Creative Commons in Advertising

For those of you without the time or patience to watch the above video, creative commons licensing is a new form of copyright, founded by Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle and Hal Abelson. Their reason for developing creative commons licensing is that traditional copyright laws are too restrictive and lead to a restriction of creativity.  Creative commons licensing is flexible and fills the void between all rights reserved and the public domain. A creative commons license is fully customisable, as is this here:


Creative commons licenses allow media producers and consumers to share their work online in a way that is more appropriate for the participatory world of new media. For more information, check out:

Creative commons can be a great tool for online advertising. Below are three examples of how creative commons licensing has been used in advertising, looking at the issue from three different perspectives: creative commons as a resource for advertisers; the ability of creative commons to increase the shareability of the content; and potential to use creative commons licensing to increase consumer engagement with advertisements.

A Resource – Virgin Australia

Intellectual property created with a creative commons license can be a great resource for advertisers. Created under the right rules, creative commons work can be sourced freely, such as photos from Flickr. This provides advertisers with a vast resource of cheap images that can be used in ad design without the need of an artist or photographer. This is particularly useful for smaller businesses that may not be able to afford a large advertising budget and need to produce advertising copy on their own. However, this practice should be undertaken with the greatest of care. In 2007 for instance, Virgin launched a massive campaign using photos sourced through creative commons, only to find the original photographer did not have the permission of the people in the photo to share their image.


Engagement – Nine Inch Nails

In 2012 Nine Inch Nails released their album The Slip under a Creative Commons licence. The album was distributed as a free download on the band’s website with the message – ‘we encourage you to remix it, share it with your friends, post it on your blog, play it on your podcast, give it to strangers, etc.’ Remixing was further encouraged by allowing fans to download master tracks from the bands website and holding a user-generated film festival on YouTube. This campaign was a success, gaining significant media coverage, increased concert ticket sales, increased brand loyalty and actually selling 2, 500 of its $300 deluxe edition of the album.

This highly innovative use of the creative commons framework allowed Nine Inch Nails to enable their fans to become active participants in the creation of the bands music, even allowing them to share their remixes online. (For your enjoyment, one of the many wonderful examples of fan remixed music has been included below.) Simply through strategic licensing, advertisers can use creative commons as a highly effective tool in increasing customer engagement with the brand, which is one of the most difficult things for an advertiser to achieve.

Shareability – Wired

A final advantage of using a creative commons license is sharability. Creative commons can allow brands to allow other parties to use their content in any way, provided they link back to the original source. In advertising this can be used to allow customers to repurpose ads. While companies may want to control their advertisements, ultimately the more users see their ads the better. One company that used this principal to great effect is Wired, which in 2011, decided to make all of its library of photos free for anyone to use.

Here is why it was such a genius move: The majority of users who had a need for Wired’s images were news outlets and bloggers. These outlets were required to link the images they used back to Wired’s website, driving traffic from their sites to wired. The total number of links to Wired’s page increased exponentially. And incoming links is one of the key determining factors of Google’s page ranking, meaning that Wired would appear higher on search rankings. All of this meant a lot more readers for Wired.

However, like most things on the internet, copyright (any copyright, not just creative commons) can be difficult to enforce. In fact, BoingBoing – one of the first sites to report on Wired’s new licensing – included a picture from Wired without linking back to the source. This probably would have made Wired’s marketing gurus feel something like this:


Don’t tell wired, but we stole this image from their archive…. Shh!


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