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Copyright and Game Design: Public Domain, Creative Commons and Other Licence Types

Introduction to Public Domain & Copyright Friendly Licences

It is important to pay attention to the copyright status of a work (i.e. whether the copyright has expired or not) and if the work is still copyright protected, any licence terms and conditions that may apply. These factors will affect whether you can use a work and how you can use it, in addition to the user rights and exceptions available in the Copyright Act.

The table below includes information on public domain and a few copyright friendly licences that are common in the gaming and technology industries. Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list of free and open source software licences. Also refer to the next section on royalty free and rights managed licences.   

  Copyright Status Types of Work How to Check Condition(s) & Restriction(s)
Public Domain Expired Many original works such as books, journal articles, images, artwork, websites, videos, music and computer software

Check if the creator is still alive and if the person has passed away, the date of death.  

In Canada, a work goes into public domain 50 years after the death of the creator (for performances and sound recordings, copyright expires 70 years after the release or publication date).

No copyright restrictions. Can be used freely but attribution is recommended for students and faculty at Sheridan in order to show academic integrity and avoid plagiarism. 
Creative Commons Copyright protected. However, the creator has waived some rights so others can use their work without the need to ask for permission. Same as above Usually indicated by a CC symbol and its licence type (e.g. image). Refer to the Creative Commons website for information on the 6 licence types available.  Attribution is generally required, and there may be other restriction(s): Non-commercial use, share-alike under the same Creative Commons licence, and/or no-derivative works. Be sure to check the licence type to see what restriction(s) may apply.
Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) 

Minimal rights are reserved by the copyright holder. BSD systems are freely available and open source, which means that the source codes are released and users can copy, re-use and adapt the content.

Similar licence types include MIT, Apple Public Source and Apache licenses. 

More common with software and operating systems  The licence type is indicated on the work. BSD has several iterations and descendants.

Depending on the version of the BSD licence, conditions may include: attribution, inclusion of the copyright notice, license text, and/or disclaimer in either source or binary forms.

Generally, BSD licences are considered to be "permissive" because these licensed works can be used, adapted and distributed for commercial or proprietary (where sources codes are not released) purposes. 

For more information, refer to this Wikipedia article on BSD licences

GNU General Public Licence (GNU GPL) Same as above.  Software The licence type is indicated on the work.  Unlike BSD, any derivative/adapted work of a GPL software must be shared under the same open source licence terms. While commercial uses are permitted, the sources codes of the GPL licensed part need to be made available to users. 

Introduction to Royalty Free & Rights Managed

Royalty free and rights managed materials are protected by copyright and are more restrictive than the copyright friendly licensed resources (mentioned above). A fee is generally required for use, and the price often depends on the exclusivity of the material and how the material will be used. 

  • Royalty free - A user typically pays a one-time licence fee that covers multiple or subsequent uses. Stock photos are commonly available through this licence model. 
  • Rights managed - more restrictive than royalty free, a rights managed licence is only for a single use and the fee often depends on factors such as type of use, image size and resolution, duration of use, and medium of distribution. Rights managed resources tend to be more expensive than royalty free materials because they are more exclusive and original. An exclusive (no one else is granted the same licence to use the material) or non-exclusive licence may be negotiated.