For more than a decade, Creative Commons has developed and stewarded legal tools that give creators the opportunity to share their work on open terms. We have focused on tools that empower sharing at the moment of publication, leaving out an important group of creators: what about those who previously signed away their rights to their works long ago, but who now want to share on open terms under a CC license or renegotiate unfavorable publishing terms?
We are proud to announce version 1.0 of the Termination of Transfer tool (ToT tool), which will help inform creators about their ability to reclaim their rights. This newest legal tool – to be co-stewarded by Creative Commons and Authors Alliance – helps creators and authors learn about their ability to regain their rights in order to share. The ToT tool is our latest step in our mission to steward a vibrant commons through legal, social, and technical tools.
The ToT tool empowers authors to learn more about whether and when they may have the right to terminate the licensing arrangements for their work that prohibits them from sharing. Authors who enter into publishing, recording or other types of agreements are routinely asked to sign away their rights forever. Fortunately, there is recourse under U.S. copyright law for taking back those rights in the future. While many of these transfer agreements last “for the life of copyright” (which in the United States generally means seventy years after the author dies!), the law takes into account that these terms can ultimately be unfair to authors and artists, and so provides a mechanism for regaining those rights. An early analysis by Mike Wolfe estimates that control over more than 2.5 million works may be reclaimed by authors in the United States.
The tool is widely applicable beyond academia – anyone, including artists, photographers, scholars and scientists, can use this tool to understand more about rights they could have to regain rights they previously assigned away. While this tool is currently U.S.-based only, CC is developing a database of other country laws that enable authors and creators to similarly terminate or reclaim their rights.
One of the reasons why the tool is so remarkable is due to the complexity and technicality of the law. As Mia Garlick, CC’s first general counsel and the originator of the first ToT tool beta, noted in 2006, “the provisions are very complex and have not been frequently used [and] the termination provisions are currently so complex and technical that this tool can only serve an informational role.” When we relaunched the tool in 2015, we decided that while the tool would be primarily informational and US-based, the continued applicability of the legality would make it a worthwhile project for a global community. In 2016, we opened a public comment period for the tool.
Even though the tool is now active, we’re still looking to improve it so that it is increasingly useful to all categories of content around the globe. Creative Commons and Authors Alliance are grateful to the Arcadia Fund, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, for their generous support of the creation of the Termination of Transfer Tool. See our full list of personnel and thank-yous at rightsback.org/about.
For more information and to try the tool, visit rightsback.org.