Creative Commons Celebrates 10 Years

Creative Commons, a non-profit that promotes the sharing of creative works through the use of its free licenses, celebrated its 10- year anniversary this past Sunday (December 16th).  Their  licenses do not replace copyright, but rather provide various options that creators can use to outline how their creative work may be used/shared for non-commercial purposes:

The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.

There’s often confusion about these licenses and what they represent.  Certainly they can provide creators with an easy (and free) way to define licensing options for their work.  Unfortunately, Creative Commons licensing models are routinely cited by anti-copyright activists as a (better) alternative to conventional copyright in this new age of remix-culture and online “sharing.”  Ironic, of course, since Creative Commons licenses are predicated on copyright law, the very copyright law that “freehadists” loathe.   As with all copyright licensing, creators (not users) determine how their works are disseminated.  A typical copyright “all rights reserved” license puts strict, clear limitations on usage while the Creative Commons “some rights reserved” language allows for more flexible use options in situations where the creator doesn’t desire compensation.

In his book Free Culture-How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity,” Lawrence Lessig, a law professor, copyright critic, and founding board member of Creative Commons, has argued that current role of current copyright law “is less and less to support creativity, and more and more to protect certain industries against competition.”   In the book’s Afterword, Lessig explains the rationale behind the Creative Commons movement:

Its aim is to build a layer of reasonable copyright on top of the extremes that now reign. It does this by making it easy for people to build upon other people’s work, by making it simple for creators to express the freedom for others to take and build upon their work. Simple tags, tied to human-readable descriptions, tied to bullet-proof licenses, make this possible…Content is marked with the CC mark, which does not mean that copyright is waived, but that certain freedoms are given.

While promoting “freedom” can seem like a benign and worthy concept, one should be mindful of the more nefarious agenda that lurks behind it.  As author Robert Levine explains in his book “Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back,” “The organization’s licenses depend on copyright law; they just give creators a standard legal structure to sign away certain rights.”  Levine points out that companies such as Google, Microsoft and EBay contribute to Creative Commons and that several of its board members represent interests that stand to “benefit from having more work free from copyright restrictions online.”  He cautions that Creative Commons “may not have the best interests of artists at heart.”  This concern seems justified given the fact the organization appears to have only one artist on its tech-heavy, 15 member Board of Directors.

Political agendas aside, the key with utilizing Creative Commons licensing is that it’s a matter of choice.  Just because some creators use a Creative Commons to license their work does not mean those who make different choices should be vilified or ignored.  One copyright size does not–and should not–fit all.   Those of us who create music, films, photographs and more–own our work (and copyright) and, with the exception of legitimate “fair use,” we should be able to determine how it’s used.

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