Why Creative Commons uses CC0

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Creative Commons dedicates the text of our licenses and other legal tools, as well as the text of our Commons deeds, to the public domain using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. While that doesn’t mean that anything and everything is allowed by those choosing to reuse these materials (as explained below), we believe that copyright isn’t a good fit for every creative work, and we don’t think it is right to leverage it as a stick in these instances.

CC has never asserted copyright in the text of our licenses or other legal tools. We made our policy clearer a few years ago by specifically declaring they are released under CC0. The text of the licenses, public domain tools, and license deeds we publish are all unrestricted by copyright worldwide, and we recently added a sentence to that effect in the notice at the bottom of our licenses and CC0.

No copyright ≠ no rules

Although these materials are public domain as a matter of copyright, the Creative Commons name and logo are our trademarks and can only be used according to our trademark policy.

This can be a difficult concept to communicate: while we want people to freely reuse the texts of our legal tools and deeds, we don’t want to give people the wrong idea about what we enable and what we do not: the difference between copyright and trademark can be complicated.

We’ve had a long-standing policy against use of our trademarks or name in connection with modified versions of our legal tools and other products (like our deeds). We’ve tried to make this policy simple and understandable, and just updated it for added clarity, though substantively nothing has changed from when CC published the first licenses in 2002. In a nutshell, we need to be sure the public is not confused about what comes from and is supported by Creative Commons, and what isn’t. We need to be sure the public doesn’t associate CC with other content and materials. While we hope this is simple enough to need no further explanation, if you want to reuse CC materials in a way that uses or associates our name or logos, please see our trademark policy to be sure you’re in the clear or contact CC.

Credit where credit is due

We appreciate and want credit for our work! We just don’t require it as a condition of exercising rights that we control under copyright.

Even though CC0 imposes no legal obligation to provide attribution, courtesy, good practice, norms, and community expectations often mean that you should give credit anyway. (For example, we recommend CC0 for scientific data, but many reusers include source information, both to acknowledge others’ work and to establish the data’s provenance.) Giving proper credit helps others understand the origin of the text so they can learn more and identify any changes that have been made. That may not always be reasonable or possible, but in any case we won’t be using copyright as a means to enforce our request for credit.

For more information, you might find our guidelines for using public domain material instructive.

(Trade)mark our words…

We strongly recommend against any modifications of our licenses and other legal tools. However, if you choose to change the text of our legal tools either directly through edits or indirectly through additional terms, such as terms of use on your website, you may not claim that your offering(s) are under Creative Commons, and you may not call the modified result a CC legal tool. You are free to link to us, talk about us, cite us, and yes, criticize us by name without infringing our copyright or trademark rights. However, you may not use or associate our name or brand with a license or any other legal tool of your own.

What about license proliferation?

Creative Commons provides a standard set of licenses suitable for a wide variety of uses and situations. Our licenses reduce the need for custom licenses that create separate pools of material under incompatible terms (i.e. “license proliferation”). By choosing not to use copyright to restrict modifications of CC license text, we recognize we may be encouraging license proliferation, because people will feel free to remix the content and publish their own, new custom license.

This is a fair criticism, but it fails to account for the reality that those wanting different terms will make that happen with or without repurposing our text. We believe our efforts are better focused on explaining the rationale for standard licensing, and helping creators understand that as much as they may think they need specialized terms, that those sometimes (if not often) work against their sharing goals and inflict more harm than provide benefit. This includes additional transaction costs for them and their reusers, who are forced to understand specialized terms unique to the custom license.

Withholding permissions and exercising copyright in legal tools are hardly effective tools in this campaign against license proliferation—those who want their own licenses will make that happen whether or not we impose some rights reserved (or even all rights reserved) on the text of our legal code. We will, however, continue to strongly encourage would-be custom license creators to use our standard licenses, which have a long history and a thriving user base as well as robustness internationally, rather than creating new custom and incompatible licenses and legal tools.

Let’s share!

We believe in creating a vibrant commons, that maximizes the ability of others to build upon our works with the least restrictions possible. We hope you will consider joining us by using CC0 for your own materials!