crypto and public policy

How Quickly We’ve Come to Assume The Creative Commons

Filed under: Policy February 17, 2004 @ 11:43 am

Larry Lessig points to a discussion about the pros and cons of the project he chairs: The Creative Commons. As a member of the Creative Commons’ Technology Advisory Board, I’m a tad biased, of course, when I claim that these worries are unfounded. But hear me out.

This particular anti-CC sentiment stems from the belief that CC licenses:

  • address an issue (copyright licensing) that need not be addressed to begin with
  • impose a certain licensing monotony that stifles the emergence of more customized licenses
  • confuse artists on what their rights are and what rights they’re giving up with CC

According to this criticism, we’d all be better off if artists built their own copyright licenses from scratch, and CC somehow prevents or discourages that. While the former argument can be debated, the second is simply incorrect.

Creative Commons does not impose its licenses on anyone. In fact, the text of the CC licenses is, itself, under a Creative Commons license, which means that anyone can take the licenses themselves, change them, and use them to regulate the distribution of their works. The facts of copyright and the rights expressed by Creative Commons licenses are clearly explained. There are mailing lists for people to express their concerns, and even new license options are discussed in public view with public feedback requested and welcome.

More importantly, Creative Commons doesn’t claim to offer a complete range of licenses. Creative Commons licenses all follow one important guiding principle: to help promote creativity by nourishing a common free culture. Licenses that require people to “send back tapes” of their derivative works, though perfectly legal and within an artist’s right, create obstacles to creativity. Creative Commons does offer the ability to insist on fairness with its share-alike attribute. Even in this aspect, however, Creative Commons, like the Free Software Foundation with the GPL, promotes continued sharing.

Most importantly, Creative Commons does not exclude other, simultaneous licenses. It’s completely acceptable to license your work under a Creative Commons license for some uses, and under another, custom license for other uses. That’s what the non-commercial attribute is for. Share freely for non-commercial uses with Creative Commons, and make people pay for commercial uses with a stricter license.

If you want to build a custom license for yourself, go for it. Creative Commons provides ready-to-go options or a good starting point for your custom needs. Creative Commons is one solution, but there are others. When all is said and done, it’s your choice and Creative Commons just gives you options.

Take a step back, though, and remember the way things were 18 short months ago. Unless you were willing to invest significant time and money into understanding copyright law and having a lawyer draft you a rock-solid license, you had no options except default copyright or relinquishing your work to the public domain. It was ALL or NOTHING. Today, Creative Commons offers you additional options and takes away none. Creative Commons offers an in-between, a compromise, a balance. It’s a testament to how poorly our modern society has explored this middle-ground between ALL and NOTHING that people continue to strive for more options in the “Some Rights Reserved” world. Creative Commons has grown so quickly because people are thirsty for better ways to share their creative works.

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