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Creative Commons Unveils Machine-Readable Copyright Licenses

Glenn Otis Brown, December 16th, 2002

San Francisco, CA — Creative Commons, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the creative reuse of intellectual works, launched its first product today: its machine-readable copyright licenses, available free of charge from creativecommons.org. The licenses allow copyright holders to easily inform others that their works are free for copying and other uses under specific conditions. These self-help tools offer new ways to distribute creative works on generous terms — from copyright to the public domain — and are available free of charge.

“People want to bridge the public domain with the realm of private copyrights,” said Stanford Law Professor and Creative Commons Chairman Lawrence Lessig. “Our licenses build upon their creativity, taking the power of digital rights description to a new level. They deliver on our vision of promoting the innovative reuse of all types of intellectual works, unlocking the potential of sharing and transforming others’ work.”

Creative Commons licenses help people express a preference for sharing their work — on their own terms. Copyright holders who decide to waive some of their rights but retain others can choose a license that declares “Some Rights Reserved” by expressing whether they require attribution or allow commercial usage or modifications to their work. Additionally copyright holders may select to waive all their rights and declare “No Rights Reserved” by dedicating their work to the public domain. After the copyright holder chooses their license or public domain dedication, it is expressed in three formats to easily notify others of the license terms:

1. Commons Deed. A simple, plain-language summary of the license, with corresponding icons.

2. Legal Code. The fine print needed to fine-tune your copyrights.

3. Digital Code. A machine-readable translation of the license that helps search engines and other applications identify your work by its terms of use.

“Our model was inspired in large part by the open-source and free software movements. The beauty of their approach is that they’re based on copyright owners’ consent — independent of any legislative action — and motivated out of a wonderful mixture of self-interest and community spirit,” explained Creative Commons Executive Director Glenn Otis Brown. “One of the great lessons of these software movements is that the choice between self-interest and community is a false choice. If you’re clever about how you leverage your rights, you can cash in on openness. Sharing, done properly, is both smart and right.”

Various organizations and people have pledged their support for Creative Commons, including Byrds founder Roger McGuinn, DJ Spooky, iBiblio, the Internet Archive, MIT Open Courseware project, O’Reilly & Associates, People Like Us, the Prelinger Collection/Library of Congress, Rice University’s Connexions project, Stanford Law School, and Sun Microsystems. Implementers include musicians, writers, teachers, scholars, scientists, photographers, filmmakers, publishers, graphic designers, Web hobbyists, as well as listeners, readers, and viewers.

Copyright holders can choose the appropriate license for their digital content at http://creativecommons.org/license/. Additional information is available through the technical fact sheet and testimonials document.

Behind Creative Commons

Cyberlaw and intellectual property experts James Boyle, Michael Carroll, Lawrence Lessig, and Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-cyberlaw expert Eric Saltzman, and public domain Web publisher Eric Eldred founded Creative Commons in 2001. Fellows and students at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School helped get the project off the ground. A non-profit corporation, Creative Commons is based at and receives generous support from Stanford Law School and the school’s Center for Internet and Society. Learn more.

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