The Value of Human Readable Deeds

By now you’ve probably heard that Facebook modified their Terms of Service and after facing a huge community backlash, returned them to their original state. Most of the issues at play were outside the scope of what we work on at CC, but the incident brings up something that we are very much interested in: human readable legal deeds.

Whether you believe Facebook was acting in their users’ best interest, or if you think the social network’s lawyers were trying to slip something past their community, one thing is clear: the meaning behind the change in Facebook Terms of Service was not explicit to its 175 million users, and they weren’t happy with it. Put simply, Facebook’s Terms of Service were not human readable.

One way of thinking about Creative Commons is that we give a user-interface to copyright law through our human readable deeds, machine readable metadata, and lawyer readable licenses. The human readable deed (which you will be familiar with if you’ve ever clicked on a CC badge) allows users and authors of content to clearly understand what rights the public has to use a work and what obligations to the original creator must be upheld. More specifically, human readable license deeds, CC’s metadata infrastructure and our brand all work together to avoid the kind of confusion and panic Facebook’s amended Terms of Service caused. By using a CC license as the default license for a platform, such as on the free-as-in-speech microblog community, both administrators and users can be clear about how their work will be reused by the public because CC licenses are a standard now adopted by millions of people.

Communicating to your users about how their work will be used is an ongoing and crucial responsibility of all online community leaders and CC licenses are designed to alleviate this responsibility by clarifying copyright questions for authors, users, and platforms alike.

If anyone at Facebook is interested in implementing CC licenses for user content, get in touch.

4 thoughts on “The Value of Human Readable Deeds”

  1. this is a great idea! last week, facebook signed on to the openID group… why not creative commons!?!

    too boot, i think we need to do this with all legislation. who needs lawyers anyway? 😉

  2. The problem with ‘human readable’ licenses is that they aren’t the actual licenses. They’re just a summary of varying degrees of accuracy. Have we figured out what ‘non-commercial’ or ‘no derivatives’ actually means?

  3. Normal people don’t even get how SA works. (Or at least if I am normal, if not, abnormal people like me.) And BY-SA is my preferred license for my non-code works.


  4. I’ve been an admirer of human-readable deeds since I first saw the CC-By license.

    I think it is a great practice. It establishes the intention of the licensor pretty clearly and if there were a conflict with the legal form, I would expect the legal form to be repaired, not for the deed to be complexified.

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