The SPARKY Awards - A Contest to Promote the Open Exchange of Information
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If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
- George Bernard Shaw

In producing your video for this year’s contest, keep in mind these key considerations about copyright.

Re-using content 

If you use content created by someone else in your video – whether video, images, text or music – you must respect their rights and incorporate that material legally. It’s easy to do:

  • Copyrighted content may be re-used under the terms of fair use. Fair use describes copying portions of an existing work for purposes such as commentary, illustration, memorial, and discussion. If you are repurposing the material—using it for a different purpose than the original—and if the amount you take is appropriate to your use, you’re likely able to employ fair use. If your use of others’ material qualifies as fair you can incorporate copyrighted material without seeking the explicit permission of the creator. Review this “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video” before you start to learn the principles and limitations of Fair Use. 
  • There is plenty of content that’s available for you to use freely, without asking permission. Works tied to Creative Commons (cc) licenses permit free re-use, but with specific constraints such as including attribution for the original author. Not all cc licenses permit re-mixing, so read the licenses carefully to understand the creator’s protections – before you incorporate the material. Check out these and other sites for available cc content: CCMixter; 25+ Sources for Creative Commons Content, from;; Creative Commons Commoners; Google Advanced Search allows you to search according to usage rights, and filter for material that is free to use; Video links from Creative Commons; Audio links from Creative Commons; Image links from Creative Commons.
  • Some material is available in the “Public Domain,” meaning you are free to use and re-use without requesting permission from or offering credit to the original creator. Categories of works that may have entered the public domain are listed in "Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States." Also see this public domain flowchart from Creative Commons Canada:
  • If the material you want to use isn’t freely and openly available, and your use doesn’t qualify under Fair Use, contact the content creator and ask for permission. You’ll need to be explicit about your proposed use and the terms under which you’ll release your creation. Note: such requests can take a long time to fulfill and can cost money. Plan ahead before you make copyrighted material a core part of your work. And, be sure to keep a copy of the permission release.

Using people

If people appear in your video, you might need to obtain their written consent. Don’t worry about people in the background, if they are in a public place or anywhere they have no expectation of privacy. But if you’re focusing on someone, if they’re a character in your story, then do get their consent. (Contest organizers may ask for a copy of the consent form). Here's a form you can use: Talent Release Form [PDF]. Note that consent requirements may vary from state to state. 

Licensing your creation 

You are the copyright holder for the work.

Now it’s up to you to manage your copyrights to ensure broad distribution and the legal reuse of your content. To help you ensure this, the contest requires that you assign a Creative Commons (cc) license to the finished video.

Creative Commons licenses ( indicate that the copyright holder automatically grants you permission to use the work, subject to certain conditions, such as attribution and not using the work for commercial purposes. The most accommodating cc license (Attribution) allows others to “copy, distribute, display, and perform” your work -- but only if they credit you the way you request. The most restrictive cc license still permits re-use (in terms of copying, distributing, displaying, and performing verbatim copies) but prohibits the creation of derivatives. Sound complex? It’s not too bad. Visit the Creative Commons Web site for some very clear explanations about how each license works.

Claiming your rights

Make sure viewers know the terms under which you’re making your work available. Specify the Creative Commons license you’ve chosen in your video, or on the Web page where your work is posted. Include the name of the license you’re using along with a link to its full text and the icon, if you like ( Specify attribution – or how you’d like your name to appear – as well.


Example: © 2010 Jennifer McLennan, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (


Some video sites, including allow you to assign the license when you load your video. Take advantage. Tagging your work with the right license allows others to search and retrieve material based on the terms under which they can use it. This will increase your exposure!