[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
From last week’s episode:
Thus we use our licenses to build the freedoms authors want upon a
reinforced layer of “fair use” freedoms. Creative Commons is thus
“fair use”-plus: a promise that any freedoms given are always in
addition to the freedoms guaranteed by the law.
That’s the end of the background. Next week I will describe some of
the fun stuff Creative Commons has built, and some more about where
The story continues:
About two months ago, a friend asked:
I don’t get what Creative Commons is, beyond a bunch of servers
serving up licenses to people around the world. Why would you need
The question was completely understandable. Most who see us just see
us through our licenses. Yet there’s a great deal more to what we’re
doing. And my aim over the next few weeks is to describe that great
This email is just a start (I promised to keep these short). Its aim
is to describe the initial core of CC.
When Creative Commons was launched in December, 2002, we had a
simple, narrow focus — to spread Creative Commons licenses. The
organization was housed in the basement of Stanford Law School. The
tiny staff worked so hard that some at Stanford thought they lived
The aim at the time was straightforward: to explain why Creative
Commons licenses mattered. We did that with lectures, with stories
for the press, and even with Flash.
Slowly, we found traction. MIT’s OpenCourseWare project used CC
licenses to free an extraordinary range of content for anyone to
build upon or share. Rice University’s Connexions project did the
same. And Tim O’Reilly gave us over 500 titles from O’Reilly Press to
release under free licenses, including some under a license (the
Founders’ Copyright) that voluntarily reduces the term of copyright
to just 14 (or 28) years.
Very soon into the project, we started getting emails from around the
world asking how others in other countries could participate too.
Technically, our licenses were designed to work anywhere in the
world. But this enthusiasm went far beyond the desire to adopt US-
So early on we launched the “iCommons Project.” Headquartered in
Berlin, the initial aim of the iCommons Project was to coordinate
with volunteers from around the world to develop versions of our
licenses that were tuned to the law of local jurisdictions. Japan was
the first, developing a license based in Japanese law that could also
be used anywhere in the world. These localized licenses would then
link to a translated “Commons Deed” (remember, the simple plain
English (and now, plain-Japanese, Spanish, French, etc…) explanation
of the license), and then to a universal set of metadata that would
make the freedoms attached to the content understandable by computers.
iCommons quickly exploded. Soon we had volunteers from over 70
countries around the world interested in porting our licenses to
their local law. And as countries completed the project, I began
trekking across the world to celebrate the launch of Creative Commons
internationally. With Slovenia’s launch this last weekend, there are
now 24 jurisdictions that have gone live. And a bunch more will
become live very soon.
This is the core of what CC has been — making free licenses work
wherever we can. But that’s just the beginning of the work we’ve
done. Next, we’ll describe the Science Commons. And after that,
another major new international project.
One final fundraising related bit of news: As you know, I’m writing
these letters as part of our annual fundraising campaign. This letter
might begin to help you see why such a campaign is needed. But I
wanted to tell you about a new feature to this campaign: We’re asking
our supporters to add a Creative Commons button to their site, to
help grow the Commoners Movement. Please support us by adding a
button to any page you might control. You can get the button here.
Thanks for any help you can offer.
To link to or comment on this message, go to: