Why use a Creative Commons license?
November 4, 2005 9:47 PM   Subscribe

What is a Creative Commons license good for, exactly?
posted by BackwardsCity to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It lets the content creator think in simple concepts like "non-commercial" or "with attribution", but provides a solid legal underbelly. And a bit more meta, it also helps to get people thinking about those concepts in the first place, rather than just slapping "Copyright Me 2005" on all their stuff.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 PM on November 4, 2005

It lets people know that you like to share. And also what smackfu said about fostering discussion on copyright issues.
posted by panoptican at 9:59 PM on November 4, 2005

Response by poster: Can you elaborate on "solid legal underbelly," smackfu? How would having a CCL button on your blog help you in a copyright infringement case?

Or is the solid legal underbelly you're talking about the Electronic Frontier Foundation?

As for "helping people get thinking about these concepts," that's always seemed to me to be the primary point of a CCL, which is why I've never really understood why people bother.
posted by BackwardsCity at 10:25 PM on November 4, 2005

It's good for two things:

1) sharing content (think syndication)

2) fitting in with the rest of hipster dumbass blogging crowd

That said, just like the GPL (for the most part), I don't think it's ever really been tested legally.
posted by angry modem at 10:31 PM on November 4, 2005

of the
posted by angry modem at 10:31 PM on November 4, 2005

If the entire goal of the Creative Commons was to get people thinking about copyright, well this post wouldn't exactly be hurting them.

As for what it can do for a selfish actor, a couple examples in recent memory are getting free translations and getting jobs on Saturday Night Live. People have gotten signed from ccMixter.

Like Tim O'Reilly says, obscurity is a bigger threat to writers than piracy. Saying people can share or remix your work decreases the chance of obscurity.
posted by revgeorge at 10:34 PM on November 4, 2005

Doesn't number one work for these CC folks? Paging mathowie.
posted by panoptican at 10:35 PM on November 4, 2005

"How would having a CCL button on your blog help you in a copyright infringement case?"

Because, for example, it ensures your work is protected from abuse via copyright law, while still allowing you to grant certain rights to others. A lot of people wouldn't know how to make it not a copyright infringement for people to do X with their work, while keeping it infrongement to do Y, when both X and Y are normally be infringing.

The obvious method is those boilerplates along the lines of "May be reproduced with written permission only", but that just doesn't work for a lot of stuff. I don't want everyone who downloads something to use writing to me for permission, I want them to just be able to use it in the way I intended without any hassle, yet not be legally able to abuse it. A simple copyright notice doesn't allow that.

I also don't want to waste my time devising and writing my own contract in amateur-legelese that specifies what I (think I) want, but is who-knows how valid, when I can just cut and paste instead.

So basically, convenience. But I don't often do enough to care if my stuff gets ripped off, so I don't anticipate anything getting legal, but it's still nice to know the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:43 PM on November 4, 2005

Can you elaborate on "solid legal underbelly," smackfu?

The licenses were written by actual lawyers and are designed to cover all the legal loopholes, even those a layman might overlook. They protect the rights you want to protect while granting only specific rights and they do this in a clear and robust fashion that will hold up in court.

The most compelling reason to use a Creative Commons license is, IMHO, because it is a standard, well-understood set of terms, similar to GPL, that can serve as a useful shorthand. When people see you're using a Creative Commons license, they don't have to read the license itself if they are already familiar with its terms, and the idea is that more and more people use the licenses, more and more people will be familiar with the terms.
posted by kindall at 10:57 PM on November 4, 2005

There's a rather long Groklaw post on why people use Creative Commons.
posted by sbutler at 11:01 PM on November 4, 2005

Under the common law scheme, there are two ends to the spectrum. One is full copyright control, the other is public domain. If you release your work into the public domain, you retain no rights over it. If you keep full copyright, no one else may make use of that work (except for fair use, but this is generally a limited use). Creative Commons tries to strike a middle ground. You still retain rights to your work (you can still sell it or license it to whoever you like in different ways), but you also allow others to use your work and redistribute or change/re-mix it as long as they give you authorship credit.

The Creative Commons is very convenient because if you retained your full copyrights instead, you'd have to negotiate separately with every person who wanted to license your material (painful and off-putting), and/or come up with your own contract (bad idea if you don't know what you're doing).

[I am not a lawyer, but I did give a lecture about the Creative Commons license last summer, the powerpoint to which is available here.]
posted by falconred at 1:23 AM on November 5, 2005

Oh, I forgot to add that the Creative Commons has no direct relationship with the EFF that I know of.
posted by falconred at 1:27 AM on November 5, 2005

Showing that you're part of the cool club? That's the way it seems to me at the moment.
posted by alby at 3:45 AM on November 5, 2005

It provides a dumb-proof way for you to share your content while still retaining control.
posted by magwich at 5:21 AM on November 5, 2005

falconred - technical point verging on nomenclature nitpicking, but copyright is not part of the common law; it is a purely statutory right.
posted by magwich at 5:23 AM on November 5, 2005

so much subtext.

there's a cc faq, which answers What problem does Creative Commons intend to solve?, that appears to answer your question.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:21 AM on November 5, 2005

Ok, two points of view.

From a content consumer's point of view, the educational context provisions of fair use are broken. Even if 25-100 copies of a single article from a periodical is not infringement, I have no protection from a lawsuit, and no copyshop will accept that job without explicit legal release from the publisher. So just from a liability standpoint, I'd much rather use CC material over something where I must assume "all rights reserved."

From a content creator's point of view. There are many projects where I don't particularly care to peruse a royalty model (because that would cost me money I don't have). If someone else wants to make 25-100 copies of a paper or tech report I've written, I'm pleased just to be read. So a CCL license says that you can use my work, in whole or in part, as long as you use proper attributions.

Meanwhile, the CCL does give me a big stick that I can use in cases of plagiarism. If I don't feel the person is using the work with fair attributions, I have some legal leverage.

There are entire information markets out there where most authors honestly don't give a shit about passing photocopies, MSWord files or PDFs around. Unfortunately, current copyright law makes this technically illegal, without something like CCL.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:58 AM on November 5, 2005

Can you elaborate on "solid legal underbelly," smackfu? How would having a CCL button on your blog help you in a copyright infringement case?
In case you weren't aware, the CC licenses are just shorthand for much longer legal documents. So for example when you put a button on your blog that says that it's licensed under "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike", what it really means is that you are releasing your content under this 2400 word license.

The beauty of this is that it relieves ordinary people of having to worry about the legal mumbo-jumbo of licensing, while still allowing them to express that they want people to have more rights than the strict few that are available under basic copyright law -- rights that would not ordinarily be available to users of the work.

In other words it gives a sound legal framework for allowing people to express their desire to share, without having to know or care about the legal details. You just answer a few questions about how you want people to be able to use your work, and it spits out a type of license for you to use. On the back end of things, a small team of lawyers works out the precise wording of the licenses, so that they have a sound legal basis. You can even select your nationality so that you get a license that is precisely tailored to the details of your laws.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:28 AM on November 5, 2005

magwich - fair enough. That's what I get for writing law ar 4 in the morning.
posted by falconred at 1:22 PM on November 5, 2005

You asked, "How would having a CCL button on your blog help you in a copyright infringement case?"

Because of this, it sounds like you might be expecting the CC licenses to increase the author's rights. The actual point is exactly opposite: Creative Commons licenses allow authors to explicity give up certain rights they would otherwise have.

Why would anyone do this? Well...

Before 1989 (in the US), authors were required to add notices to their works in order to receive copyright protection. But today, notice is no longer required. Every elegible work you create is automatically copyrighted, whether you want it or not. I can't copy anything you write unless you give me written permission.

Sometimes, as an author or artist, I want people to copy my work. For example, suppose I'm a musician, famous or not. I release one of my songs free on the internet, to help promote my albums and concerts. The song would get even more exposure if people shared it with their friends or on P2P networks, but this is illegal unless I give written permission. The CC licenses allow me to give that permission, and also to limit it in certain ways. They allow me to do this without hiring a lawyer or responding individually to each person who wants to share copies of my work.

Real-life example: My wife is a school librarian; she uses a CC license to share paphlets and book reviews that she writes. Because of the license, other librarians or teachers can make copies and use them in their organizations without worrying about legal problems. (This is especially important if those other libraries are in big institutions with their own legal departments, who might insist on seeing explicit written permission for anything being copied.)

If you haven't already, you should go to CC's Learn More page and watch the short "Get Creative" animation or read the FAQ.
posted by mbrubeck at 3:09 PM on November 5, 2005

As a non-blogging content producer releasing works under CC's licenses, the benefit is related to the type of content being released. In my case, it is teaching material that we want to encourage others to use and adapt in any manner imaginable. But we don't want our work reproduced for commercial purposes without prior consent. A band might release a song or album under a CC for similiar reasons, it is a way to let more folks hear the music free but businesses can't legally sell a CD of CC licensed work without the band's consent. Of course, that all depends on the license choosen and CC also has means of putting work into the public domain and getting a little publicity for it.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:15 AM on November 8, 2005

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