Commons News

CC BY-SA 4.0 now one-way compatible with GPLv3

Mike Linksvayer, October 8th, 2015

The declaration increases interoperability of the commons for games, hardware designs, and more

Photo by Hugh Llewelyn, licensed BY-SA 2.0, available on Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Hugh Llewelyn, licensed BY-SA 2.0, available on Wikimedia Commons.

In January we officially opened a public consultation (blog post) on CC BY-SA 4.0 unilateral compatibility with GPLv3, in accordance with our ShareAlike compatibility process and criteria. Following additional months of detailed analysis, discussion and deliberation with the Free Software Foundation and other stakeholders, we are very pleased to announce that we have added a declaration of one-way compatibility from CC BY-SA 4.0 to GPLv3 to our compatible licenses page!

Put simply this means you now have permission to adapt another licensor’s work under CC BY-SA 4.0 and release your contributions to the adaptation under GPLv3 (while the adaptation relies on both licenses, a reuser of the combined and remixed work need only look to the conditions of GPLv3 to satisfy the attribution and ShareAlike conditions of BY-SA 4.0).

This doesn’t mean that you should apply GPLv3 to your revised BY-SA 4.0 work — in most cases it makes sense to release adaptations under the same license as the original, even if not required (e.g., in the case of CC BY or CC0) to facilitate ongoing collaboration with the “upstream” and peer “forks”. But if your use case calls for or requires (in the case of remixing CC BY-SA 4.0 and GPLv3 material to make a single adaptation) releasing a CC BY-SA 4.0 adaptation under GPLv3, now you can: copyright in the guise of incompatible copyleft licenses is no longer a barrier to growing the part of the commons you’re working in. We hope that this new compatibility not only removes a barrier, but helps inspire new and creative combinations of software and culture, design, education, and science, and the adoption of software best practices such as source control (e.g., through “git”) in these fields.

Increasing Interoperability

Since 2005 Creative Commons has been working to increase the legal interoperability of the commons — roughly the ability to use works in the commons together, usually in the form of adaptation, without legal barriers. This has meant retiring little-used CC licenses that were incompatible with other licenses — meaning works under the now-retired licenses could not be remixed with works in the commons under more popular licenses. It has meant working with other license stewards and user communities to migrate projects to licenses compatible with those used for the largest pools of relevant works, as when we worked with the Free Software Foundation and the Wikimedia community to facilitate the latter migrating from the GNU Free Documentation License to CC BY-SA 3.0 as its default license. It has meant working with governments to use and mandate broadly used licenses, or the least ensure that government-specific licenses are compatible with broadly used licenses, most often CC-BY.

Finally, this long-term push for increasing interoperability meant developing an explicit mechanism for declaring compatibility between CC BY-SA and similar share-alike or copyleft licenses. Absent such a mechanism, works under different copyleft licenses cannot be used together to form an adaptation, as copyleft licenses typically require that adaptations be released under the same license as the original work. We first introduced the mechanism in CC BY-SA 3.0 (2007) but it has yet to be used for that license — the most pressing interoperability barrier at the time was mitigated instead through a temporary allowance for license migration (see Wikimedia above) — and we believe compatibility should only be declared after much careful analysis and deliberation. With CC BY-SA 4.0 (2013) the mechanism was enhanced, allowing the possibility of unilateral as well as bilateral compatibility. Nearly a year ago CC BY-SA 4.0 was declared bilaterally compatible with the Free Art License 1.3.

Since the beginning of version 4.0 consultations (2011) and before, we have been discussing with the Free Software Foundation and other stakeholders the possibility of declaring unilateral compatibility from CC BY-SA 4.0 to GPLv3, allowing new contributions to adaptations of works under the former to be released under the latter, and thus also allowing adaptations to be created from works under both licenses. The demand for such an arrangement comes from a variety of use cases, including games and other smart artifacts for which it isn’t always easy to separate software and non-software, hardware designs for which both CC BY-SA and GPL family licenses are popular, and artists who wish to require that adaptations of adaptations not only be allowed, but facilitated through availability of a “preferred form of the work for making modifications”, as the GPL requires. These may seem like niche issues if you think only of media such as text, images, and data. But as the saying goes, “software is eating the world”; the winning educational resources, cultural artifacts, and research inputs and outputs of the future will be software, designed by software, processed by software, or all three. Mitigating legal barriers to remixing “software” and “non-software” in the commons is one thing we can do to help ensure the commons remains vibrant.

Increasing interoperability of the commons is a very long-term, ongoing process, in part enabled by cooperation between license stewards within and across particular domains. CC BY-SA 4.0 one-way compatibility with GPLv3 is a huge win. It took many years to achieve. There are still many incompatibilities among licenses used for data, hardware designs, software, and other materials, both within those domains and especially across them. What commons interoperability fixes do you want to see in the next 5-10 years?

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Institute for Open Leadership 2: Apply now

Timothy Vollmer, September 28th, 2015

Cape Town by Kemal Kestelli on Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.

Earlier this year, Creative Commons and the Open Policy Network hosted the first Institute for Open Leadership (IOL). The IOL is a training and support program to empower new leaders interested in crafting and implementing an open licensing policy within their discipline. We had a diverse cohort of 14 fellows who came together for a week in January, 2015 in San Francisco. The fellows worked with mentors and each other to hone their open policy project ideas. Since then they’ve working within their institutions and fields to implement their open policy plan.

Today we’re opening the application period for the next round of the institute. IOL 2 will take place March 14-18, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Application instructions are on the Institute for Open Leadership webpage. Applications are due October 30, 2015. We will accept 15 IOL fellows.

We encourage applications from a variety of areas, including the public sector, cultural heritage institutions, publishing, and scientific labs. We’re interested in individuals who are eager to become experts in open licensing, pursue new opportunities for open sharing of content and data, and directly influence policy decisions in their institution and field of work.

Thanks again to the William and Flora Hewlett Foundationand the Open Society Foundations for their support for the Institute for Open Leadership.

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Creative Commons awarded $450,000 from the Arcadia Fund to support open access publishing for authors

Rebecca Lendl, September 25th, 2015

Creative Commons is pleased to announce a grant award in the amount of $450,000 over 3 years from the Arcadia Fund, the charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since its inception in 2001, Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $331 million. Arcadia works to protect endangered culture and nature. Creative Commons will use funds from Arcadia to develop tools that complement the current CC license suite and empower authors to retain or regain their right to publish so they can make their scholarly and academic works available for public use.

Building on the success of the current CC licenses — now with nearly 1 billion licenses in use across over 9 million websites — Creative Commons is enthusiastic about developing tools that can be used by authors who “write to be read” but face all too common barriers to making their research openly available. These resources will be developed for global use, taking into account country-specific copyright laws, customs, and language. Once in widespread use, these tools are expected to increase the number of articles and publications that are available for broad public use.

To accomplish this ambitious goal, Creative Commons will work with CC’s international network of over 100 affiliates working in over 80 regions around the world. This core group will next convene at the 2015 Creative Commons Global Summit on October 14-17 in Seoul, South Korea. A dedicated summit session will be held to discuss the best approach to formulating tools and materials that enable authors to retain and regain their rights, while also addressing the needs of publishers. Collaborators on this project include Authors Alliance, Free Culture Trust, and SPARC, all of whom are dedicated to supporting authors, institutions, and the public in promoting access to research and scholarly work. Importantly, this group also includes academic publishers who support or have interest in promoting open access principles.

Creative Commons is grateful to the Arcadia Fund for its essential support of our work. We look forward to sharing our progress and success with all of you!

About Creative Commons and our collaborators

Creative Commons enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools to help realize the full potential of the Internet—universal access to research and education, and full participation in culture.

Authors Alliance is a membership-driven non-profit organization that supports and advocates for authors who write to be read.

Free Culture Trust is dedicated to helping authors and artists make their works widely available by removing bureaucratic and structural barriers to sharing.

SPARC is an international alliance of organizations dedicated to creating a more open system for sharing research and scholarship.

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European migrant crisis: Czech teachers create and share resources

Timothy Vollmer, September 24th, 2015

This is a guest post by Jan Gondol.

Pencil by Mari Pi, Public Domain.

In the midst of the European migrant crisis, the Czech Republic is showing the power of open educational resources (OER).

EDUin, a non-profit organization based in Prague worked with the Czech organization of civic education teachers to address the current migrant crisis. Students in schools were asking questions and wanted to understand what was going on. Why are so many people on the run? What is the difference between a refugee and a migrant? What is the difference between migration, emigration and immigration?

The teachers worked on developing the materials for Czech schools, and the resulting worksheets are now shared on their website (in the Czech language). These worksheets are licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0, and there are different versions for ages 6-11 and ages 12-16.

“This activity shows that open educational resources can help react to a new situation very quickly in a way traditional textbooks cannot,” says Tamara Kováčová, coordinator of EDUin’s open education program. “Because of fast distribution, materials get to schools around the country in a matter of days. Teachers get support in time when they need it and teaching is up-to-date. Furthermore, it’s possible to join several school subjects together on phenomenon based learning principle.”

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Open Licensing Policy Toolkit (DRAFT)

Cable Green, September 22nd, 2015

Files. By Pieter J. Smits, CC BY 3.0

Creative Commons believes that public and foundation funded resources should be openly licensed by default. We have written extensively about the importance of open licensing policies in government, foundations, and have built the Open Policy Network and the Institute for Open Leadership with our open policy partners around the world. In the past few years, the United States federal government has accelerated its interest in and implementation of open licensing policy requirements on the products of publicly funded grants and contracts.

To support the education of government staff creating, adopting and implementing open licensing policies – we’ve created an Open Licensing Policy Toolkit. While this draft is tailored for U.S. government federal staff, it can easily be revised to meet the needs of any country. We share it here under a CC BY 4.0 license hoping others will take, improve, and modify it to meet regional, national and/or local needs. We look forward to seeing what you create… and we are happy to collaborate with you should you identify an opportunity to work with your government on broad open licensing requirements on publicly funded resources.

Open Licensing Policy Toolkit (Google docs version)
Open Licensing Policy Toolkit (Wiki version)

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Congrats to EFF and the dancing baby

Sarah Hinchliff Pearson, September 18th, 2015


There are plenty of examples to depict our broken copyright system, but the “dancing baby” case is one of the most notorious. That’s the one where Universal Music used the DMCA to take down a 29-second YouTube video of an adorable baby dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. Putting aside the legal questions, it is unclear what motivated Universal Music to go after this home movie where the Prince song was almost indecipherable. It’s impossible to imagine people were using the short video as a substitute for buying Prince albums, and of course, it’s impossible to imagine this sort of enforcement would help the troubled record industry earn goodwill from the public. But sadly, this is (or at least was) the state of copyright.

Most DMCA takedowns result in quiet removals of content, but this one resulted in 8 years of litigation that continues to this day. The mother of the dancing baby, Stephanie Lenz, teamed up with EFF and fought back. They sued Universal Music for violating Section 512(f) of the DMCA by misrepresenting their claim in the takedown notification. The fight continues, but the good news is this week the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion that affirmed some of the key principles at stake in the case.

Specifically, the panel of circuit judges held that copyright holders have to consider fair use before sending a DMCA takedown notification. The court also definitively explained something most of us already knew – fair use is authorized by law. It’s not simply an excuse for infringement or even an affirmative defense. It is outside the scope of copyright.

The decision wasn’t perfect. It went on to state that if copyright holders like Universal fail to consider fair use before sending a takedown, it just creates a question of fact for the jury to decide whether the rights holder had a good faith belief that the claim was valid. The court also made a somewhat confusing reference to copyright holders who use automated systems to determine what content to have taken down, stating that doing so was a reasonable solution but not explaining how that would possibly account for fair use.

Nonetheless, the key takeaway from the case was a win for fair use. It confirmed that exceptions and limitations to copyright are affirmative rights, and it created a mechanism to help deter sham DMCA takedowns. Given how easy it is to have content removed using the DMCA, it is increasingly the tool of choice for anyone looking to have content removed online, whether or not they have a valid copyright claim. This case should help deter at least the most blatant bad actors from misusing the statute in this way.

Perhaps the case also symbolizes a larger shift in how rights holders view reuse of their content. Not every use of copyrighted content is infringing, and not every use is a threat.

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U.S. Secretary of Education highlights Schools using OER to #GoOpen

Cable Green, September 15th, 2015

Williamsfield video by U.S. Department of Education is licensed CC BY

I’m pleased to announce two important updates from the U.S. Department of Education!

#1: Williamsfield Community Unified School District embraces OER

Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Williamsfield Community Unified School District in Illinois to highlight the progress the rural school district has made in shifting to digital and open educational resources (OER) to connect their students to the world. “The walls break down,” Zack Binder, the Pre K-12 Principal said. “You’re no longer in Williamsfield, Illinois. You have the same access to this information that anyone in the world does.”

Over the past two years, the 310-student district decided to adapt and adopt OER (e.g., EngageNY) rather than procuring new commercial textbooks for students, and direct those savings towards new devices for students.

“We worked to start leveraging open education resources in May of 2013. It coincided with a decision to purchase—or not purchase—a math textbook series. We decided to leverage OER and invest the money that was allocated for textbooks into technology and technological infrastructure,” said Williamsfield Superintendent Tim Farquer.

While this move saved money, and allowed the district to buy tablets and laptops for students and teachers, it was mostly about using Creative Commons (CC) licensed educational resources to make the content better – it helped change the classroom by empowering teachers and students to customize learning resources for students.

“The biggest transition for me, from what it was like before to what it is like now, is that kids can do things that they’re interested in, instead of having one prescribed way to do things that comes from a textbook,” said Lori Secrist, a district science teacher.

The newly formed K12 OER Collaborative, an initiative led by a group of 12 U.S. states, has similar goals and is in the process of creating comprehensive, high-quality, OER-supported K–12 mathematics and English language arts that are aligned with state learning standards.

If you’d like to replicate this in your school district, see the CC-USA FAQ on OER in Williamsfield.

#2: U.S. Dept of Ed hires its first full-time OER leader

Secretary Duncan announced today the hiring of the Department’s first full-time OER position to lead a national effort to expand schools’ access to high-quality, openly-licensed learning resources and help districts and states follow the path of Williamsfield. Andrew Marcinek will serve in the Department’s Office of Educational Technology (OET) as the first “Adviser for Open Education.”

“Creating a dedicated open education adviser position at the Department will greatly enhance our ability to support states and districts as they move to using openly licensed learning resources,” said Richard Culatta, Director of the OET. “The use of openly-licensed resources not only allows states and districts to adapt and modify materials to meet student needs, but also frees up funding to support the transition to digital learning.”

The availability of low-cost, high-quality learning resources in U.S. K12 public schools is a priority for President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative.

These exciting moves are part of the growing momentum within the Obama Administration to support OER and open access to publicly funded resources. Last month Creative Commons and 100 other organizations signed a letter calling on the White House to ensure that educational materials created with federal funds are openly licensed and released to the public as OER. Creative Commons looks forward to working closely with the Department’s new Open Education Adviser and will continue working with our partners to advance OER and open licensing policy in the U.S. Government, and around the world with the members of the Open Policy Network and the CC Affiliate Network.

Join the conversation on social media with @creativecommons using hashtags #ReadyforSuccess / #GoOpen / #OER

Related press / blog posts:

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CC Global Summit Program Schedule

Timothy Vollmer, September 10th, 2015


We’re happy to present the draft program schedule for the 2015 Creative Commons Global Summit in Seoul. In addition to the keynotes, the program contains a diverse selection of sessions ranging from open business models, 3D printing and design, open education, CC technology, copyright reform advocacy, open access, and community cooperation. The summit includes Creative Commons partners from around the world, and will incorporate sister organizations such as EFF and companies like Shapeways and 500px. The program highlights several Korean organizations and projects in the creative industries and open data sector. Art Centre Nabi, a major art gallery in Korea, is preparing a special exhibition related to CC to celebrate the Global Summit.

We received over 130 session proposals, and our programming committee (comprised of the CC Korea team and other CC affiliates, staff, and board) worked to incorporate as many program ideas as possible considering the time and space constraints. The summit will be held at the National Museum of Korea and adjacent National Hangeul Museum on the 15th and 16th October and at the Content Korea Lab on the 17th. We are grateful to our lead sponsor Private Internet Access and all our sponsors for their meaningful support of this year’s summit.

The program is still subject to change. Also, it’s not too late to register for the summit. Join us for what looks to be a fantastic event.

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Our Kickstarter was a huge success, thanks to all of you!

Sarah Hinchliff Pearson, August 20th, 2015

We are thrilled to announce that 1,687 people backed our Kickstarter campaign, which successfully raised $65,420 – over 130% of our funding goal. We’re told by Kickstarter that Creative Commons is now among the top 5% of publishing projects in the history of the crowdfunding platform. All thanks to you, our supporters!

Screenshot of Kickstarter

What’s next?! Email us ( to nominate companies or creators who we should profile in our book and see our work in progress by following the project on Medium.

Thanks for sharing!


CC Global Summit Logo Winner

Timothy Vollmer, August 18th, 2015




Congratulations to Naresh Agrawal, the winner of the Creative Commons Global Summit logo competition. Naresh said, “I found the work of your organization inspiring and thought that it would be great to be a part of your journey.” We received nearly 50 logo submissions. Thanks so much to everyone who entered the contest, and to the hundreds of voters!

The programming committee is hard at work reviewing the proposed sessions for the summit. Registration is open, so sign up to join us in Seoul 14-17 October. Early bird registration ends this Sunday, 23 August.

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