Creative Commons

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= CC enables the creator of a work to predefine different licensing possibilities on a step-by-step basis.



A set of licenses created by Lawrence Lessig, but also a worldwide movement to promote open access to intellectual content. See ICommons.

If traditional copyright is based on the principle of "all rights reserved", then the CC licences are typified by the principle of "some rights reserved".

The licenses offer 6 core options, whereby the combination of the attribution and share alike principles (see below), correspond to the principles of the Copyleft movement and the General Public License.

You can also read this Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses.


'CC enables the creator of a work to predefine different licensing possibilities on a step-by-step basis.

Thus exchanging and using licenses can be simplified significantly – and without any tedious license research or contract negotiations. So everybody can freely use a work, or the licensing rights can be restricted for further usage (see illustration below). Yet CC also provides the possibility to specify the commercial usage of a work." (


Compiled by Joi Ito at

1. What is Creative Commons license?

From the website:

How does a Creative Commons license operate?

Creative Commons license are based on copyright. So it applies to all works that are protected by copyright law. The kinds of works that are protected by copyright law are books, websites, blogs, photographs, films, videos, songs and other audio & visual recordings, for example. Software programs are also protected by copyright but, as explained below, we do not recommend that you apply a Creative Commons license to software code or documentation.

Creative Commons licenses give you the ability to dictate how others may exercise your copyright rights—such as the right of others to copy your work, make derivative works or adaptations of your work, to distribute your work and/or make money from your work. They do not give you the ability to restrict anything that is otherwise permitted by exceptions or limitations to copyright—including, importantly, fair use or fair dealing—nor do they give you the ability to control anything that is not protected by copyright law, such as facts and ideas.

Creative Commons licenses attach to the work and authorize everyone who comes in contact with the work to use it consistent with the license. This means that if Bob has a copy of your Creative Commons-licensed work, Bob can give a copy to Carol and Carol will be authorized to use the work consistent with the Creative Commons license. You then have a license agreement separately with both Bob and Carol.

Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different formats: the Commons Deed (human-readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer-readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code). You don’t need to sign anything to get a Creative Commons license—just select your license at our ‘Publish’ page.

One final thing you should understand about Creative Commons licenses is that they are all non-exclusive. This means that you can permit the general public to use your work under a Creative Commons license and then enter into a separate and different non-exclusive license with someone else, for example, in exchange for money.

2. Can you explain the concept of CC?

From the website:

Creative Commons provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from "All Rights Reserved" to "Some Rights Reserved."

We're a nonprofit organization. Everything we do — including the software we create — is free.

Creative Commons helps you publish your work online while letting others know exactly what they can and can't do with your work. When you choose a license, we provide you with tools and tutorials that let you add license information to your own site, or to one of several free hosting services that have incorporated Creative Commons.

3. I have a blog. Why should I use CC license?

If you do not use a Creative Commons license, it is not clear to people reading your blog what rights they have to reuse your work. Other than "fair use" or other narrow uses permitted under the laws of various countries, people will have to ask specific permission to reuse photos, text and screenshots of your blog. With a Creative Commons license, people can know if they can use things from your blog without asking permission. The CC license also stipulates that they must give you attribution so that when they use things from your blog, they are required to put your name on it.

For most bloggers who are looking for an audience and to join the conversation, allowing people to use your work and share your knowledge increases the likely hood that you would be quoted on other blogs. If you choose the most liberal license, CC-BY that allows commercial reuse, you are more likely to show up in a newspaper, magazine or TV show. As a blogger, you should weight the "cost" to you of someone using your work in a commercial way, with the attention you would receive by being shown on TV, etc.

Many main stream media publications already quote and use material blogs without permission, but CC allows them (and non-commercial users like bloggers) to know your intent which is important for the ethical and legally conscious sites and shows." (

How is CC different from Copyright?

"CC builds upon copyright and doesn't replace it. CC licenses are licenses that use copyright law in various countries to describe how people want to share, very similar to how open source software licenses use copyright to make software shareable." ((

Origin and History


The background to the Creative Commons, by Business 2.0 at

"At a cafe near his San Francisco home, Lessig explains the economic logic that underpins Creative Commons. He draws a timeline on a napkin, labeling one point "1888." "That's when the first Kodak camera was introduced," he says. "And around this time, a legal question arises: Do I need your permission to capture your image? The courts say no, I can pirate your image in most cases." Lessig then draws a line that spikes upward, representing the boom in photo equipment and processing sales that resulted from the liberalization of image content."Imagine if the decision went the other way, so that I had to get permission every time I took someone's picture," he says. "The growth of the photography industry would have been very different." And much less lucrative.

Lessig, 42, has spent the better part of the last decade battling legal decisions that "went the other way" in the digital age. A specialist in policy development for cyberspace, his career has taken him from the Supreme Court (where he clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia), to the University of Chicago, to a tenured position at Harvard Law School, and finally to Stanford, where he founded the law school's Center for Internet and Society. He made headlines in 1997 when he briefly served as a special master in the Microsoft antitrust case. (Microsoft launched a successful appeal to have him removed.)

In the 2002 Supreme Court case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, Lessig challenged Congress's 1998 decision to extend copyright protection to 70 years after an author's death. In that case, nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse trial" because it coincided with the Disney character's impending transition to the public domain, Lessig argued that most creativity--including Disney movies like Snow White, which was adapted from a Grimm fable--builds on previous work, and that the extension hurt society by limiting the amount of raw material available for creative reinvention. He lost.

The defeat triggered a change in tactics. Unable to reform copyright law, Lessig focused instead on facilitating contractual arrangements between sharers that could be implemented directly in HTML. That's the primary tool artists use to attach Creative Commons licenses to their work. Thanks to the Copyright Act of 1976, as soon as an original work is "fixed"--i.e., takes tangible form--it's automatically protected by copyright. Absent language to the contrary, distributing, copying, or performing that work without permission then becomes illegal. But with Creative Commons, an artist can place a link next to the work--or even embed a license in, say, an MP3 or PDF file--to explicitly grant the permission in advance.

To see how this works in practice, consider the experience of science fiction writer (and Business 2.0 contributor) Cory Doctorow. In January 2003, Tor Books published his hardcover novella, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Simultaneously, Doctorow released the book as a free download on his website, hoping the electronic version would generate buzz and spur bookstore sales. "I didn't do this because I'm a big-hearted slob," he says. "I did it because I saw an opportunity to make more money."

With no formal legal training, Doctorow wanted to tell online readers that he intended to protect his work in a new way. So he linked the online version of his novella to a Creative Commons license. From a menu on the Creative Commons site (see "A Spotter's Guide to Shared Content," page 114), Doctorow chose a license called Attribution-NoDerivs-Noncommercial, meaning that people can distribute his book for free, so long as they credit him as its author; they're not allowed to use it as the basis for derivative works; and to retain his upside potential, such as a movie deal, he requires payment for commercial uses.

In the 15 months that the book has been available online, Doctorow has recorded more than 300,000 downloads from his site. It's impossible to measure the effect that had on book sales, but the initial print run of 8,500 copies sold out, and the title is now out in paperback. Doctorow estimates that the speaking fees he received from people who hired him based on the buzz surrounding the giveaway version exceed the advance he received from his publisher. Meanwhile, after the commercial success of his first book established his credentials as a marketable writer, Doctorow received a much bigger advance for his third and fourth books." (


Lawrence Lessig on the creation of the Creative Commons

Lawrence Lessig explains:

"Creative Commons was conceived in a conversation I had with Eric Eldred. I was representing Eric in his case challenging the United States Congress' Copyright Term Extension Act. Eric was enthusiastic about the case, but not optimistic about the results. Early on, he asked me whether there was a way that we could translate the energy that was building around his case into something positive. Not an attack on copyright, but a way of using copyright to support, in effect, the public domain.

I readily agreed, not so much because I had a plan, but because, naive lawyer that I was, I thought we'd win the case, and Eric would forget the dream. But nonetheless, long before the Supreme Court decided to hear Eldred's plea, a bunch of us had put together the plan to build the Creative Commons.

We stole the basic idea from the Free Software Foundation -- give away free copyright licenses. Because copyright is property, the law requires that you get permission before you "use" a copyrighted work, unless that use is a "fair use." The particular kind of "use" that requires permission is any use within the reach of the exclusive rights that copyright grants. In the physical world, these "exclusive rights" leave lots unregulated by copyright. For example, in the real world, if you read a book, that's not a "fair use" of the book. It is an unregulated use of the book, as reading does not produce a copy (except in the brain, but don't tell the lawyers).

But in cyberspace, there's no way to "use" a work without simultaneously making a "copy." In principle, and again, subject to fair use, any use of a work in cyberspace could be said to require permission first. And it is that feature (or bug, depending upon your perspective) that was the hook we used to get Creative Commons going.

The idea (again, stolen from the FSF) was to produce copyright licenses that artists, authors, educators, and researchers could use to announce to the world the freedoms that they want their creative work to carry. If the default rule of copyright is "all rights reserved," the express meaning of a Creative Commons license is that only "some rights [are] reserved." For example, copyright law gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to make "copies" of his or her work. A Creative Commons license could, in effect, announce that this exclusive right was given to the public.

We launched Creative Commons in December, 2002. Within a year, we counted over 1,000,000 link-backs to our licenses. At a year and a half, that number was over 1,800,000. At two, the number was just about 5,000,000. At two and a half years (last June), the number was just over 12,000,000. And today -- three months later -- Yahoo! reports over 50,000,000 link-backs to our licenses. "Link-backs" are not really a count of how many objects are licensed under Creative Commons licenses - a single license could cover 100,000 songs in a music database for example, or a single blog might have multiple instances of the license. But the growth does measure something: The uptake of Creative Commons licenses is growing fast, and indeed, far faster than I ever dreamed." (

Lessig expands on the historical-legal context in "How it all began", at


Alan Toner [1]:

“For example I’d argue that as soon as it became clear that the gate-keeping role of distributors of cultural works was in crisis, it became obvious to many people that there was an opportunity for many other cultural producers to get a part of the limelight, and that this would necessarily take place on terms which were different to those traditionally imposed by the cultural industries. Standard copyright provisions in this sense represent the inherited form of industrial regulation, designed by and for those with a stake in the old organization of cultural production. Lawyers of course wondered how they might manufacture themselves a role as advisers on rights issues, and offering an a la carte menu specifying permissions and reserved rights was an obvious way to do it. I know this because the idea occurred to me, too. So something like CC was always going to be born, it is a child of its time, a zeitgeist.

There is also a more historically specific and contingent aspect to all this. CC is Larry Lessig’s project to a significant extent, and has been the locomotive of his own views which are wide-ranging and not limited to the field of copyright. Co-founder James Boyle, for example, appears puzzlingly AWOL when it comes to ideologically contextualizing CC. CC came into the world after Larry’s defeat in the Eldred case and many years spent pushing a narrowly legalistic agenda, whose objective had been to persuade nine supreme court judges to adopt a conservative scheme of interpretation to overturn the legislature’s capitulation to Hollywood lobbying embodied in amongst other laws the Sonny Bono Copyright Term extension Act. By 2000, failure in court had called time on this strategy and it was time for a new one. Lessig confessed his errors in Free Culture and moved on: CC was the result. In addition 1999 had seen the explosion of p2p onto the landscape of legal conflict, and it was clear that somewhere down the road there would be a challenge to these technologies under one or another theory of secondary liability for copyright infringement. In such a situation it would be necessary to demonstrate that these technologies had substantial non-infringing uses. The last time a major case was fought on this issue involved the video cassette recorder in Sony v Betamax, where the fact that there existed some producers of broadcast television materials which did not object to copying, and some uses - “time-shifting” materials for later viewing - considered legitimate, cumulatively brought the technology within a space where it was allowed to exist even if it could be used for purposes infringement.

Millions of people are today using CC licenses that permit the reproduction of their ‘content’, such that any means of digital communication can have a significant non-infringing use. If one is searching for an instrumental explanation for the establishmnet of CC, I think this is it.” (


Because of space considerations, we have created a special page: Creative Commons - Critiques

Types of Creative Commons Licenses

See also the Introduction to Creative Commons Licenses

Caveat from Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman (personal email, February 2007), writes that:

"There is no such thing as "the Creative Commons License". Creative Commons is a brand of license; that organization publishes many different licenses, which so different in their actual terms that it makes no sense to speak of them as a group. The widespread practice of talking about them as a group is extremely harmful. I urge people to avoid saying anything about "Creative Commons licenses" in general, and instead to speak about specific licenses only."

Lawrence Lessig explains

"Which freedoms the licenses offer is determined both by us (deciding which freedoms are important to secure through CC licenses) and by the creator who selects from the options we make available on our website. The basic components have historically been four: (1) Attribution (meaning the creator requires attribution as a condition of using his or her creative work), (2) NonCommercial (meaning the creator allows only noncommercial uses of his or her work), (3) No Derivatives (meaning the creator asks that the work be used as is, and not as the basis for something else), and (4) Share Alike (meaning any derivative you make using the licensed work must also be released under a Share Alike license).

These four options -- when each is an option -- produce 11 possible licenses. But when we saw that 98% of our adopters chose the "attribution" requirement, we decided to drop attribution as an option. That means we now offer 6 core licenses:

1. Attribution (use the work however you like, but give me attribution)

2. Attribution-ShareAlike (use the work however you like, but give me attribution, and license any derivative under a Share Alike license)

3. Attribution-NoDerivatives (use the work as is, and give me attribution)

4. Attribution-NonCommercial (use the work for noncommercial purposes, and give me attribution)

5. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (use the work for noncommercial purposes, as is, and with attribution)

6. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (use the work for noncommercial purposes, give me attribution, and license any derivative under a ShareAlike license" (

Other Licences of a similar nature

A comparative graph of all licenses related to music, at, click on “Les licenses" or here at The philosophy of free music explained at ; the Open Music Registry, temporarily shut down in 2004, has announced a re-opening, see

  • The IANG License adds a number of transparency demands on the organization using creative material.

Areas of Application

Creative Commons in Open Design

Markus Beckedahl/ Andrea Goetzke:

"In digital design communities Creative Commons licenses were already in use at a rather early stage, e.g. for sharing clip art images, graphics or photos on platforms such as Yet what is really interesting are the first steps out into the material design world of real objects. More and more projects, experiments and examples for how the open source idea can be carried over into the real world can be subsumed under the notion of “open design”.

Creative Commons is a US-based non government organization that has been publishing standardized license texts for copyrighted content since 2001. What is so special about it is the fact that these licenses have meanwhile been adapted to the respective national copyright laws in more than 50 countries and their clauses and freedoms are in force everywhere. The person who takes center stage is the creator, who can grant certain freedoms to use his or her work. With the help of a license kit the creator chooses if the work can be used commercially or non-commercially, if it can be remixed or not and if the same conditions shall apply for the remixes (i.e. any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement) as specified in the copyleft principle from the world of free software. The only condition in all six Creative Commons licenses is the following: The creator must always be named as a source. Free software with its manifold licenses has been the model for the idea of Creative Commons licenses. “All rights reserved” of classic copyright has turned into “Some rights reserved”. So creators can enter their works into a large shared pool of knowledge and creativity, and in the best case scenario, the works can be further processed without any further inquiry and additional agreements." (

Critique on the Creative Commons licenses

Because of the length of this entry, we are publishing the criticims under a separate entry.

See Creative Commons - Critiques

See also this critique by Free Software Magazine: A Commons without Commonolatity

Key Books to Read

  1. Open Content Licensing. Sydney University Press, 2007

More Information

  1. Open Content Licenses
  2. Good summary of the different Creative Commons Licensing schemes and the legal concepts behind it, at , .
  3. Common Content,, is an open catalog of Creative Commons content
  4. A directory of CC-licensed content, Common Contents,
  5. Study on actual usage of licenses, at
  6. LegalTorrents, focuses on large files that can be downloaded with Bittorrent, at

Some pro-CC advertorials to watch:

  1. Building on the Past
  2. Mix Tape


  1. Benjamin Mako Hill, 2005. "Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software Movement" at, accessed 7 September 2007.


James Boyle:

"Creative Commons has only just begun to attract its own chroniclers. Larry Lessig, its founder, provides a characteristically eloquent account in “The Creative Commons,” Montana Law Review 65 (2004): 1–14. Michael W. Carroll, a founding board member, has produced a thought-provoking essay discussing the more general implications of organizations such as Creative Commons. Michael W. Carroll, “Creative Commons and the New Intermediaries,” Michigan State Law Review, 2006, n.1 (Spring): 45–65. Minjeong Kim offers an empirical study of Creative Commons licenses in “The Creative Commons and Copyright Protection in the Digital Era: Uses of Creative Commons Licenses,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (2007): Article 10, available at However, simply because of the rapidity of adoption of Creative Commons licenses, the work is already dramatically out of date. My colleague Jerome Reichman and Paul Uhlir of the National Academy of Sciences have written a magisterial study of the way in which tools similar to Creative Commons licenses could be used to lower transaction costs in the flow of scientific and technical data. J. H. Reichman and Paul Uhlir, “A Contractually Reconstructed Research Commons for Scientific Data in a Highly Protectionist Intellectual Property Environment,” Law and Contemporary Problems 66 (2003): 315–462. Finally, the gifted author, David Bollier, is reportedly writing a book on Creative Commons entitled Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own (New York: New Press, forthcoming 2009).

Niva Elkin-Koren offers a more critical view of Creative Commons in “Exploring Creative Commons: A Skeptical View of a Worthy Pursuit,” in The Future of the Public Domain—Identifying the Commons in Information Law, ed. P. Bernt Hugenholtz and Lucie Guibault (The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2006). Elkin-Koren’s argument is that Creative Commons has an unintended negative effect by leading individuals to think of themselves through the reified categories of legal subjects and property owners—forcing into a legalized realm something that should simply be experienced as culture. Elkin-Koren is a perceptive and influential scholar; some of her early work on bulletin boards for example, was extremely important in explaining the stakes of regulating the Internet to a group of judges and policy makers. I also acknowledge the truth of her theoretical point; in many ways Creative Commons is offered as a second best solution. But I am unconvinced by the conclusion. Partly, this is because I think Elkin-Koren’s account of the actual perceptions of license users is insufficiently grounded in actual evidence. Partly, it is because I think the legalization—undesirable though it may be in places—has already happened. Now we must deal with it. Partly, it is because I believe that many of the activities that the licenses enable—a global commons of free educational materials, for example—simply cannot be produced any other way in the political reality we face, and I have a preference for lighting candles rather than lamenting the darkness." (