Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 529.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Thu, 15 Jan 2004 07:10:18 +0000
From: Ross Scaife <scaife@UKY.EDU>
Subject: Creative Commons: The boundaries of intellectual property
Creative Commons: The boundaries of intellectual property
By Dwight Deugo
The October 2003 OOPSLA conference featured an opening keynote by Stanford
University's Larry Lessig that provided attendees with an inspiring talk
outlining the boundaries of protection intellectual property should set.
Lessig argued that today's current extremism defeats these limits, creating
an environment where creativity is increasingly constrained. He then
described Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/), a non-profit
corporation founded on the notion that some people may not want to exercise
all of the intellectual property rights the law affords them.
Did you know that everything you create, be it a Web page, doodle,
scribble, code or music, is automatically considered copyrighted material
-- whether you include the copyright symbol or not? I can only speak for
Canada and the U.S., but it wouldn't surprise me if this were the case all
over the world. This means that, by default, no one can use your work
However, at Creative Commons: "We believe there is an unmet demand for an
easy yet reliable way to tell the world 'Some rights reserved' or even 'No
rights reserved.' Many people have long since concluded that all-out
copyright doesn't help them gain the exposure and widespread distribution
they want. Many entrepreneurs and artists have come to prefer relying on
innovative business models rather than full-fledged copyright to secure a
return on their creative investment. Still others get fulfillment from
contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons. For whatever
reasons, it is clear that many citizens of the Internet want to share their
work -- and the power to reuse, modify, and distribute their work -- with
others on generous terms. Creative Commons intends to help people express
this preference for sharing by offering the world a set of licenses on our
Website, at no charge."
The problem is that there is no easy way to announce that you intend to
enforce only some of your rights, or none at all. At the same time -- and
again, because the copyright notice is optional -- people who want to copy
and reuse creative works have no reliable way to identify works available
for such uses. Creative Commons wants to provide tools that solve both
problems: a set of free public licenses strong enough to withstand a
court's scrutiny and simple enough for non-lawyers to use, but yet
sophisticated enough to be identified by various Web applications.
Creative Commons offers a set of copyright licenses free of charge. You can
use these licenses to help tell the world that your copyrighted works are
free for sharing -- but with certain conditions. For example, if you don't
mind people copying and distributing your source code as long as they give
you credit, there is a license that helps you say so. If you want the world
to use an application you built, but don't want them to profit off it
without asking, there are licenses to express that preference. At the
Creative Commons' Web site, you can find licensing tools that enable you to
mix and match such preferences from a menu of the following options:
* Attribution -- Permit others to copy, distribute, display, and perform
the work and derivative works based upon it only if they give you credit.
* Noncommercial -- Permit others to copy, distribute, display, and perform
the work and derivative works based upon it only for non-commercial purposes.
* No Derivative Works -- Permit others to copy, distribute, display and
perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it.
* Share Alike -- Permit others to distribute derivative works only under a
license identical to the license that governs your work.
Once you've made your choice, you'll get the appropriate license expressed
in three ways:
1. Commons Deed -- a simple, plain-language summary of the license,
complete with relevant icons.
2. Legal Code -- the fine print that you need to be sure the license will
stand up in court.
3. Digital Code -- a machine-readable translation of the license that helps
search engines and other applications to identify your work by its terms of
Creative Commons will help you dedicate your work to the pool of
unregulated creativity known as the public domain, where nothing is owned
and all is permitted. In other words, it will help you to declare "No
As Creative Commons puts it, the world is full of extremes: "Too often the
debate over creative control tends to the extremes. At one pole is a vision
of total control -- a world in which every last use of a work is regulated
and in which 'all rights reserved' (and then some) is the norm. At the
other end is a vision of anarchy -- a world in which creators enjoy a wide
range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation. Balance,
compromise, and moderation -- once the driving forces of a copyright system
that valued innovation and protection equally -- have become endangered
However, Creative Commons is working to create a balance: "We use private
rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses.
Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are cooperative
and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work
to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while
encouraging certain uses of them -- to declare 'some rights reserved.'
Thus, a single goal unites Creative Commons' current and future projects:
to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of
increasingly restrictive default rules."
As you might have guessed, portions of this column are based on text from
the Creative Commons Web site and licensed under a Creative Commons License
that states the condition of attribution, which I just did. It's that easy!
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