With the advent of the internet, protecting creative work (music, photographs, etc.) has become big news and big legal business, often drowning out and suffocating new creativity and hindering ventures into finding new ways to share creative works.
Creators of new works have a right to have their work protected from use by others (copyrights) and to set the terms of any subsequent use of their work (licenses), including allowing others to use their creations, but (optionally) place limits on that use. My page on usage information has all the dirty details on how I apply these principles to my own work, but here are links to some alternatives.
Any discussion about licensing must also make reference to copyright and any discussion about copyright has no meaning until licensing is taken into consideration. Licensing is the manner in which copyright is effected. It sets out how works are protected (or not) and determines how any work may or may not be used. It can be very broad and open or exceedingly tight and narrow.
The International Berne Convention (1886) for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works states that works are protected as soon as a work is created, without any formality in all countries. This means that international copyright protection is automatic.
The next four licensing systems range from public domain, no rights reserved, royalty free (CC0 or Public Domain) all the way up to the usePLUS system which controls every aspect of licensing and releases including royalties.
Using CC0, you can waive all copyrights that you have over your work, your publicity or privacy rights, rights you have protecting against unfair competition, and database rights and rights protecting the extraction, dissemination and reuse of data.
The General Public License is a free, copyleft license for software and other kinds of works. It is intended to guarantee your freedom to share and change all versions of a program and to make sure it remains free software for all its users.
The Creative Commons provides free, easy-to-use legal and technical tools that give everyone a simple, standardized way to pre-clear copyrights to their creative work. CC licenses let people easily change their copyright terms from the default, restrictive 'all rights reserved' to a more flexible 'some rights reserved.'
The usePLUS system is designed primarily for commercial photographers and allows you to specify very precisely how an image may be used, how many times it may be used, where in the world it can be used, in what media (newsprint, online, ...) it can used in, and much much more.
I strongly encourage you to investigate these various licensing systems. I have tried to put together a comprehensive list but I do not recommend one over the other. Which system you choose to use will depend very much of how much control you want over your work.
While I don't have a very high opinion of most lawyers, if you think your work has significant value you might consider hiring one.
One final word ...
Painters and fine artists have been slow to grasp the concept of licensing but business savvy photographers have been licensing their images for years.
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