Improving the CC Legal User Interface

Last month at the New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference I had the pleasure of participating in a panel on Interface Design for Legal Systems. See my presentation on slideshare or as a pdf.

This led to some reflection upon and discussion of Creative Commons’ “Legal User Interfaces” (LUIs). Each of the “layers” (the legalcode or license itself, the “human-readable deed” explanation of the license, and a “machine-readable” description of the license) of CC licenses serve both as user interfaces and opportunities to build upon to create further user interfaces, as are CC license buttons, the license chooser, and search. I focused on the deeds, which probably most transparently serve as LUIs, and as they are highly visual and subject to obvious critique, make for good presentation and discussion material.

BY-SA deed before and after treatment (full size). See my presentation for images of BY-SA deeds going back to 2003.
After the conference, my colleagues Diane Peters, Alex Roberts, and Chris Webber made two (or three, depending on how one counts; see this bug for the action) improvements to the deeds based on feedback we’ve gotten or frequently give that are in hindsight pretty obvious:

  • Under the “You are free:” heading, “to make commercial use of the work” had been dropped in late 2006 from deeds for licenses without the NonCommercial (NC) condition in preparation for adding “share” and “remix” icons (a “commercial use” icon would have constituted icon overload and pushed important conditions further down the page). While the absence of NC on such licenses is telling, bringing a call-out of commercial use permission back to the deeds seems appropriate given occasional criticism that some associate CC only with NC use.
  • Speaking of icon overload, one thing I often notice when someone has an idea along the lines of “CC for X” (where X is most frequently related to privacy) is a tendency to invent a whole bunch of icons to represent a complex space. But lots of icons means most won’t be widely recognized and many won’t be intuitive. It’s really hard to come up with an intuitive icon to represent often abstract concepts! This reflection made it easy to drop the “share” and “remix” icons (keeping the text) from CC deeds while adding commercial use text (see above). Now the only icons on CC deeds are for license conditions, which are reinforced by their presence on CC license buttons on millions of web pages and that the concepts they represent are reflected in CC license names.
  • Occasionally someone will complain about the mere existence of CC deeds, as it is the licenses that have legal force, or a softer version, that the deeds may provide a useful overview, but people should really read the licenses (example). Such criticism has always been swamped by appreciation of the value of the quick “human readable” explanation that the deeds provide. Still, we realized a very simple change would put the full licenses more front and center for anyone who wants to read them in full (please do; more CC expertise in the world is of great help) — move the notice “This is a human-readable summary of the Legal Code (the full license).” from the bottom to the top of CC deeds!

Initial reaction to these changes has been very positive, but we welcome criticism and suggestions for further improvement. One nice thing about these changes is that they did not require any new or changed text, thus creating no new work for translators. However, if you see anything that could be improved in your language, joining a CC translation team is a really valuable way to get involved.

Although we don’t usually post about small tweaks to the various CC layers and tools (again, all of which serve as LUIs and building blocks for further interfaces), we’re constantly on the lookout for improvements and have worked particularly on the With the understanding that: section of the deeds over the past year or so.

The ability to make such explanatory improvements as use cases, the law, and technology all change is indeed a benefit of having human readable deeds as an interface to our licenses (all of this also applies to CC0, our public domain dedication), which can only change when introducing a new version, which must be done very rarely. We’re building up to public discussion of just that, version 4.0, so now is a great time to critique, give feedback and make suggestions with respect to all aspects of CC tools.

7 thoughts on “Improving the CC Legal User Interface”

  1. I preferred the version with icons, eventually with some explanation or additional legend for it, but I must admit this is a good redesign, and also adds some fun with “This is a human-readable summary”… Makes sense in a context where we’re talking about legal jargon 🙂
    Some other good improvements would be things like removing inline JS and compressing code… I just like perfection, and you’re nearing it!

  2. All good changes. The deeds would also benefit from clearer language.

    For instance: “This is a human-readable summary of the Legal Code (the full license).”
    becomes simply: “This is a summary of your rights and responsibilities for using this work. For complete details, see the full license.”

    Similarly, in the SA language: “you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.” That’s confusing and grammatically awkward. “Under the same license” would be simpler but lose details (which are still available in the full license). Or “under the same license or a designated compatible license” is clearer and doesn’t lose details.

    Did CC do readability or comprehension tests when designing the current licenses? Budget permitting, that should be part of the 4.0 process. If you can’t do full testing, you might do a simple online survey, like this one from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  3. Hi Gavin,

    Improving the language on the deeds can be done independently of versioning. The main constraints are finding actually better language (I like your two specific suggestions; readability testing would also be useful) and not creating a huge burden for translators by churning. I will discuss with my colleagues the best way to improve the English (ie source) text either as a big push, perhaps in conjunction with 4.0, or as an ongoing process, while taking into account these constraints.


  4. Thank you for these changes, and the endeavor behind! I often see first-hand the discoveries of the CC licenses and concepts by newcomers and we have to admit that they are difficult to apprehend.

    These particular changes go in the right direction; please keep going!

  5. Thanks for the comment Olivier!

    Speaking of keeping going, as I said we’d do above, our sysadmin and software engineer Nathan Kinkade and Chris Webber are working on improving our translation infrastructure so that we can improve text without creating lots of churn for translators. This is going to be a big job. The first step is to document how everything currently works, has a few details :-


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