CC0

Using CC0 for public domain software

Mike Linksvayer, April 15th, 2011

The basic idea of Creative Commons, offering free copyright tools, is copied from the free software movement. However, CC licenses are not intended to be used to release software, as our FAQ has always said.

One important reason why Creative Commons licenses should not be used to release software is that they aren’t compatible with existing free software licenses, most importantly the GPL from the Free Software Foundation, which is used by over half of free software projects. A commons fractured by legal incompatibilities is a weak commons, and it would be deeply contrary to our mission to fracture the commons of software. (It should also be noted that the FSF helped unfracture the non-software commons by facilitating Wikimedia’s migration to CC BY-SA as the main content license of Wikipedia and its sibling sites.)

While the vast majority of contemporary free software is released under the GPL or another free software license, there is also a long tradition of public domain software, which was free before the term free software existed. Indeed, prior to the 1970s, copyright did not apply to software. Currently, SQLite, an embedded database that you almost certainly use, is probably the most popular software that is dedicated to the public domain.

There are a variety of public domain dedications used to release software, which is mostly not a problem — to the extent such dedications are well-crafted, they don’t present a legal interoperability problem. This means it is possible to improve the state of the art in public domain dedications without harming the ecosystem. (Though this doesn’t mean an infinite variety of public domain dedications is optimal — at the extreme having to determine whether a new dedication is well-crafted each time one encounters a new public domain work would make using public domain works unattractive.)

In addition to licenses, Creative Commons also offers public domain tools. In creating the CC0 public domain dedication, we did set out to improve the state of the art in public domain dedications, and we think we’ve been pretty successful. Users seem to think so — ranging from governments and institutions to musicians.

We hadn’t set out with CC0 to improve on public domain dedications for software. However, since the release of CC0, we’ve been approached a number of times about using CC0 to dedicate software to the public domain. While we were happy to hear of this unanticipated demand, we wanted to tread very carefully so as to not create any unintended consequences for the free software ecosystem. This led to discussions with the Free Software Foundation, the steward of the GPL and moral leader of the free software movement.

We’re really happy to announce that the Free Software Foundation has added CC0 to its free software licenses list (which includes public domain terms). As usual, the FSF’s language is extremely clear, so we simply quote two sections from their list:

CC0

CC0 is a public domain dedication from Creative Commons. A work released under CC0 is dedicated to the public domain to the fullest extent permitted by law. If that is not possible for any reason, CC0 also provides a simple permissive license as a fallback. Both public domain works and the simple license provided by CC0 are compatible with the GNU GPL.

If you want to release your work to the public domain, we recommend you use CC0.

[...]

Public Domain

If you want to release your work to the public domain, we encourage you to use formal tools to do so. We ask people who make small contributions to GNU to sign a disclaimer form; that’s one solution. If you’re working on a project that doesn’t have formal contribution policies like that, CC0 is a good tool that anyone can use. It formally dedicates your work to the public domain, and provides a fallback license for cases where that is not legally possible.

We’ve also added an entry to the CC0 FAQ about using CC0 to release software, which you ought read if you’d like to do that. If you’re only familiar with the way CC licenses and public domain tools are typically used on web pages and other media, be aware that with free software, the full license (or public domain terms) are usually included with the software. In order to make this easy to do, we’ve taken this opportunity to fulfill a longstanding request — plain text copies of the “legalcode” for CC0 and CC’s six main international licenses. See CC software engineer Chris Webber’s post for details.

Special thanks to Chris Webber and the FSF’s Brett Smith for their persistent work to make the CC0 software recommendation possible.

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CERN Library releases its book catalog into the public domain via CC0, and other bibliographic data news

Jane Park, December 9th, 2010

Tape library, CERN, Geneva 2
Tape library, CERN, Geneva 2 by Cory Doctorow / CC BY-SA

CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research that is home to the Large Hadron Collider and birthplace of the web, has released its book catalog into the public domain using the CC0 public domain dedication. This is not the first time that CERN has used CC tools to open its resources; earlier this year, CERN released the first results of the Large Hadron Collider experiments under CC licenses. In addition, CERN is a strong supporter of CC, having given corporate support at the “creator” level, and is currently featured as a CC Superhero in the campaign, where you can join them in the fight for openness and innovation!

Jens Vigen, the head of CERN Library, says in the press release,

“Books should only be catalogued once. Currently the public purse pays for having the same book catalogued over and over again. Librarians should act as they preach: data sets created through public funding should be made freely available to anyone interested. Open Access is natural for us, here at CERN we believe in openness and reuse… By getting academic libraries worldwide involved in this movement, it will lead to a natural atmosphere of sharing and reusing bibliographic data in a rich landscape of so-called mash-up services, where most of the actors who will be involved, both among the users and the providers, will not even be library users or librarians.”

The data is available for download here, and will soon be available at the Open Library, the Internet Archive’s online catalog with 20 million records to date under CC0.

Cologne-based libraries

In related news, the Cologne-based libraries have made the 5.4 million bibliographic records they released into the public domain earlier this year, also via CC0, available in various places. See the hbz wiki, lobid.org (and their files on CKAN), and OpenDATA at the Central Library of Sport Sciences of the German Sports University in Cologne. For more information, see the case study.

German Wikipedia

The German Wikipedia has also used CC0 to dedicate data into the public domain; specifically, their PND-BEACON files are available for download. Since Wikipedia links out to quite a number of external resources, and since a lot of articles link to the same external resources, PND-BEACON files are the German Wikipedia’s way of organizing the various data. “In short a BEACON file contains a 1-to-1 (or 1-to-n) mapping from identifiers to links. Each link consists of at least an URL with optionally a link title and additional information such as the number of resources that are available behind a link.” Learn more from the English description of the project.

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University of Michigan Library adds 700k bibliographic records to the public domain via CC0

Jane Park, December 6th, 2010

University of Michigan Library Card Catalog
University of Michigan Library Card Catalog by dfulmer / CC BY

In addition to changing their default licensing policy from CC BY-NC to CC BY, the University of Michigan has enabled even greater sharing and reuse by releasing more than half a million bibliographic records into the public domain using the CC0 public domain dedication. Following on the heels of the British Library, who just released three million bibliographic records into the public domain, the University of Michigan Library has offered their Open Access bibliographic records for download, which, as of November 17, 2010, contains 684,597 records.

The University of Michigan Library has always been particularly advanced in regards to open content licensing, the public domain, and issues of copyright in the digital age. To learn more, see the John Wilkin’s post and help to improve the case study.

In addition, ever since we rolled out the CC0 public domain dedication, CC0 use for data has been on the increase. Check out the wiki for all current uses of CC0, and feel free to add case studies of any that are missing.

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Improving Access to the Public Domain: the Public Domain Mark

Diane Peters, October 11th, 2010

Today, Creative Commons announces the release of its Public Domain Mark, a tool that enables works free of known copyright restrictions to be labeled in a way that allows them to be easily discovered over the Internet. The Public Domain Mark, to be used for marking works already free of copyright, complements Creative Commons’ CC0 public domain dedication, which enables authors to relinquish their rights prior to the expiration of copyright.

“The Public Domain Mark is a further step on the path towards making the promise of a digital public domain a reality,” said Michael Carroll, a founding board member of Creative Commons and a law professor at American University.

Europeana—Europe’s digital library, museum and archive—is the first major adopter of the Public Domain Mark. Europeana estimates that by mid-2011, the Public Domain Mark will be used in connection with millions of out-of-copyright works made available through its portal.

“An important part of our mandate is to ensure that digitized works made available through Europeana are properly labeled with rights information, including when a work is free of known copyright restrictions so that teachers, students and others can freely use it in their work, changing it and remixing it as they wish,” noted Jill Cousins, Executive Director of Europeana.

The Public Domain Mark in its current form is intended for use with works that are free of known copyright around the world, primarily old works that are beyond the reach of copyright in all jurisdictions. We have already started mapping the next phases of our public domain work, which will look at ways to identify and mark works that are in the public domain in a limited number of countries.

A final note about design. We took this opportunity to revise the CC0 deed, to align it more closely with the Public Domain Mark deed. We think the design changes will help everyone recognize the difference between our licenses, which apply to works restricted by copyright, and our public domain tools.

For more information, read the full press release.

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New Dutch government portal uses CC0 public domain waiver as default copyright status

Mike Linksvayer, March 31st, 2010

The Netherlands government has launched Rijksoverheid.nl, a new website that all Dutch ministries will migrate to (English; other links in this post are Dutch).

Creative Commons Netherlands notes that the site’s copyright policy signals a seriousness about open sharing of public sector information — its default is to remove all copyright restrictions with the CC0 public domain waiver.

Rijksoverheid.nl not only signals a true commitment to openness but also sets a strong example for other governments. Congratulations!

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Cologne-based libraries release 5.4 million bibliographic records via CC0

Jane Park, March 24th, 2010

Last week we tweeted that Cologne-based libraries had released 5.4 million bibliographic records under CC0. This is tremendous news, as “libraries have been involved with the Open Access movement for a long time.” From the press release,

Rolf Thiele, deputy director of the USB Cologne, states: “Libraries appreciate the Open Access movement because they themselves feel obliged to provide access to knowledge without barriers. Providing this kind of access for bibliographic data, thus applying the idea of Open Access to their own products, has been disregarded until now. Up to this point, it was not possible to download library catalogues as a whole. This will now be possible. We are taking a first step towards a worldwide visibility of library holdings on the internet.”

“In times in which publishers and some library organisations see data primarily as a source of capital, it is important to stick up for the traditional duty of libraries and librarians. Libraries have always strived to make large amounts of knowledge accessible to as many people as possible, with the lowest restrictions possible,” said Silke Schomburg, deputy director of the hbz. “Furthermore libraries are funded by the public. And what is publicly financed should be made available to the public without restrictions,” she continued.

With so much library data now in the public domain, there emerges greater potential synergy for libraries and the Semantic Web:

The North Rhine-Westphalian Library Service Center has recently begun evaluating the possibilities to transform data from library catalogs in such a way that it can become a part of the emerging Semantic Web. The liberalization of bibliographic data provides the legal background to perform this transformation in a cooperative, open, and transparent way. Currently there are discussions with other member libraries of the hbz library network to publish their data. Moreover, “Open Data” and “Semantic Web” are topics that are gaining perception in the international library world.

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Public Domain Day 2010 and Beyond

Diane Peters, January 1st, 2010

Creative Commons has been celebrating Public Domain Day – January 1st – for several years, alongside many others who are similarly passionate about the value of the public domain and the need to prevent its demise. Each year on this day, copyright protection expires for millions of creative works, allowing those works to be used, repurposed and built upon by anyone, without restriction or need for permission.

This year we are excited to witness a growth in the number of organizations and websites dedicated to celebrating and promoting this day. COMMUNIA, the European Thematic Network on the Digital Public Domain and an organization in which Creative Commons is a member, has started a new website devoted to Public Domain Day that includes resources such as public domain calculators, information about countries’ copyright terms, and related information.  The “project aims at increasing public awareness of this celebration and educating about the Public Domain concept and its potentialities for spreading culture and knowledge worldwide.”

As well, the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University has several valuable web pages dedicated to Public Domain Day, including a detailed FAQ.  As the site explains, “On the first day of each year, Public Domain Day celebrates the moment when copyrights expire. The films, photos, books and symphonies whose copyright term has finished become “free as the air to common use” (quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis).

As Creative Commons embarks on its 8th year, plans are well underway to increase our focus and effort in the public domain arena.  Here are a few highlights of what you can look forward to:

  • In 2009, we launched the CC0 waiver, a tool that allows creators to effectively place their works in the public domain through a waiver of all copyright to the extent permitted by law.  This coming year, Creative Commons will publish for comment and adoption norms – non binding, community-based guidelines such as how to properly cite the author – to accompany CC0.  Look for more information about norms in early Spring.
  • As a complement to CC0, which is designed to add content to the public domain, in 2010 we will also be increasing development efforts on our public domain assertion tool.  This tool will enable members of the public and organizations such as libraries and museums to mark and tag public domain works available over the Internet.  Although long in the development cycle, the demand and desire for such a protocol endures.  Look for more information about our development plans soon.
  • As always, Creative Commons will continue its public domain work in other fora, such as COMMUNIA WG6 (Mapping the Public Domain).

These initiatives, together with those of many other like-minded organizations and individuals, are critical to the construction and maintenance of the public domain.  We hope you will join us in our efforts to build, preserve and make easily accessible this shared cultural resource.

Happy Public Domain Day 2010!

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Does your sharing scale?

Mike Linksvayer, September 2nd, 2009

Techdirt’s Mike Masnick is perhaps the most prolific blogger on the ill impact of overly restrictive legal regimes, including of course copyright and patents, but also trademark and even employment law (see Noncompete Agreements Are The DRM Of Human Capital) and often on people delivering real value to customers (sad that these are considered “alternative” business models) instead of replying on protectionist legal measures — as blogged here, Masnick’s case study on NIN is an absolute must read/watch — and he hosts awesome guest authors.

So it’s a little disappointing to read Masnick write:

I don’t use any of their licenses, because I don’t necessarily see the point. We’ve declared in the past that the content here is free for anyone to do what they want with it, and thus I feel no need for a Creative Commons license.

The need arises from the reality that sharing without standardized legal tools doesn’t scale. It doesn’t scale socially — if I wasn’t a regular Techdirt reader I wouldn’t know that Masnick had declared Techdirt content is free for anyone and for any purpose (and even now I could only find one such declaration because I remembered that Masnick had written about it in a post that mentioned CC!), nor depending on wording would I know what that meant. It doesn’t scale technically — there’s no way for software such as search engines to recognize ad hoc declarations. It doesn’t scale legally — any community or institution that requires legal certainty (eg due to risk that the community’s work will be suppressed or that the institution will be financially liable) will avoid ad hoc declarations.

It’s no surprise that in the more developed field of free and open source software (which has a 10+ year head start on free culture/open content) anyone who claims that making an ad hoc declaration is good enough and did not release their code under an established license would be laughed at and their code not allowed in other projects, distributions, and repositories, not to mention getting no attention from IBM, Google, Red Hat and thousands of other corporate contributors to and adopters of open source software.

Communities and institutions outside software also require works under established licenses (ie those provided by CC) to scale, e.g., Wikipedia, OpenCourseWare, the Public Library of Science and many, many others. What about individuals and small group efforts? Of course they don’t have to use real legal tools for their content any more than an individual programmer has to share code under an established open source license — that is if they don’t actually want others to “do what they want” with their content or code — because no license means no-understand, no-find, and no-go.

One of Masnick’s best turns is his stylized formula Connect With Fans (CwF) + Reason To Buy (RtB) = The Business Model ($$$$). As he explains, each part of the formula has many facets — reasonable copyright terms are just one — and as he points out, in a sense copyright is irrelevant, as CwF+RtB would work in the complete absence of copyright. However, as Techdirt points out every day, copyright is in more than full effect, producing all kinds of anti-creative and anti-innovation effects, from labels suing fans, bloggers, startups and anyone else available to heirs suppressing the use of work by long-dead authors. In this environment it seems rather necessary to offer fans the legal certainty of an established public license that grants at least the right to non-commercially share. Anything less seems to betray a lack of respect for fans or, if done unknowingly, is an instance of failed sharing.

Of course one might want to go beyond offering a relatively restrictive license and not rely on copyright at all, giving fans complete freedom with respect to one’s works. As Masnick has noted, CC has developed a legally rigorous tool to do just that, worldwide — CC0 — we hope that he is still considering it.☺

The Techdirt post quoted above is primarily a solid response to another blogger’s post on whether CC is good or bad for copyright policy — a very worthy question. Masnick’s conclusion is good:

Many of the people behind it went through (and are still going through) numerous battles to push back on the excesses of copyright. Creative Commons wasn’t the solution — it was a helpful (and hopefully temporary) oasis in a bleak desert, following numerous well-reasoned, but ultimately futile attempts to push back corporate expansion of copyright. And while I agree that there are problems with shifting the issue to a contractual agreement (and the post highlights some of the many legal problems CC licenses may cause), I think that CC, as a whole, did turn a lot more people onto the some of the problems with copyright law as it stands today. In many ways, CC is an easy way for people to first start to understand the problems of copyright law, in understanding why CC is needed.

From there, many who do understand this have started questioning the larger issues around copyright — and many of those involved with CC have continued to fight that good fight, rather than just assuming that CC is “the answer.” So, in the end, I agree that we should be clear to recognize that Creative Commons and efforts to really rethink copyright are two separate things, but that doesn’t mean that Creative Commons is necessarily bad for copyright policy issues. It has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a real stepping stone to getting more people to recognize these bigger issues. In fact, I’d argue that many of the folks now leading the debate for more reasoned copyright policy in Canada first came to understand these issues via their exposure to Creative Commons’ licenses.

While CC and other voluntary efforts (such as free software and open access) aren’t the solution (if there is such a thing), their contribution goes well beyond serving as stepping stones for thinking about how messed up the copyright environment is. They are simultaneously tools for enabling billions of dollars of collaboration across organization boundaries and unlocking untold social value now and in proving out models that don’t rely on excessive enforcement, changing the facts on the ground in a systemic way that arguably should increase the probability of good outcomes relative to those likely to result from a single-track strategy of merely complaining about the current regime as it worsens.

Copycense, the blogger that Techdirt responds to above, has unrealistic assessments of CC’s ability to “muzzle” the conversation about copyright reform and of the ability of such a conversation to obtain the “best case scenario, with a balanced and effective law that serves citizens and corporate owners equally well”. Copycense is enamored with the current Canadian copyright consultation — it’s worth noting that CC Canada has been around since 2004, that Michael Geist, the most prominent voice for positive reform, is a long time CC user and advocate — one can hardly say CC has muzzled the conversation — and furthermore it isn’t clear the consultation will lead to any good progress. Hopefully good reform will result, and many involved in CC in Canada and elsewhere are also involved in reform efforts (if you read French see the consultation of Olivier Charbonneau, one of the project leads of CC Canada) — but to denigrate voluntary efforts, at least while some rather intractable problems with the ability of concentrated interests to hijack politics remain, is a gigantic missed opportunity at best, and possibly flirting with very bad outcomes.

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WIPO, CC, and Nurturing the Public Domain

Aurelia J. Schultz, August 10th, 2009

For the past year, Creative Commons has been working on tools to help increase access to works in the public domain. Often, it is not clear whether a work has entered the public domain or is still covered by copyright protection. This lack of clarity can cause a lot of problems, and Creative Commons is not the only one concerned about the issue.

For example, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization) has begun research on tools for increasing access to the public domain, which relates to what we do at CC in several ways. Part of the WIPO research includes a comparative Scoping Study that will look at different countries’ legislation to see how how the public domain is defined and how public domain works are located. Encouragingly, Severine Dusollier, head of Intellectual Property Rights at Centre de Recherches Informatique et Droit and Creative Commons’ Belgium project lead, is in charge of this study. CC conducted a similar study last year and we’re paying close attention to how our results relate to WIPO’s. (Please note: the CC study is closed; no new input from the form will be accepted.) Part of WIPO’s study reviews private copyright documentation systems, including Creative Commons. Other samples in the study will include traditional collective rights management organizations.

Also of interest to our work at CC is WIPO’s expansion of a previous survey that takes an in-depth look at how deposits work as counterparts to a copyright registration system. One effect of registration, especially with a deposit requirement, is that it helps accrue a central collection location of works. These collections then contain copies of the works as well as relevant information necessary to make a determination of whether or not a work is in the public domain. WIPO’s work with registration and deposit systems is an important step in the quest to identify the contours of the public domain; however, not all copyright-protected work is registered or deposited.

Furthermore, finding information about non-registered or non-deposited works can be very difficult. For this reason, Creative Commons has begun building tools to identify, tag, and increase access to public domain works. Two of these tools, CC0 and the Public Domain Certification Tool, are already in existence and available for your use. A third, the Public Domain Assertion Tool, is on its way.

CC0 allows a copyright owner to waive rights in a work, effectively placing it as close as possible to being in the public domain. Finding works placed in the public domain through the CC0 waiver is easy, because CC0 is machine-readable just like the CC licenses. Our Public Domain Certification Tool can currently be used to indicate that a particular work is already in the public domain. But we are also working on a more robust version of this tool called the Public Domain Assertion tool. This tool will allow anyone to indicate facts about a particular digital instance of a work, giving individuals and institutions a way to participate in making our cultural heritage more user-friendly.

The tool’s output will link to relevant facts and a human-readable deed to assist users in deciding whether a work is in the public domain, and thus available for use without copyright restriction in one or more jurisdictions. For example, U.S. works may be in the pubic domain for any number of reasons but may not be in the public domain world-wide. Diane Peters, CC’s General Counsel, noted that the new tool will “increas[e] the effective size [of the public domain], even if due to copyright extensions works are not naturally added to the public domain.”

So stay tuned for the updates from the future of the public domain!

Aurelia J. Schultz, Google Policy Fellow and Joe Merante, Legal Intern

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NY State Senate Goes CC

Fred Benenson, June 29th, 2009

If you’re reading the Creative Commons blog, chances are you’re aware of the fact that the United States federal government is not entitled to copyright protection for their works. If you didn’t know this, check out the Wikipedia article on the subject, or some of our past blog posts on the subject. This means that federal works are essentially in the public domain.

What you may not know is that works of American states, in contrast to works of the federal government, are actually entitled to copyright protection under U.S. law. This creates the very awkward consequence of states automatically holding copyright in the very state laws, rules and court decisions that bind their citizens, not to mention other types of content created by its employees who are paid from public coffers filled in part by their taxpayers. CC is not alone (check out legendary archivist Carl Malamud and his public.resource.org project for more info) in believing that all such works should belong to the public and reside in the public domain.

Needless to say, we think this is an enormous opportunity for proper application of our legal tools to free up state works.

This is why its exciting to see the New York State Senate adopt a Creative Commons License for the content on their website. The photos and text of NYSenate.gov are now available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, and 3rd party content, such as comments and user submitted photos are available under our Attribution license. Furthermore, the Senate has used our CC+ protocol to allow all other uses (even commercial ones and non-attribution ones) of the content so long as it is not for political fund raising purposes. In other words, if you’re not doing political fund raising you’re allowed to do whatever you want with the content.

While this is a somewhat novel approach to using our licenses, and indeed grants citizens rights to works they don’t currently have, it is only the first step. In the future, CC would love to see more states pushing their work into the public domain (and their policies into synchronicity with those of the federal government), for example by using our public domain waiver, CC0.

If you know of a state using CC licenses, add it to our wiki page on government uses of CC, or just let us know.

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