I know that the topic of copyright has been talked about in several threads, but I thought it might be useful to create a dedicated thread to talk about the nuances (as we understand them).
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here are some definitions:
- Copyright is a legal right created by the law of a country that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights for its use and distribution.
- A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted work.
- Works in the public domain are those whose exclusive intellectual property rights have expired, have been forfeited, or are inapplicable.
The founding fathers of US thought copyright was important enough to include it in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, empowers the United States Congress: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
Over the past 250 years, the length of limited time has changed dramatically. Originally it was 14 years , then 28, then 75 or the life of the creator plus 50. Then in 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (also contemptuously known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) extended copyright to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.
tl;dr - Stuff made/published/created before 1923 is public domain. But don’t even think about touching Mickey Mouse; he won’t enter the public domain until at least 2023.
Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit that advocates for the expansion of the information in the commons (which is never really defined). They created and curate/update a group of copyright-licenses known as Creative Commons licenses. These licenses allow creators to extend and modify their copyright.
The Creative Commons (CC) licenses are not part of US law. There have been lawsuits in the US and abroad where the legality and enforceability of the licenses have been tested, but to the best of my ability I haven’t found caselaw that actually affirms them.
tl;dr - your work is protected by copyright. CC licenses, while seeming to offer gradations of copyright, may not be legally enforceable.