The Missing Link? (Innovation 2a)

This is the third in a series of blog postings dedicated to inviting comment on possible innovations to our licenses. Posts 1a and 1b dealt with potential new license options. This post and the one to follow deal with potential refinements of our existing license texts.

The Missing Link? (Innovation 2a)

Several people have written in suggesting that we include a link-back requirement as part of the Attribution condition. We chose not to do so in our first set of licenses because we thought it would be a somewhat onerous requirement for licensees, who after all shouldn’t be held responsible for the occasional broken link or altered URL. After hearing your input, we played with some language requiring licensees, “to the extent practicable,” to link back to the copyrightholder’s site. Some of you, however, wisely noted that this may give licensees a bit too much leeway. So we’re now thinking about the language below as a possible addition to the Attribution provision:

“If the [licensed] Work appears on a Web site, You [licensee] must accompany the work with a hyperlink to the Uniform Resource Identifier specified by licensor, assuming that Uniform Resource Identifier remains accessible.”

Do you think such a requirement would significantly improve the Attribution condition? If so, how might we improve upon this language? Should the link-back requirement be its own option, or simply part of the Attribution option?

18 thoughts on “The Missing Link? (Innovation 2a)”

  1. I agree with those who suggest it should be optional. I have photographs on my web site that I would merely want my name associated with their subsequent uses. I would say this in both cases where the photograph is printed out and where it is published on a website. There are certainly those who would want the linkback though. Also, attribution practices might vary across media types. I can imagine the following happening on the CC website when you choose “Attribution”.

    The page auto-reloads to show a new set of attribution options. They are:
    Attribution by
    [] Name [AND/OR]
    [] Link-back [AND/OR]
    [] manner appropriate to the medium, genre, and market niche.

    I can imagine someone who would only want the third option, so I include it. This would be a person who wants their name associated with their photograph if printed out and who wants both their name and a linkback if the photograph is hosted on a website. Or common means of attribution may vary for music on a CD versus concerts or films, etc, so the last option is intended to say attribute in the way that is commonly practiced for that use.

    (Of course, when we allow AND/OR options on three items above a problem of ambiguity has to be resolved.) One might intend
    Attribute by (name and linkback) or manner appropriate
    Attribute by name and (linkback or manner appropriate)
    The two options above are distinct, for the second requires the name and something more while the first might not require a name. So making the page simple to understand and work through is slightly challenging, but could be done.

  2. I see no reason to limit this to appearance on a website. If the distribution or performance device is networked, the holders URI should be associated with the work in a linked mode if such mode is availabe on the device. The URI should also be associted with the work no matter what the medium. The URI should be named in the licence in such a form that it stands the test of time.

  3. I’d say that adding a link back feature to the attribution clause would be a very good thing, especially considering how many bloggers use CC licenses. Furthermore, this would provide a more explicit way to define attribution, rather than just a blanket “you must attribute this work” clause.

  4. I like the idea of the link-back option, but I would agree that it should not automatically be included in the attribution license. It’s true that offering it as a separate option complicates things a bit, and that there are already a lot of choices, but I do think it is important enough to many people that it should be one of the available possibilities.

  5. I was reasoning about the ‘attribution’ option and I finally think that it should be integrated as default in each license, deleting it as option in CC licenses. I think that in some European country this is already law, right?.
    This because also when we cite or modify a work became of or released in public domain it should be our duty to cite the author, also if only in a bibliography.
    For example, nobody can copy a Grimm’s fable and attribute it to himself;
    so nobody should not be able to copy a Grimm’s fable, modify a line of it and attribute it to himself;
    so nobody should be able to modify (also strongly) a Grimm’s fable without citing him in the bibliography, at least.
    This should be valid also for recent works released in the public domain or with the ‘modify’ option.
    So, for me, attribution right must be a default and everybody must cite the sources of his work.

    – – – – – – – – – – –
    The problem is how to regulate this attribution, especially when we modify a work that is already a modified work…
    I have some solutions:
    1. the author that modifies a work must cite only the author of the most recent modified work, the last one, without going back in the hierarchy. If someone wants to know the previous authors 0must find the previous works and look at the bibliography.
    There is a big disadvantage:
    For example John can find an unknown nice fable written by Alice and released in the public domain. John of X Company occasionally finds, corrects and modifies the original work in few points and publish it as his work (modified from Alice’s work).
    X Company realizes a cartoon movie from John’s work citing John as the author… The movie becomes a success and most of people thinks that the story has been written by John… only few know that Alice is the true author…
    I think this is how it works for books now;

    2. the author that modifies a work must cite the whole hierarchy of past authors. This is right, but it’s a problem because nobody would read the written text of the bibliography; it’s not practical because the bibliography text will be very long, and this can be a big problem for books, articles and movies. A digital archive can be a solution only for easier finding of the original authors.

    3. the author that modifies a work must cite the most recent five (3, 4?) past authors. This can solve some cited problems, but if the main author is former the problem still remains…

    How the current laws about citing work (especially for public domain)? Can we find a solution that permits to cite the main authors of a work?
    Probably my doubts are stupid and if they are, please don’t care about them.

    Thank you for your attention.

  6. The CC licenses are already getting dangerously close to complicated with three options. If I see (CC) at the bottom of a work, it already needs qualifying with three symbols before I know what it means. Any more would get ridiculous.

    For this and any other changes, resist adding more options. You may have to accept that the license won’t suit everyone down to the ground. Be strong. 🙂


  7. I think this is extremely desirable. Particularly with licenses that allow modification, making it as easy as possible for the reader to view the original version is a service to her as well as to the original author.

  8. I’m with Henri. For example, when Wired asked to use one of my photos in their print magazine, I asked they credit me ala “Aaron Swartz (”.

  9. I really like link-backs as you can see from my site.

    However, I think this discussion must consider its wider context of metadata. If link-backs are required or optional, perhaps other metadata should also be required or optional. If that is the case, then a standard should be adopted for the metadata. If standard metadata is required or optional, then it should work with Dublin Core. A good deal of work on metadata has also been done by the Gateway for Educational Materials (

  10. Not everyone may want to require a linkback as long as their name appears in the attribution. I would tend to fall into that camp. I would prefer a linkback (to get more publicity for my site), but my biggest concern is with people passing off my work as their own and the attribution requirement deals with that.

    Having it as a separate option is best because it’s more flexible.

  11. I would be worried by link-back becoming a compulsory part of attribution in the form proposed.


    This is because I have concerns about mentioning specific technical concepts such as Uniform Resource Identifiers in the licenses[*].


    Given current copyright terms, these licenses will apply to works for a very long time. I think there is a danger that the periods in question might outlast specific technical concepts, even those as generic and well-supported as URI. This could make adhering to the license difficult despite the intent of the licensor, for if Creative Commons licenses are as successful as hoped it will not be practical for all licensors to reissue all works under an updated license.


    (Apologies if CC have already considered this issue – perhaps you have taken appropriate advice from the IETF/W3C/whatever. Or, since IA-very-much-NAL, you may be relying on some legal precedent or convention that would mean that in practice there would not be problems.)


    [*]The requirement to refer to licenses by their URIs buzzed me slightly when I first read over the existing licenses, but the ramifications of change seem less serious in that case.

  12. Anthony Bailey (ref. above) actually makes a great point. Here’s a quote from his post…

    “I would be worried by link-back becoming a compulsory part of attribution in the form proposed.

    This is because I have concerns about mentioning specific technical concepts such as Uniform Resource Identifiers in the licenses[*].”

    Honestly, when I first read the original post at the top, I hadn’t thought of that. Here’s another part of his post that made me sit back and mumble, “hmmmm…”

    “Given current copyright terms, these licenses will apply to works for a very long time. I think there is a danger that the periods in question might outlast specific technical concepts…”

    Again, very good point. I don’t mean to steal from his post above. I just want to point out that his line of reasoning is spot on from my perspective.


  13. The link-back requirement makes sense. If you still need help with the language for the license, let me know and I will ask one of my attorney friends for his input.

  14. This mirrors some of my own thinking, and is one of the things that has delayed me from implementing CC licenses on my own site.

    I don’t necessarily need a linkback, but I’d like to at least know where my work is appearing. I’d like to see a notification option — not for permission, but just as a courtesy.

    I’d also like there to be some option for allowing derivative works only with some identification of what has been altered, so I’m not falsely credited for modifications that weren’t mine.

  15. well, by making it it’s own option, you certainly will satisfy everyone’s requirements and let the licensor choose what works best for them. This is at the cost of a wee bit of simplictity, but in my opinion it’s probably worth it.

    I, for one, would immediately opt for the link-back attribute because I believe that it’s one of the only failings of the Attibution/Non-Commerical/Share-alike license. It is also most appropriate, in my opinion, for the typical weblogger.

  16. I too would like to see a notification license to track distribution of work. This would be the same as the user having to ask for permission except they don’t have to wait for the author to respond before they go ahead. As long as they notify, permission is granted. Users would be required to where possible give a brief summary of how material is being used or how many copies they have distributed. The author could specify what information is desired and how to register it (e.g. fill in a web form to produce a global map showing distribution).

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