2005 November

CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on Compatibility

Lawrence Lessig, November 30th, 2005

[This email is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig and others about the history and future of Creative Commons. If you would like to be removed from this list, please click here:
Alternatively, if you know others who might find these interesting, please recommend they sign up at
http://creativecommons.org/about/lessigletter ]

From last week’s episode:
Next week I’ll describe a second initiative that we’ll be launching over the next year. And while this second initiative will be important for Creative Commons, it will be critical to the ecology of creativity generally. Stay tuned.

The story continued:
Creative Commons didn’t invent the idea of free public licenses. Richard Stallman did, at least in the first broadly successful way. Nor did Creative Commons invent the first free public licenses for content. Before our work, there were many others who had followed Stallman’s lead, releasing free licenses tuned to creative work. The Art Libre license is perhaps the most famous. The BBC’s Creative Archive licenses are the most prominent recent examples, freeing access to important British culture, at least for British citizens. And finally, the Free Software Foundation’s GNU Free Documentation License is a copyleft license designed initially for software documentation, but used most prominently by the Wikipedia project.

These free licenses all share a common goal. With each, the aim is to give creators the opportunity to offer others important freedoms. The particular freedoms may be different. The Creative Archive licenses, for example, are not all copyleft. And the restrictions of the FDL make it inappropriate for much of the work covered by the Art Libre license. But these differences reflect the diversity that exists across creative communities. The important point is not the differences but instead the common aim.

Yet all of these free licenses, as well as the current versions of all Creative Commons licenses, share a common flaw. Like the world of computing in the 1970’s, or like the world of content that DRM will produce, these licenses wrap creative work in ways that makes that creativity incompatible.

For example, imagine you’re a high school student writing a report about the philosopher Wittgenstein. But because you’re a high school student in the 21st century, your report won’t be a traditional essay. It will instead be a short film. Your title is “Wittgenstein’s World, Today.” And you create your movie based upon Wikipedia’s biography of Wittgenstein.

Your plan is very simple: You’ll set the life described in the Wikipedia entry to film, supplement it with images that you find in Flickr, and add music that you’ve downloaded from Opsound.

As I described earlier, perhaps the most important feature of digital content is that from a technical perspective such a project is now trivial. Technology now gives creators — at a relatively tiny cost — the ability to take sounds and images from the culture around us and remix them to produce something new. A high school student using off the shelf technology will find no technical barriers to the remix I’ve just described. Of course, you’ve got to be good creatively. It’s not easy even with the best technology to make a film. But that challenge, one might well think, is the appropriate challenge for a creator. Get the technology out of the way, and let the difficult task be the task of creating.

Yet there’s another difficulty lurking in this story that many are just becoming aware of within the Free Culture Movement. You might be able — technically — to remix all this creativity. But can you remix it legally? Will the licenses that “free” content permit that free content to be remixed?

The astonishing (and for us lawyers, embarrassing) answer is no. Even if all the creative work you want to remix is licensed under a copyleft license, because those licenses are different licenses, you can’t take creative work from one, and remix it in another. Wikipedia, for example, is licensed under the FDL. It requires derivatives be licensed under the FDL only. And the same is true of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license that governs Opsound content, as well as much of the creativity within Flickr. All of these licenses were written without regard to the fundamental value of every significant advance in the digital age — interoperability.

We’re going to fix this. Or at least, we’re going to try. One way would be for everyone to use just one particular Creative Commons license. But bullying the world into using a single license is neither consistent with our values nor sensible for the ecology of free culture. So instead, we are launching a project to facilitate interoperability among sufficiently compatible license types. And we will work hard to persuade others within the free license ecology to join us in this movement.

Here’s the basic idea we’re starting with (though recognize that there will be lots of discussion before we settle on any final plan). As you’ll see, it builds upon the strategy we’ve already adopted to assure compatibility across licenses in different jurisdictions:

Creative Commons licenses come in three layers: (1) a human readable Commons Deed, which describes the freedoms associated with the content in terms anyone should be able to understand; (2) a lawyer-readable Legal Code — a license — that makes enforceable the freedoms associated with the content; and (3) machine-readable metadata that makes the freedoms associated with the content understandable by computers. You can visualize the three together like this:

Early on, we started porting our licenses to other jurisdictions, so that people around the world can license their creativity under local law. In that process, our aim was to assure that creativity licensed in one country was compatible with creativity licensed in another. Thus we multiplied the licenses at the second layer of our architecture, creating something that looks like this:

Today we announce the beginning of a project to explore expanding this interoperability beyond Creative Commons licenses. We’ve begun a process to build a board (what we’ll call the Creative Commons Legal Advisory Board, or ccLab for short) that will be composed of experts in licensing from around the world. This board will establish procedures by which similar free licenses, upon submission from the license curator, can be deemed “compatible.” And if a license is deemed compatible, adds CC metadata to express the freedoms associated with the content, and links to a Commons Deed, to explain the freedoms associated with the content, then we will certify the license as within the federation of free licenses that we’re trying to build. This world will then look something like this:

If we succeed in this project, then creative work will more easily be able to move from one license to another, as creativity is remixed. And this ability for creative work to move to compatible free licenses will provide a market signal about which licenses are deemed more stable, or reliable, by the free licensing community. Free culture will no longer be ghettoized within a particular free license. It will instead be able to move among all relevantly compatible licenses. And the world of “autistic freedom” that governs much of the free software world will be avoided in the free culture world.

This project won’t, of course, make incompatible licenses compatible. For example, work licensed under an Attribution-NoDerivatives license can’t be mixed with work licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike license. That incompatibility, however, is intended by the creator. And while I agree with many that we should work to reduce this sort of incompatibility as well, I believe it is much more important to eliminate unintended incompatibility first. The creators who are joining the Free Culture Movement by releasing their creative work under free licenses do so because of the values those licenses express. They don’t do so because of the particular flair of legal prose that one free license might have over another. We must find a way to push the egos of the lawyers off of center stage, so that the values of the creators can finally be realized.

This is not an easy project. It will require lots of support. Most importantly, it will require all of us within the Free Culture Movement to put aside our own parochial interests, and work to cooperate for a sensible end. As Richard Stallman famously said:

“If we don’t want to live in a jungle, we must change our attitudes. We must start sending the message that a good citizen is one who cooperates when appropriate…”

Stallman is absolutely correct. The creators who have chosen the values of free culture don’t want a world where their creativity can’t be used consistent with their values. We who are building the infrastructure of free culture have a responsibility to respect their values.

Next week, I’ll turn to some of the critics of Creative Commons. But this week, indeed, right now, we still need your support.

We’re one month to the end of this drive, and have a long way to go. Check out the Red Hat dollar for dollar challenge.

From flickr to The Charlie Rose Show

Mike Linksvayer, November 29th, 2005

Photo by Steve Jurveston licensed under cc by.

Steve Jurveston comments about cool uses of his CC-licensed photos on Flickr:

Imagine my surprise when I heard that the Charlie Rose show found my photo on flickr and wanted to use it on broadcast TV.

They were interviewing Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and seer of exponential trends in technology (“Moore’s Law”). They wanted a photo of Dr. Moore pursuing his passion for fishing, and they found my photo entitled Moore Fish.

Thanks to Larry Lessig and the Creative Commons license for making this so easy. There have been so many cool uses and remixes of my photos ever since I switched from copyright to CC in flickr, including textbooks on lasers, fourth grade geography projects, and a variety of very cool graphic art mash ups from Argentina.

The Charlie Rose Show is a popular interview program on U.S. public television.

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Red Hat challenges you to support Creative Commons

Mike Linksvayer, November 28th, 2005

Red Hat, a company with considerable claim to being the open source leader, has generously agreed to participate in the Creative Commons fundraising campaign with a Sponsor Challenge Match. Contribute now and double the impact of your gift to Creative Commons!

Thanks Red Hat

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Job Opening – Science Commons Counsel

Mia Garlick, November 28th, 2005

Creative Commons’ Science Commons project is looking for legal counsel to run its licensing work. Details are here.

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CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses

Lawrence Lessig, November 23rd, 2005

[This email is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig and others about the history and future of Creative Commons. If you would like to be removed from this list, please click here:
Alternatively, if you know others who might find these interesting, please recommend they sign up at
http://creativecommons.org/about/lessigletter ]

From last week’s episode:
In the next two weeks, I’ll describe two other new initiatives that will define our work over the next year. And then this path of missives will turn to consider some criticisms of what we’ve done and where we’re going. Stay tuned, but fear not: I promise to be finished by Christmas!

The story continues:
From the start, we’ve had a simple slogan: “Some Rights Reserved.” A Creative Commons license gives permission to exercise some rights, but also allows the author or creator to keep some rights to him- or herself. Thus the meaning of a BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) license is not that the author would never grant commercial rights. Instead it simply means that the commercial rights are not granted or “pre-cleared” by the Creative Commons license. To get the commercial rights, you need to ask the author first.

Many people have never understood this about us. They’ve confused “commons” with “communist.” They’ve suggested we believe that artists don’t need to eat. But nothing in our mission is against artists profiting from their work. Indeed, our message from the start has been that for at least some creative work, and some artists, the exposure that a Creative Commons license offers could help the artist profit from his or her work.

Today we announce a project to make that message clearer. Over the next six months, we will be developing a new feature with some Creative Commons licenses to enable creators to add links to permit users to commercially exploit their works.

We call this project “cc.com,” and while the details are still being hammered out, here’s the basic idea: Let’s imagine you’re a musician who is happy to have your music shared noncommercially. But, like most, if someone is going to make a profit from your work, you want a piece of that pie. So while you’ll allow members of the public to use your work noncommercially under a Creative Commons license, you reserve the commercial rights. But you’d also be very happy to offer the commercial rights to others on certain terms.

Here’s how cc.com might work. You come to the Creative Commons site and select your Creative Commons license. If you select a license with a NonCommercial license element, then we’ll give you the choice of partners who might be able to offer your work commercially. (Alternatively, you could simply specify a link back to yourself for any commercial licensing.)

If you select a partner, the system would pass you through a partner site to enable you to specify the commercial terms associated with your content. That information would be added back to the Creative Commons license as a link to the partner site. Your Commons Deed could then look something like this:

So that when someone comes to your Commons Deed, they would be informed of the rights you have licensed to the public for free use and enjoyment. But then they’d also be given a link to a site where they can buy something more than what is given for free. That something more could be more rights. It could be CDs. Or it could be anything that you and our partners decided would be useful to offer through the Commons Deed link.

Creative Commons would not be running these commercial sites. Except for selecting trusted partners, we would have nothing to do with any commercial transaction. Our aim would simply be to enable another link between the artist and a fan, so that the artist could more directly profit from his or her creativity.

We’re already tinkering with the technology to make this work. We’re beginning to talk to potential partners. There’s lots left to be done. But I’m confident that within the next 6 months, we’ll be launching this important new Creative Commons initiative, with the support, I’m confident, of many important creators.

Next week I’ll describe a second initiative that we’ll be launching over the next year. And while this second initiative will be important for Creative Commons, it will be critical to the ecology of creativity generally. Stay tuned.

One final fundraising plug: It took a lot of work, but I convinced my staff to re-release the original Creative Commons t-shirt, with a slight, but important, modification. Check it out here.

And buy millions for your friends here.

If only sharing were really simple…

Mike Linksvayer, November 21st, 2005

Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie writes that Microsoft has released another RSS extension specification under CC:

One other important point: We’re releasing the SSE specification under a Creative Commons license – Attribution-ShareAlike.
I’m very pleased that Microsoft is supporting the Creative Commons
approach; you can see more about this at in the licensing section at
the end of the spec.

It’s great to see positive recognition of Creative Commons at a high level in Microsoft.

The spec released is meant to making sharing (in the technical sense of data exchange) of calendars and contact lists really simple by building on data formats used to syndicate blogs.

Sharing calendars and contact lists, though conceptually very simple, turns out to be hard, as evinced by the lack of widely adopted solutions that work outside of a single website or corporate network. Sort of reminds one of the conceptual simplicity and harsh reality of sharing creative works, though the obstacles, largely technical and legal respectively, are very different (though something like “standards politics” plays a role in each).

Note that Creative Commons’ office neighbors are also working on interoperable calendar and contact list sharing.


Music 100 years ago, today

Mike Linksvayer, November 19th, 2005

The Cylinder Presservation and Digitization Project has placed online amazing collection of over 5000 recordings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unrestored digitizations available as large .wav files are in the public domain, while restored mp3s are licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial, as described in the project’s note on copyright.

Browse the collection. Listen to a 1902 track by Geroge W. Johnson, the first African-American phonograph star, and one from 1914 by Henry Burr, the biggest Canadian star of the era. Needless to say there are some remix possibilities here.

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Discussion Draft – Proposed License Amendment to Avoid Content Ghettos in the Commons

Mia Garlick, November 17th, 2005

For those of us dedicated to creating, expanding and enabling a commons of creativity and knowledge (expressed in a variety of formats), the issue of license interoperability is an important one. Already there has been valuable commentary about the interoperability between content licensed under different types of Creative Commons licenses — specifically, those that permit both commercial and noncommercial uses and those that restrict use to noncommercial uses only. These concerns are valid and important, and we are working to address them in our FAQ and general messaging. It is critical that license adopters make a sufficiently informed choice about which license satisfies their requirements, and that they understand the consequences of their license selection _before_ they choose a license.

However there is another — arguably more pressing — interoperability issue that arises in the context of content licensed under a Creative Commons license and content licensed under other “free” licenses. As many of these licenses are now crafted, there is no way for creativity to be shared among these licenses, even if the underlying freedoms guaranteed by the licenses are the same.

Thus, for example, Wikipedia is licensed under the Free Software Foundation’s GFDL. That license essentially enables the same freedoms as the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license; but you can’t take content from Wikipedia and mix it with BY-SA photos from Flickr because the licenses don’t permit interoperability. Even though the underlying freedoms are the same, the legal codes make the content non-interoperability.

We want to fix this problem. Over the next few months, Creative Commons will be announcing a project to facilitate the federation of free licenses. Our aim is to make the legal code of those licenses interoperable. We will be working with as many representatives from the free culture movement as we can to build this federation of free licenses. We will appreciate your advice and feedback as we do that.

Today we are launching a discussion as a small first step towards that interoperability. This is by no means a solution to the general problem. But it is an effort to smooth the differences between two of the most important free license families.

Many have talked about dual-licensing as a solution to the interoperability problem. That is a good first step, but it raises obvious problem that has been eloquently discussed on our cc-licenses list — namely, that whichever license you take content under, any derivatives that you make must then stay under that license.

To solve that problem, and to begin this discussion of license interoperability, Creative Commons seeks comment on proposed amendments to Creative Commons licenses that contain a ShareAlike license element. These amendments would enable dual licensing of derivatives. By proposing (and hopefully effecting) the amendments posted here, Creative Commons hopes to enable interoperability between “free” content licenses, encourage dual licensing of open content projects and avoid the depletion those projects by barring the return of derivatives to that project. Again, this is not a long term solution. But while we begin the process of discussion to find that long term solution, we believe this will help many important free culture projects achieve a limited interoperability immediately. We are committed to doing whatever we can to assure that creative work licensed freely can move as freely among licenses as the principles embedded in those licenses will allow.

Please circulate your comments to and participate in the debate on the cc-licenses list.


CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on iCommons

Lawrence Lessig, November 16th, 2005

[This is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig and
others about the history and future of Creative Commons. If you know others who might find these interesting,
please recommend they sign up at

Two weeks ago, I described our first efforts to build CC
internationally. That was the beginning of the “iCommons Project.”
Directed from Berlin, this project began with a single objective: to
“port” Creative Commons licenses into the law of local jurisdictions.
Our aim was to build an infrastructure of free licenses
internationally so that creative work could move from jurisdiction to
jurisdiction while preserving the freedoms that the creator chose. In
less than three years, we have over 70 volunteer projects working to
port Creative Commons licenses and 25 jurisdictions that have already
launched their local licenses.

This first effort to build an international Commons has been much
more successful than I ever imagined. There were many sleepless
nights when I worried whether we would find any international
partners Let’s just say the sleeplessness has now moved far from
that concern. Indeed, if anything, we’ve seen the iCommons project
become much more than we imagined. As CC projects developed around
the world, they connected with movements that had the same ideals.
These ideals of a “Commons” are not American. They are human. And as
iCommons opened channels of discussions of these ideals, we began to
recognize that the iCommons Project would have to grow.

Last June, around a hundred of our volunteers from more than 40 of
our iCommons jurisdictions gathered in Boston for the first iCommons
Summit. We began a discussion then about how we could best support
this growing international movement. And as I listened to the
iCommons participants describe the work that they wanted to do, I
realized then that iCommons promised to become much more than the
(relatively) simple project that Creative Commons was. Creative
Commons was launched to build an infrastructure of freedom; iCommons
promised to build a global movement that would embrace and extend (in
the best possible way) that infrastructure of freedom.

So in June, we began to discuss publicly an idea that had been
suggested by one iCommons participant — that we separate iCommons
into its own organization, led by the many young leaders of this
movement from around the world. And with this email, I am very happy
to announce that we have done just that.

iCommons is now a separate nonprofit, organized under the laws of
Britain. Its board will comprise a wide range of activists from
around the world. And while iCommons will continue to support the
spread of Creative Commons licenses, it will also do much more.
iCommons will become the core of a federation of movements all
pushing to enable creativity and the spread of knowledge and culture

Creative Commons will seed this movement with financial and
organizational support (yet another reason we need your support!).
But as iCommons becomes its own movement with its own voice, the role
of Creative Commons in this federation will be just one of many.

What happens then to the project designed to port Creative Commons
licenses internationally? That work will remain with Creative
Commons. Christiane Asschenfeldt will continue to lead that part of
our project. But its work will be focused upon building the legal
infrastructure that Creative Commons needs internationally.
Christiane will continue to identify international volunteers to help
port our licenses in their local jurisdictions. We will continue to
celebrate as these licenses are locally launched. And some (we hope
all) of these local partners of Creative Commons will join iCommons.

So “what more than licenses” is Creative Commons? We’re building an
infrastructure of free licenses internationally. We’re working with
scientists and scholars to extend these ideals to science. And now
we’ve helped seed an international movement that will work with
artists, educators, collecting rights societies, museums, publishers
and governments, to build upon this infrastructure free cultures.

Creative Commons is all this that these emails have described. More
importantly, it is all this that needs your support.

In the next two weeks, I’ll describe two other new initiatives that
will define our work over the next year. And then this path of
missives will turn to consider some criticisms of what we’ve done and
where we’re going. Stay tuned, but fear not: I promise to be finished
by Christmas!


Before I end this week’s email, some news from the fundraising-front:
On November 3 in San Francisco, over 120 supporters and friends of
Creative Commons attended a cocktail event to celebrate new iCommons
board member Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. The event was sponsored by
the law firms that first launched Creative Commons, Cooley Godward,
and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, as well as a new supporter of
CC – Scharffen Berger Chocolate. Thanks to everyone who helped make
that event a success. And after you view some of the photos from the
, please feel free to join them in supporting CC today!


To link to or comment on this message, go to:

Week 6 – What is Science Commons? By John Wilbanks, Science Commons
Executive Director
– Thanks to Maria Cristinia Alvite for translation

Archive of Lessig Letters

Support the Commons

Learn More

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Building Web 2.0

Mike Linksvayer, November 16th, 2005

It is my duty as a member of the Xtech 2006 program committee to inform you of the call for participation. The theme of the conference, to be held May 16-19 in Amsterdam, is “Building Web 2.0.”

Whatever you think of the Web 2.0 name, it is clear that Creative Commons is highly relevant, as remix of various forms (e.g., of content and web services) is core to the phenomena, with an attendant need for interoperability and flexible copyright licensing.

Xtech 2005 featured presentations from Creative Commons and Science Commons. I hope to hear about projects using Creative Commons at Xtech 2006.

Check out the simultaneously expansive and 100% on point Xtech 2006 CFP now. Proposals are due 2006-01-09.

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