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CC Labs


From our last letter:
“CC has come to be about much more than just licenses, and certainly much more than any of us dreamed.”

The story continued:

So this week we launched a fresh face to the Creative Commons website. Built within WordPress, we hope the site will make it easier for people to understand and use our tools. Most noticeable are the new CC license icons, which expressly indicate the terms of the particular CC license used.

But with this letter, we also launch a new page at the CC site — At CC Labs, we begin to demo some cool new innovations that the CC team has been working on. In this letter, I’ll describe three of these innovations. The most important — by far — is an extension to the CC model that I first described in these letters last year. I suspect nothing will be as important in spreading the CC model as this critical extension.

First, however, let me describe the other two innovations.

One very difficult issue we’ve faced from the start is making understandable the freedoms our licenses are intended to provide. We’ve made that task more difficult by emphasizing in the names we’ve given to our licenses the limits on the freedoms, rather than the freedoms themselves. Thus, we talk about the CC-BY license – which says you must give attribution, but doesn’t say “you have the freedom to share and remix this content.” For people who get it, this isn’t a problem. But for people not yet on this page, emphasizing requirements, or restrictions, doesn’t seem very free.

One step towards solving this problem is a tool to give people a more intuitive sense of the freedoms they’re allowing, and the conditions they’re imposing. That’s the aim of our Freedoms License Chooser.

When you open the page, you’re presented with four puzzle pieces that are interlinked. The top two – in green – specify the freedoms you can select to apply to your creativity: the freedom to Share, or the freedom to Remix, or both. On the bottom, there are two limiting conditions — in red — that you can select to restrict the freedoms you have granted: NonCommercial, or ShareAlike, or both. Not all combinations are possible. (For example, if you don’t give the freedom to Remix, you can’t require that others ShareAlike, since ShareAlike is a restriction on remixes or derivative works.)

As you toggle the freedoms and limitations, the resulting license is displayed in the center of the puzzle. Click through all the options and you begin to get a much more intuitive sense of the shape of the commons.

The second example of CC Labs is also a licensing engine, again designed to make it easier to understand and implement CC licenses. It begins with the same questions that the Freedoms License Chooser has — select the freedoms and select the limitations. More insistently than before, it also asks you to give more information about your work, so that the metadata attached to your work makes the license more valuable.

But then this License Generator gives an option we haven’t had before. In the current version, it asks where the license will be applied — on a web page, or (and this is the cool part) in MySpace.

If you select a web page, then, as always, the tool gives you the code to paste into the web page. But if you select MySpace, then it asks you to select a style, and indicate whether you want a floating license or a license for your profile. If you select a floating position, then the CC license governing the content on your MySpace page will live at the bottom of the screen.

Ok, so these innovations are designed to do a bit better what we’ve always done. The last innovation on CC Labs, however, will radically change the scope and reach of CC licenses.

You might not think so given the title of this innovation — “Metadata Lab.” It’s the nature of tech-types to be understated. But I don’t think we could overstate the importance of this new innovation. And in the few words left in this letter, I want to introduce you to this potential.

As you know, CC licenses are nonexclusive. That means the terms of the CC license are general, offered to anyone in the world. But they don’t limit the author’s right to enter into other deals.

So for example, my book, Free Culture, is offered under a CC BY-NC-SA license, meaning anyone is free to take and modify the work, but only for noncommercial purposes. Yet I also have another deal with my publisher that permits it to sell the book (something that’s not permitted by the NC license). That deal is not inconsistent with the CC license, since again the CC license is not exclusive. The CC license says, “Here are the terms that anyone in the world can take.” But you’re always free to strike different deals with particular people.

Some people don’t want to strike different deals. They want their CC license to specify all terms for everyone. My blog, for example, is offered under a CC-BY license. That’s an invitation to anyone to commercialize my content without worrying about contacting me. Some have. CNET Japan, for example, was translating my blog and selling advertisements around it. That’s perfectly fine with me, given the license I selected.

But some people are quite happy to strike deals that complement their CC license. A Flickr photographer, for example, might post her photos under a BY-NC license. But she’d be happy to license the photo to a magazine for commercial purposes — so long as the magazine asked.

So far that second step has been somewhat difficult. Of course, it’s often easy to go from a CC licensed work to the original author, just because the work is online, and links are easy. But it’s been hard to integrate the CC license into other applications. And very hard to specify upfront just what the terms of a different license would be.

Soon, this will no longer be the case. What the Metadata Lab demonstrates is a particular example of a much more general facility that we will enable very soon. Using our licensing engine to add the appropriate metadata, users will be able to specify rights or applications beyond those specified in the license itself. Those rights, or applications, might include commercial rights, or things people can buy, or, as I describe more below, other CC licenses.

So for example, the CC license might say CC-BY-NC. But when wrapped in the appropriate metadata, the CC Commons Deed could have a link to an agent, or just a web site, where commercial uses could be negotiated.

Or alternatively, the CC license might say CC-BY-NC. But the metadata would indicate a tip jar, where a donation could be made.

Or where you can get a CD of the music offered under a NC license.

Or one of the band’s t-shirts.

Thus, the general facility this innovation will provide is a simple and automatic way to say,“the CC license gives you these rights automatically, but go here to get different rights, or different applications.”

Here are some examples from companies we’re beginning to work with. Click on the CC License icon to see how the “Rights Beyond” is handled.

Now as I indicated last year, CC is not hosting these different applications. We’re not in the business of selling content, or (other peoples’) t-shirts. So this is not an architecture to enable CC to become commercial. Our stuff is still free (well, not our t-shirts). Our tools will always be free.

Instead, what this innovation does is to give people a simple way to point to places beyond the CC license for uses or applications that the CC license doesn’t itself provide.

Must these uses be commercial? No. In my view, perhaps the most important case for using this “rights beyond” facility is to specify alternative CC licenses.

For example, let’s say you offer your content under a CC-BY-NC license. But you’d be happy to have your content included within Wikipedia. One solution would be to dual license your content. But a simpler solution would be to use this “Rights Beyond” facility. You can specify your primary license as the NC license. But offer as an alternative, through the “Rights Beyond” facility, the same content under a CC-BY-SA license. And assuming we fix the problem with CC/FDL interoperability — assuming, wink, wink — that would mean your creative work could be included within Wikipedia (or other copyleft projects), even though the general license you offer is a NC license.

But won’t this innovation encourage people to mark creativity with BY-NC when they would otherwise just make it free? It may, for some. It will also encourage many to use CC licenses who otherwise wouldn’t. But if it does push some to adopt a NC restriction where you believe they shouldn’t, then you should join us in arguing against that restriction.

I believe, for example, with the Public Library of Science, that scientific journals should be freely available. All PLoS content is licensed under a CC-BY license. If some other scientific journal started to make its content available under a CC-BY-NC license, then you should join me in arguing that that model is inconsistent with the ethics of science. The CC licenses give us a vocabulary to make that argument. But it is up to us to actually utter the words of the argument. Code has no ethical obligation to do ethical politics. We do.

There are more details to this important innovation. But the general message is clear: Using this technology, you can specify rights beyond those granted by the CC license. Any rights, or any applications, however the adopter chooses. I trust as you think through this innovation, you’ll see why I think it is the most important change we’ve introduced since we introduced CC.

Remember the hybrid economy from this year’s first post. Here are the tools to help this hybrid flourish.


This email is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig If you would like to be removed from this list, please click here:

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Week 4 – CC as a Global Movement

Week 4 – CC as a Global Movement – Spanish Version
(Thanks to Maria Cristina Alvite for translation)

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Posted 07 December 2006