How does Copyright Law fit Popular Culture today?

Apart from “not at all”???

If you’ve ever followed internet memes such as Psy’s rise to fame in 2012 with “Gangnam Style” and the inevitable wave of remixes and parodies that followed (see video below), you’ll understand the gross MIS-fit between the rigidity of Copyright Law and popular digital culture. To expand on the Gangnam Style example, we are talking about the most watched YouTube video of all time (to date) and a viral phenomenon that has generating an astounding amount of money, not only for Korea’s music industry but even for supermarket chains like Tesco’s in sales of Korean food! While it may not be the sole reason for its popularity, it seems the waiving of copyright on the distribution and re-use of this music video had a huge impact on its success. You can read more about this on the Governance Across Borders blog.

Note: The video above is billed as the “Top Ten Parodies” of Gangnam Style. While it gives the viewer an idea of the reach and the impact of the original video, some of these examples are not strictly “parodies” but rather simple “remakes” (as they do not alter the music or lyrics in any way). 

I suppose the biggest area of copyright frustration and foreboding for me professionally has been in restricting the use of images and music, particularly as over the last decade the tools for making movies and creating multimedia have become far more accessible to primary school children. Within the culture of mashup and parody that pervades our lives and work, I rely ever more heavily on alternatives to the automatic “all rights reserved” Copyright such as Creative Commons licensing.

Creative Commons makes creativity legal

Creative Commons licenses legalise sharing for  creativity

As the Creative Commons website points out:

“Education is one of the fields in which Creative Commons can be of most use. It provides a source of (legal) materials for reuse by teachers and students; a tool for sharing your materials with other educators and schools; and a good way of teaching people about copyright in a positive way, focusing on what you can do rather than what you can’t.”

copright cracking

Copyright License Source” [CC BY-SA 2.0] by Opensourceway on Flickr

So what is Creative Commons all about?

This globally recognised not-for-profit organisation supports a creative “remix-reuse-share” culture by providing various free licenses for creators to share their original material. A creator does not give up their copyright by assigning a Creative Commons (CC) license to their work. A CC license merely allows the work to be more liberally used, under certain baseline conditions: the creator must be accredited and the work can be copied, distributed or re-used only for non-commercial purposes. There are several other licensing terms that can be added, at the discretion of the creator:

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.13.41 PM

Creative Commons licenses available at www.creativecommons.org [Screenshot captured 15th September, 2013]

These licenses are completely free and easy to apply, using the interactive form (and associated images and embed codes which are automatically generated) on the Creative Commons website. Read more about Creative Commons in this document:

In the words of the creators of Creative Commons:

“We must move away from thinking about “content” to thinking about the communities that develop around content. The sharing that Creative Commons allows, enables communities to come together.”

This video, “A Shared Culture” explains just how well the concept of a Creative Commons epitomises popular creative culture:

“A physical commons is like a park where anybody can enter equally. The commons with intellectual works is actually much freer….It’s about creativity and connection. It really is going to be the pillar for communication between people, cultural exchange, a space for more speech, more free expression… and that’s the type of commons we’re trying to create.”

“A Shared Culture” by JustinG4000, Creative Commons

Creative Commons for the Classroom

Here’s a link to the fabulous Education Resources on the Creative Commons Australia website, which includes this slideshow for Primary students:

There are more videos on this webpage that you might find useful to introduce the concept to your students.

Not only do I applaud the values and ideals that Creative Commons represents, I love that “CC Search” makes my job so much easier, more exciting, creative and productive. I now have a place that I can go to myself, and that I can encourage my students to use, where users can search for materials that are legally and ethically reuse-able, to create our own innovative projects. Check it out here: Creative Commons Search

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.35.04 PM

Creative Commons Search [Screenshot from www.creativecommons.org captured 15th September, 2013]

If your students are only after images and already accustomed to Google Image Search, for example, you can show them how to use Google’s Advanced Image Search feature to restrict results to reusable images that are Creative Commons licensed or public domain (among other options).

Google's Advanced Image Search

Google’s Advanced Image Search


This post is one of a series on Copyright, Creative Commons and Popular Culture. You may also be interested in these two posts:


Creative Commons resources montage image: “Licensia Creative Commons” [CC BY-NC] by Elizabeth Nogales, originally published on the GEMM website

Featured Image:Puzzly Sharing” [CC BY-SA 3.0] by Guillom via Wikimedia Commons


3 thoughts on “Copyright + Pop Culture = Creative Commons

  1. Interesting information and something I think students really struggle with (loved the Humphrey Bear dance!) This just goes to show what an important role teachers and teacher librarians have to ensure copyright is preserved. We always make one of our criteria sheet indicators the correct citation of material used in an assignment or presentation. Once again, good role modelling of correct usage of digital material is imperative.

  2. Pingback: Picking a Path through the Copyright Minefield | The Grapevine

  3. Pingback: Entering the Shadows: Making Sense of Copyright | The Grapevine

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