny uses on a case-by-case basis. They can also determine pricing and establish rules to fit each individual request.

However, it is also a system that is much more complicated for users. Though steps can be taken to simplify the process, including making the contact information easy to find and setting at least some rigid rules to make decisions easier, the process takes much longer than either of the above systems.

What is worse is that in the time it takes to negotiate and approve the reuse of an item, days or even weeks can pass. Given the immediate nature of the Internet, by the time permission to reuse is obtained, it may be too late to do any good.

Still, for some organisations, especially those with pre-existing agreements that have to be navigated, this is still the best option. Sometimes offering blanket permission, even for a profit, is not an option.


Of the options above, iCopyright seems to strike the best balance between user experience, flexibility and control. However, many media companies will likely continue to use a more traditional permissions system for some time due to the increased control over the work.

Doing everything you can to explain your policy and your position both up front and clearly will do a great deal to eliminate that particular danger.

Creative Commons is most likely too liberal and too broad for most companies. However, the BBC has launched an experiment using a Creative Commons-like license for some of their video content. Also, Creative Commons might be a viable option for freelance and independent journalists who want exposure for their work while restricting commercial use.

No matter what your content licensing strategy is, the important thing is to have one.

Even if your copyright agreement stops at “No reuse allowed,” it is important that your copyright notice and your terms play a prominent role in your site so that you do not accidentally give users the impression that it is ok to take the works on your site.

There are already enough issues with content theft and copyright infringement on the web without introducing widespread innocent infringement into the equation.

In short, having a good content licensing policy makes good sense in every respect of the word.