Skip to content

Language Harmonization at Creative Commons


One of the most important values at Creative Commons is the usability of our tools. We strive to make all of our tools human-readable, often bridging dissonant vocabularies and frameworks to ensure our tools are compatible and understandable the world over. The challenge of localization is balancing legally sound terminology with culturally palatable translations. Sometimes the terms in which lawyers and courts communicate are unfamiliar or alienating to users outside of the legal profession. Moreover, even within the legal field, there can be a range of opinions about which terms are most appropriate.

Creative Commons oversees translation on two levels: our legal code and our license deeds. The former, the legal code or “lawyer-readable” layer, is adapted to the laws and official languages of jurisdictions around the world. The latter, the deeds or “human-readable” layer, are designed for everyone to understand. Unlike the legal code, the deeds are not legally-binding but rather a helpful, plain-language summary.

Historically, if two or more jurisdictions shared the same language, such as Spanish, each jurisdiction team would conduct a translation of the legal code and of the deeds. Sometimes the result is messy: for Spanish alone, we had over 10 translations of the license deeds, some differing only slightly and others more so.

Creative Commons invited its affiliates in Spanish-speaking jurisdictions to review the Spanish translations of the license names (Attribution, ShareAlike, NonCommercial, and NoDerivatives). In a conversation led by CC Chile’s Claudio Ruiz, the Latin American affiliates discussed the best linguistic solution, one that balanced usability with legal accuracy. After several months of discussion, a majority of the Latin American teams reached an agreement to harmonize their existing deeds into one under the following scheme. This is particularly notable since unlike the Arab harmonization effort discussed below, these jurisdictions had already published deeds for their particular jurisdictions.

You’ll see the harmonized translations available now on our license deeds. Please note again that the deeds are not legally operative; instead, they play a critical role in helping ensure our licenses are understandable and accessible to users.

arabic translation of CC
Finally the Arabic Translation for CC Licenses
by Mohammad Basheer (mbaa) / CC BY

Similarly, Creative Commons encouraged its Arab world communities and affiliates to coordinate their translation efforts. They appreciated the importance of harmonizing the key license terms early on so that all Arabic-speaking users would have a consistent experience with CC.

During the recent CC Arab World meeting this October in Doha, Qatar, a lively discussion among attendees underscored the importance of harmonizing translation within the region. The challenge again was to balance legal compliance with user-friendly terminology. At the end of the meeting, CC affiliates and community representatives from six jurisdictions in the region reached a consensus on terms that CC will use for all future license-related work in Arabic. All the participants provided input in a session moderated by Bassel Khartabil and Mahmoud Abu Wardeh at CC’s request, with the following results:

These terms will be deployed in the upcoming Egyptian licenses, as well as across all Arabic deeds and informational materials. These efforts underscore the cooperative nature of the affiliates and community members who strive to make CC simple and approachable for users across the globe. We also hope to roll out similar harmonized terms in other languages over the coming months.

If you’d like to contribute to Creative Commons’ translation efforts, you can join our translation teams at Transifex.

Posted 21 December 2010