Copyright laws apply in the virtual world just as they do in the real one. In the United States, Educators have had some flexibility with Fair Use and The TEACH Act but those rules are very specific and sometimes a little complicated to follow (time limitations, use limitations, amount limitations, institutional requirements). Creative Commons (CC) provides a global solution to the dilemma by offering a way to share creative works for others to use and manipulate legally, some CC licenses even allow commercial use of a new work.
Teachers and students creating lessons or assignments with machinima, artwork and buildings in a virtual worlds may be well served tapping into content licensed by CC. Licenses range from the least restrictive “Attribution“, allowing someone to “distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon a work”, as long as credit is given for the original creation, to a restrictive “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs” license which allows others to download and share works with others as long as credit is given to the originator but not allowing changes or commercial use of the new work.
Teachers must abide by and guide students to adhere to laws as well as providing opportunities for students to learn to appreciate the talent, time and effort used to create original works. Artists make the choice to license their work via CC, perhaps to nurture creativity and innovation among others in our digital age or perhaps as a venue to market what they create. The works created with the use of CC content will certainly yield more and possibly improved content. Despite the “free” or almost free availability, donations are sometimes requested on sites offering CC content.
Some helpful Creative Commons sites for individuals creating content in Virtual worlds:
About Creative Commons – http://creativecommons.org/about
ClipArt and Textures: