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New FAQ on NFTs and CC0

Licenses & Tools

Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet entirely, you’ve probably heard about people buying and selling non-fungible tokens — or NFTs — unique data tokens that link to digital files, including artworks and other types of copyrightable works.

CC has been following how people are creating and trading NFTs, and how the marketplace of creative works is transforming. We keep seeing NFTs linked to works published with CC’s open licenses or the CC0 public domain dedication — so often that CC0 NFTs have their own hashtag: #cc0summer. We know that there are many in the CC community trying to figure out how CC tools interact with NFTs — as are many others who are hearing about CC for the first time as they explore NFTs.

While we always welcome contributions to the public commons, we want to ensure everyone understands how these new tools and practices might align with our legal tools and the global open commons that CC legal tools enable. Having spoken with some NFT artists and platform team members, we know there is widespread misunderstanding about what a CC license or CC0 dedication means. When a CC license or CC0 is used to share a work, the rights to reuse that work are widely or completely shared, with limited or no rights reserved.

To help clarify how NFTs are already leveraging CC legal tools, we have added a new section to our FAQ on using CC licenses and the CC0 public domain dedication with NFTs. This FAQ is intended to provide basic guidance for those who are already using NFTs and want to know how to use CC licenses and legal tools with NFT projects. We will continue to update our FAQ as our understanding and interpretation develops.

CC’s licenses and legal tools are intentionally general-purpose: we designed them to be applicable to a wide variety of contexts and works. While some may believe NFTs are a special case that call for new copyright licenses, we believe CC licenses and CC0 work well to contribute works to the public commons when used with NFTs. NFTs may introduce new relationships around who holds the rights to related works and how such rights are transferred as NFTs change hands, but those are contractual questions best handled outside open licenses or a release to the public domain.

If your creative work is linked to an NFT, you may apply one of the existing CC licenses or CC0 to let others know how they may share and reuse your work, separate from the ownership of a related token. And where this is used with intention, there are many possibilities for vibrant sharing and reuse where these works are in the public commons, with the ownership of the rights completely removed from the ownership of the token.

We are aware of other efforts in the space, including some that say they are inspired by CC’s work but are incompatible with the material already available in the commons. (In particular, some of the licenses recently produced by a16z, which claim direct inspiration but were not developed in consultation with CC.) While the approach may be similar, the effect is different: the terms of most of these licenses are incompatible with the CC licenses and with most other free and open content licenses; users of these terms will find that their works are remixable only within the narrow space of others using the same terms, rather than the much broader spectrum of works using the CC licenses and compatible licenses. This is not true of all other licensing efforts: some simply add terms about the sale and transfer of the token as an addition to a CC license or public domain release.

NFTs, and the distributed web movement they are a part of, are new and still evolving. NFTs are also hotly debated. We know many in the CC community embrace NFTs as a new way to support and enable creators. Many others offer strong and convincing criticism. Whatever your opinions about NFTs, CC licenses and the CC0 dedication are being used widely in conjunction with NFTs and works they reference. CC has a responsibility to our mission and our community to clarify how our work connects to these emerging tools and practices. At CC we are watching closely, focused on how NFTs may help or hinder better sharing: sharing that is inclusive, just and equitable — where everyone has wide opportunity to access content, to contribute their own creativity, and to receive recognition and rewards for their contributions.

Please read and share the more detailed discussion in our FAQ.

Posted 09 September 2022