August 30, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Perspective: Creative Commons--an answer to the copyright debate?See all Perspectives
Creative Commons consists of a U.S. charitable corporation and a not-for-profit company in the United Kingdom. It believes that all-out copyright has failed to help many artists and entrepreneurs gain the exposure and widespread distribution they desire. As a result, a significant number of them are increasingly open to "innovative business models" that ensure a return on their creative investment.
This is where Creative Commons comes into play, by offering a set of licenses on its Web site, free of charge.
All too frequently, the debate over creative control has tended toward the extremes. On one end of the spectrum is a total control paradigm that Creative Commons describes as a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and where "all rights reserved" notices (and then some) have become the norm. At the other end of the spectrum is an anarchical world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are vulnerable to exploitation.
So it was that the people behind the concept of Creative Commons became concerned at the increasing disappearance of balance, compromise and moderation. Creative Commons was started in 2001 with the goal of reviving the driving forces behind a copyright system that once equally valued innovation and protection. The group proclaims that its ends "are cooperative and community-minded, but (its) means are voluntary and libertarian." Creative Commons seeks to offer creators methods to protect their works while also encouraging certain uses of them. It wants to improve a system marked by increasingly restrictive default rules with "a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright."
How will this work? The group has developed a Web application that assists people in dedicating their works to the public domain or allows them to retain their copyrights while licensing them for no charge for specified purposes based on certain conditions. The Creative Commons licenses are not designed for software. They instead are geared for other types of creative works such as music, film, photography, Web sites and literature. Creative Commons also has developed metadata that can be implemented to associate "creative works with their public domain or license status in a machine-readable way."
Thus, for online works, a creator can apply for a Creative Commons license from the group's Web site by choosing the license that applies based on preferences. The selection will include HTML code that will automatically generate the "some rights reserved" button with a statement that the work is licensed under a Creative Commons license or a "no rights reserved" button if the work is selected to be put into the public domain.
Creative Commons is gaining use and notoriety among prominent creators. In May of this year, the group announced that Pearl Jam's new single "Life Wasted" was to be offered to the public under its Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives license, enabling people internationally to copy, distribute and share the clip legally.
In the same month, under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike license, people were able to legally remix and share their own personal versions of two different songs from the album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" by David Byrne and Brian Eno.
It does appear that Creative Commons is offering the flexible copyright options it envisioned at the outset. As always, time will tell whether it will inspire a true movement that gains even more momentum.
is a partner in the San Francisco office of . His focus includes information technology and intellectual-property disputes. To receive his weekly columns, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Subscribe" in the subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only, and it should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.
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