Welcome to part one in my Alexa Display Template Skill Design & Coding Deep Dive series. Links to all of the posts in this series are included at the end.
Rich Content Makes For A Superior User Experience
One of the first breakout skills on Echo was The Wayne Investigation, and its popularity was eventually eclipsed by The Magic Door. The thing both of these skills have in common is rich audio content: sound effects, music, and ambient sound files that help the user to feel immersed in the experience the skill offers.
You can follow the example set by these skills, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. There’s plenty of public domain and royalty free content available online, but it will take some time and effort to find. At certification time there will also be some added steps to prove your content was obtained and is being used legally, but it’s not difficult to do.
In some cases the availability of content will determine whether or not you build a skill at all. The skill I’m focused on in this series is my Visual Tarot skill, which was written specifically for use on Alexa devices with screens. Sourcing content was step one in the project, because if I couldn’t obtain royalty-free images of Tarot cards to use in the skill there would be no point in writing it.
I’ve previously posted about how to prove content is public domain for certification purposes and where to get royalty-free audio, images and video in separate posts, but today I’m bringing all those references together in a single location for your convenience. Note that information and links provided here are valid as of this writing, on 12/26/17, but subject to change in the future if linked sites change their terms or content, or are sunsetted.
Public Domain Video Content
The United States Library of Congress Moving Image Center site offers guidance on where to legally obtain public domain works. For video, it links to the Internet Moving Image Archive.
Open, Public Domain, Royalty Free Museum and Gallery Collections
These repositories are terrific resources for images to use in Display Template skills, as well as for finding art to use in your skill icons and cards.
The Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Images with download links are part of the open, free collection.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met)
Works that are released to the public as royalty free are identified on the Museum’s website with the acronym OASC.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
Free account registration required, you’ll be prompted to register the first time you attempt to download an image.
Sources for Contemporary Royalty Free Images
Search multiple sites for free stock photos.
Online Resources for Public Domain, Royalty-Free Sound Files
Click here to visit TsaTsaTzu’s library of free, downloadable sound clips. Links to copy each clip’s embed code are included on the page, but it would be kinder to download the clips and run them from your own repository to reduce bandwidth expense for TsaTsaTzu.
Click here to visit the Jovotech audio resource round up: a pretty thorough collection of code samples, tools, resources and related helps for developers working with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Home or other voice interactive platforms.
Proving Your Content Is Public Domain or Royalty-Free For Certification Purposes
The test team’s pickiness when it comes to licensing, copyright and intellectual property rights is all about protecting Amazon from unscrupulous or ignorant developers who might expose Amazon to legal action from rights holders. This puts the onus on the developer to proactively convince the test team that all content in the skill is legal for the developer to use. To do that, there are two key pieces of information you must include in your test instructions when submitting: the source of the content, and assurance from an entity Amazon can trust that it was obtained legally.
Below, I’ve boldfaced the two pieces of information I added in the test instructions and skill description of my Cartoon Player skill to get the skill certified:
Designed especially for Alexa devices with screens, Cartoon Player gathers a collection of 17 family-friendly, classic cartoons from the public domain collection at archive.org, a US Library of Congress cited source for Public Domain footage, and makes them available to play on your Echo Show’s screen.
In the case of the test directions, I also included a link to the Library of Congress page where the archive.org citation can be found.
You can adapt this type of text to cover use of content that’s not public domain, but is royalty-free. The two key references are:
1. A trusted entity.
This could be a government agency, or links to online legal documents (in which case the trusted entity is the United States legal justice system). Alternatively, in cases of creative commons or royalty-free content that’s not in the Public Domain but has been released for both non-commercial and commercial use, you can include a link to the page where the content is offered for use by the public and clearly labeled with the correct Creative Commons legend or an explicit statement that the content is royalty free. In that case, it’s the rights owner him- or herself that serves as the trusted entity. It’s very important that the license specifically allows commercial use in the case of skills in categories that can earn money for the developer, because that makes the use commercial.
2. The source of the content: where did you get it?
The only way the test team can verify your claim is by going to the source of the content in question. I suspect that unless they receive a complaint they’re only going to do a cursory review of the site or page you reference, but make sure it’s fully legitimate. If anyone comes forward to challenge your claim in the future, even if their challenge is totally without merit, you must be able to prove the source of the content AND that the rights status of the content is clearly indicated.
Other Posts In This Series
Things That Kill Alexa Skills
A checklist of reasons why you might want to rethink your skill, or its design.