A Brief Overview of Creative Commons

February 20th, 2007 · 6 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

As many of you are aware, we strongly advocate a little thing called “knowing what you’re doing”. This does not contradict our position when it comes to Making Stuff Up. Quite the contrary. We believe, among other things, that people who sign contracts should know what the contracts say. We also believe that people who utilize Creative Commons licenses should understand what they are keeping…and what they’re giving away.

Creative Commons licenses are not licenses to steal

This thought arose, oh, last week, when marketing guru Seth Godin complained that someone was selling unauthorized physical copies of his free e-book. Granted, the party selling these books was, essentially, given the green light by Godin when he chose the license he did. The Creative Commons licenses provide for various levels of control on the part of the licensor — Godin’s protestations stem either from a misunderstanding of what he really wanted to do…or maybe it’s just a brilliant marketing ploy. After all, the story made it all the way to the New York Times.

Oops. Sorry. Cynical.

So, we thought we’d spend a moment discussing what Creative Commons is and what it means to you. Actually we meant to do this around two years ago after cornering Mike Linksayver at a party, but, you know, time flies when you have as much to say as we do. Back then, we told him to remember us tall, thin, and funny. We hope our brainwashing attempt worked. Anyway, great party and the post is still relevant after all these years. How often can you say that?

Very, very simply, Creative Commons provides a way for content creators to copyright their work while allowing for levels of flexibility when it comes to distributing said work. Basically, you get to decide whether or not your work can be used for commercial purposes (the option apparently chosen by Godin). You also get to determine what, if any, modifications can be made to your work. This allows others to create derivative works of your art.

Each of the six main types of Creative Commons licenses — ranging from very restrictive to pretty liberal — requires attribution for the original content creator. Depending on the license, again, sometimes your original restrictions are carried through as derivative works are created, sometimes not. It’s important to read the descriptions of each type of license before making your decision. Otherwise, you might pitch a fit and have bloggers making merciless fun of you when making fun is not your goal.

Creative Commons also offers a public domain option for those of you who want to free yourselves from the copyright chain entirely — you can set your work wild right away (think, you and Emily Dickinson, living in the public domain together forever) or you can choose a shorter period of copyright, 14 or 28 years, than the current law requires. Options, dear friends, are what make the world go around. Also, gravity or something like that.

Creative Commons licenses should not be confused with the concept of Fair Use, whereby small portions of copyrighted works may be reproduced for the purpose of quotes or other limited uses. Fair Use is one of those things that is increasingly under attack as content becomes, well, increasingly valuable, mostly because it’s sort of like pornography — everyone has a different idea of what Fair Use is.

Another note. Creative Commons licenses are not licenses to steal. Each license has its own set of rules, and those who believe that the mere appearance of a license on a website constitutes permission to steal and reprint content, well, they’re wrong. Very wrong. The work is steal copyrighted and it is still subject to legal protection. The content owner is providing a clear path to distribution and use; it is up to you (content user) to understand what the rules are and to follow them.

Remember the old saying: it is more fun to party with lawyers than to meet them in the courtroom.

[tags]creative commons, copyright, licenses[/tags]

File Under: Our Continuing Fascination With Copyright

6 responses so far ↓

  • HelenKay // Feb 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    It’s actually not that fun to party with lawyers either. That’s why lawyers end up marrying other lawyers. No one else wants to party.

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 24, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    Darling HK, spent Wednesday night with lawyers. They were delightful. Great party. You, I believe, were hanging out with the wrong crowd… Had you chosen to live in the Center of the Universe, you could play with fun lawyers, too!

  • HelenKay // Feb 25, 2007 at 11:51 pm

    You clearly drank heavily at this get together on Wednesday night…

  • Kassia Krozser // Feb 26, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Uh, yeah. We call it book club, but it’s more like wine club.

  • Joe Wikert // Feb 27, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    For anyone interested in the Creative Commons License, I highly recommend reading Lawrence Lessig’s fine book entitled “Free Culture”, which I review on my blog here: http://jwikert.typepad.com/the_average_joe/2006/12/free_culture_th.html
    And no, although I’m a book publisher myself, my company did *not* publish Lessig’s book! I’m just a huge fan of his and recommend this to anyone who is interested in the subject.

  • Exceed Global // Jul 20, 2007 at 8:48 am

    Im embarassed to say I never really understood what Creative Commons really stood for till I read this thread.

    And to think I just kept plastering it on my blogs as boilerplate text!