With people and organisations making so much information and material available online, it is important to know how and when to credit creators when making use of their work.
Respect for the intellectual property of others is part of being a good digital citizen. You can watch, read or listen to all sorts of things online, but it does not necessarily follow that you can make a copy of that material and adapt it for your own purposes.
Copyright is the exclusive legal right of the creators of an original work to decide whether and how their work may be used by others. When you buy or license copyrighted content, like a movie or some music, part of what you get is certain rights around what you can do with your copy. For example, most movie DVDs that you can buy are licensed for private viewing only. Part of what this means is that you are not legally entitled to charge other people to view that movie.
Copyright is part of what ensures that the people who create interesting and valuable content are compensated for their hard work.
Youth Law Australia has some more information on file-sharing and copyright.
Public domain material can be used by anyone in any way. Material that is in the public domain has no exclusive copyright holder. Material can either be specifically made for the public domain or fall into the public domain after its term of copyright expires.
Some content is created under what is called a Creative Commons (CC) license. These licenses allow other people to use the content in a variety of ways for free, under certain restrictions outlined within the license.
Wikimedia has outlined the different CC licenses. Most CC licenses permit modification and sharing of content as long as the original creator is credited.
If you are looking for images or music for a website or other project, there are collections of CC licensed material online that are freely available:
- CCsearch for photos
- The free music archive and ccMixter for music
- Vimeo for videos, or YouTube when you use search filters to find CC licensed videos
There are other sources as well, but these are a good starting point.