CERN releases photos under a Creative Commons licence

This image of the Large Hadron Collider now forms part of a collection of CERN images freely available to use and share under the standardized Creative Commons licence (Image: CERN)

Licences specify the terms and conditions under which things can be used. All too frequently in everyday life we come across restrictive licences that actually seem to discourage usage, disallowing copying or sharing. But a whole other family of free licences aim to encourage use and sharing, asking simply for proper recognition and reciprocal behaviour in return.

Since its inception, CERN has used the web to share multimedia material openly. To signal clearly that we wanted people to use our photos and videos we crafted a pioneering free media licence. It included clauses that satisfied the demands of being an intergovernmental organization, and ensured consistency with our founding convention as a peaceful scientific collaboration.

As the web grew, multimedia material proliferated around the globe, and so did licences. The average web-citizen, allergic to the legalese that these licences were drafted in, was often confused or ignorant of the details of any particular conditions of use. Standardized free licences such as Creative Commons grew in popularity due to the snowball effect of being consistently used and commonly understood. As standardized licences spread, CERN’s licence has unwittingly become isolated and viewed as special, and the popular outlets of today often do not include our multimedia since the licence is not understood as compatible.

So, encouraged and supported by our experiment outreach teams, we have made our first collection available under a Creative Commons licence. We chose the CC-BY-SA licence, to ensure credit is given to CERN for the photos (“BY”) and that modified versions also get shared freely (“Share Alike”). Through this small but significant change, we hope our photos and videos will now be made available in more places, used by a wider community and re-used more confidently by more people.

Already the change has allowed photos of our recent Director-Generals to be used consistently in Wikipedia pages for the first time, and for the Higgs discovery plots from ATLAS and CMS to actually be included on the Higgs boson page! We intend to expand this first small collection with more and more content from our vast archive.

The winds of change have started to blow, and we hope to soon make standardized licences the norm at CERN.