Common creativity at work (part 2)

In the first part of this series of articles about copyright and Creative Commons licenses I wrote about copyright and how its original purpose has been distorted to stifle creativity and innovation, certainly customers’ ability to manipulate and consume these creative works. In this second part of the three part series I will introduce you to content licensing and its pitfalls as well as to Creative Commons licenses which are both misunderstood and rarely appreciated in the commercial world.

One solution may be to just approach the authors of the works concerned for a license that would permit you to do what you want to do with the content. This is a perfectly legitimate approach and what those authors want you to do. Typically this would involve briefing a lawyer to prepare the license (or using a license a lawyer has already prepared) which would regulate the use of the content.

There are, however, some minor difficulties with this approach which include potentially hefty legal fees; having to negotiate the terms of the license each time you want to license something and possibly not being able to really understand the terms of the license. This isn’t an issue if you are Acme (Proprietary) Limited with lawyers on the payroll to explain the intricacies of the voluminous licenses under consideration. It is a problem if you don’t have the legal expertise or resources to navigate what are often labyrinthine terms and provisions encrypted using 256 bit Legalese (which only a few remarkable lawyers can decrypt completely).

Recognising some of the limitations to this system of copyright enforcement and licensing the smart people at Creative Commons, led by Professor Lawrence Lessig formulated the six Creative Commons licenses I mentioned above. These licenses are combinations of four license elements including attribution, non-commercial use, the prohibition on derivative works (also known as adaptations) and the “share alike” element. Used in different combinations the six licenses range from the more restrictive Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives license (which requires that the author be acknowledged and prohibits any commercial use of the work or the creation of adaptations of the work) to the Attribution license which merely requires that the author of the work be properly acknowledged.

Each Creative Commons license has three versions: a human readable version, a legal code version and the machine readable version. The human readable version is the version most people see and it clearly summarises the features of the license. The legal code version is encrypted in necessary Legalese and explains what the licenses permit to lawyers in enough detail to satisfy them that the technical stuff is taken care of. Finally, the machine readable code enables software to pick up on the fact that a work is licensed under Creative Commons and, depending on what you are using on your computer, it may even tell you which license is in use.

Another big benefit of Creative Commons licenses is that they are free to use (so no legal fees unless you want to get into the nitty gritty of the legal code and even there it will be your lawyer charging you, not Creative Commons itself) and shares certain features that include the right to share the work for non-commercial purposes, the requirement that the author be properly acknowledged, the perpetual duration of the license and a pretty easy mechanism for selecting and applying the license of your choosing.

Creative Commons licenses attempt to cross the divide between the important protections afforded by copyright and the desire to facilitate sharing in the Commons, a kind of shared collection of resources for the benefit of all. Creative Commons licenses have become an integral part of the free culture movement because of its emphasis on sharing and the Commons and this has been a contributing factor towards the general perception of all Creative Commons licensed works as being free. Aside from the “feel good” benefits of sharing content in the Commons, anyone who participates in the social Web (aka Web 2.0) appreciates the benefits of sharing on the Web both personally and in business. Facilitating sharing on the Web can enable powerful marketing initiatives that can make the difference between obscurity and runaway success. Creative Commons licenses are powerful tools that help make this type of sharing possible.

(Photo credit: Lawrence Lessig taken by Joi Ito and published under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license)

In the final part of this series I explore some of the ways Creative Commons licenses have been and are being used in the commercial world in profitable endeavours. I also attempt to dispel the myth that Creative Commons always equals free and introduce you to examples of where Creative Commons licenses have been used in remarkably profitable endeavours.

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