CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses

Lawrence Lessig

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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 “,” 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 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.

8 thoughts on “CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses”

  1. The notion of "commercially exploiting" a work is not really fleshed out here very well, possibly with intent. At first I was thinking, something along the lines of "someone creating a commercial work wants to sample a Creative Commons work, lets give them a way to buy the CC work convieniently".

    BUT then my imagination got running: suppose I want to make my CC work commercially availble (I want to sell it). I know that some people, because they are loyal fans, will want to buy my work, or make a donation (i.e. people often give more than they have to to Magnatune for music downloads). I might want to do this even if my work is not NC’d. It’s easy enough to get a paypal account and ask for donations, but suppose:

    – I want people to be able to buy a paper copy of my book that is hosted in digital format


    – I want people to be able to buy a pressed CD or maybe even a USB stick of my work that’s still available to download free on my website

    Are there business that will cater to these types of services ? If so, it would be advantagous for the Creative Commons to refer commoners to these types of services.

    I’ve very curious to see what will become of this idea. Thank you for working to support artist financially.

  2. "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"

    This sounds like good news. Very flexible.

  3. This is great news, I posted a suggestion about something I called "Fair Compensation" to the cc-licenses list recently. This proposal seems to be an apropriate way to deal with that sort of extension to cc-licenses. Its actually what was missing desperately to make it really work.

  4. I’m sorry but I just don’t get it.

    I see how the CC license adds value in some areas, but it just doesn’t work in the music sphere. What does it mean to share music "non-commercially" – I’m a musician and if someone downloads my music – that’s all i’ve got. It’s not software that i can charge for the service or photos that i can charge for reprints. It’s music. If i let everone listen to it, there’s no reason for them to buy a CD and no way for me to make $. I can think of other examples – take being a university professor. Why don’t you give away the law degree – make all of your classes available via creative commons license and anyone can take them even though they didn’t pay $100k to go to stanford law school? Don’t worry, they can’t make any money off of your classes so they can’t practice law with the degree.

  5. Jess,

    I believe you’re mistaken about what the non-commercial use clause does. It isnt for things that would normally be paid for, it’s for people who wish to use your copyrighted materials to make money themselves, such as ads, movies, et. al.

  6. Jess,

    Think of "They Might Be Giants" and their Dial-A-Music answering machine back in the late 80s. Their answering machine featured a new demo-quality recording of a unreleased song from a rehearsal or other live performance. This got fans psyched about the upcoming material, and built the band’s fan base as word got around about the answering machine number.

    You can say all you want about the quality of music over the phone, especially off of an 80s cassette-based monoaural answering machine. But in essence, they were giving their music away for free. And they were one of the most popular of the then-brand-new meme we now call "alternative music".

    Or take the Grateful Dead: highest grossing band in history. They let people tape concerts and let them trade them. There were people who would master CD "concert compilations" of the Dead’s work. Giving the music away for free indeed. And there is nothing better than live music. Some people prefer it over some of their records with better quality sound and cleaner arrangements. But like I said, the Grateful Dead is the highest grossing band in history.

    Or take an "undiscovered" Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, giving free demo cassettes of their music to people that came to see them perform live, way back in the early 80s. The attendees had already paid the cover charge out of which the band would get paid for the performance, and the band didn’t have cassettes for everybody. So the cassette was a gimmick: most attendees would pass it along to friends, who would then come to the next life performance, thereby increasing the fan base.

    So OK, those are examples of successful bands way back when. How about today?

    Visit Magnatune Record’s website and check out the dozens of musicians there that are making Creative Commons work for them. Magnatune has been paying their artists 50 % royalties on sales for years (try getting even 5 % royalties from a major label), and yet all the music is available for download for free on their site.

    You may never get it, and we may never be able to explain it sufficiently well to convince everyone, whether they are skeptic or fair-minded.

    But it works, dude! Why don’t you give Magnatune a call and get them to explain how they make it work? They could help you monetize your music, getting you a better deal than almost any other label out there.

    PS – I do not work for Magnature Records, nor for Creative Commons. I’m just a fan of two Magnatune Records musicians (Brad Sucks and Barbara Leoni), and a CC supporter.

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