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Creative Commons: a user guide

Simone Aliprandi

Appendix II. The page about Creative Commons on Wikipedia27

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1Creative Commons (CC) is a non‐profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California, United States devoted to expanding the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. The organization has released several copyright‐licenses known as Creative Commons licenses free of charge to the public. These licenses allow creators to communicate which rights they reserve, and which rights they waive for the benefit of recipients or other creators. An easy to understand one‐page explanation of rights, with associated visual symbols, explains the specifics of each Creative Commons license. This simplicity distinguishes Creative Commons from an all rights reserved copyright. Creative Commons was invented to create a more flexible copyright model, replacing “all rights reserved” with “some rights reserved”. Wikipedia is one of the notable web‐based projects using one of its licenses.

2The organization was founded in 2001 by Larry Lessig, Hal Abelson and Eric Eldred with support of the Center for the Public Domain. The first set of copyright licenses were released in December 2002. In 2008, there were an estimated 130 million works licensed under Creative Commons. Creative Commons is governed by a board of directors and a technical advisory board. Esther Wojcicki, journalism teacher from Palo Alto, CA, is currently the chair of the board. Creative Commons has been embraced by many as a way for content creators to take control of how they choose to share their intellectual property. There has also been criticism that it doesn’t go far enough.


3Creative Commons has been described as being at the forefront of the copyleft movement, which seeks to support the building of a richer public domain by providing an alternative to the automatic “all rights reserved” copyright, dubbed “some rights reserved.” David Berry and Giles Moss have credited Creative Commons with generating interest in the issue of intellectual property and contributing to the re‐thinking of the role of the “commons” in the “information age”. Beyond that, Creative Commons has provided “institutional, practical and legal support for individuals and groups wishing to experiment and communicate with culture more freely.”

4Creative Commons works to counter what the organization considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture. According to Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, it is “a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past”. Lessig maintains that modern culture is dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons can provide alternatives to these restrictions.


5The current CEO of Creative Commons is Catherine Casserly. Mike Linksvayer is Vice President and Diane Peters is the General Counsel.


6The current Creative Commons Board include: Hal Abelson, Glenn Otis Brown, Michael W. Carroll, Caterina Fake, Davis Guggenheim, Joi Ito, Lawrence Lessig, Laurie Racine, Eric Saltzman, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, Jimmy Wales, and Esther Wojcicki (Chair).


7The Technical Advisory Board includes five members: Hal Abelson, Ben Adida, Barbara Fox, Don McGovern and Eric Miller. Hal Abelson also serves on the Creative Commons Board.


8Creative Commons also has an Audit Committee, with two members: Molly Shaffer Van Houweling and Lawrence Lessig. Both serve on the Creative Commons Board.


9There are six major licenses of the Creative Commons:

  • Attribution (CC‐BY)
  • Attribution – Share Alike (CC‐BY‐SA)
  • Attribution – No Derivatives (CC‐BY‐ND)
  • Attribution – Non Commercial (CC‐BY‐NC)
  • Attribution – Non Commercial – Share Alike (CC‐BYNC‐SA)
  • Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivatives (CCBY‐NC‐ND)

10There are four major conditions of the Creative Commons: Attribution (BY), requiring attribution to the original author; Share Alike (SA), allowing derivative works under the same or a similar license (later or jurisdiction version); Non‐Commercial (NC), requiring the work is not used for commercial purposes; and No Derivatives (ND), allowing only the original work, without derivatives.

11As of the current versions, all Creative Commons licenses allow the “core right” to redistribute a work for noncommercial purposes without modification. The NC and ND options will make a work non‐free.

12Additional options include the CC0 option, or “no rights reserved.” For software, Creative Commons has three available licenses: the BSD License, the CC GNU LGPL license, and the CC GNU GPL.


13The original non‐localized Creative Commons licenses were written with the U.S. legal system in mind, so the wording could be incompatible within different local legislations and render the licenses unenforceable in various jurisdictions. To address this issue, Creative Commons International has started to port the various licenses to accommodate local copyright and private law. As of May 2010, there are 52 jurisdiction‐specific licenses, with 9 other jurisdictions in drafting process, and more countries joining the worldwide project.



14Péter Benjamin Tóth asserts that Creative Commons’ objectives are already well served by the current copyright regime, and that Creative Commons’ “some rights reserved” slogan, as against Copyright’s “all rights reserved”, creates a false dichotomy. “Copyright provides a list of exclusive rights to the rightholder, from which he decides which ones he wishes to “sell” or grant and which to retain. The “some rights reserved” concept is therefore not an alternative to, but rather the very nature of classical copyright.” Other critics fear that Creative Commons could erode the copyright system over time.

15Some of Creative Commons’ critics support revision of the copyright act, but believe Creative Commons to be merely a contractual quick fix that dissuades the public from mobilizing toward a real revision of the Copyright Act and copyright term lengths. Others, such as Jeffrey Harrison, believe the Creative Commons system to be too lax, and caution against “allowing some of our most precious resources – the creativity of individuals – to be simply tossed into the commons to be exploited by whomever has spare time and a magic marker.”

16Other critics question whether Creative Commons licenses are truly useful for artists, suggesting that Creative Commons is directed mainly toward a “remix culture” that often fails to account for the real needs, such as financial compensation and recognition, of fine artists, especially in the visual arts world. Some critics also worry that a system that does not allow authors to obtain a reward for their creations will cause some artists to avoid sharing their work.

17Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig counters that copyright laws have not always offered the strong and seemingly indefinite protection that today’s law provides. Rather, copyright’s duration used to be limited to much shorter terms of years, and some works never gained protection because they did not follow the now‐abandoned compulsory format.

18Another critic questions whether Creative Commons can really be the commons that it purports to be, given that at least some restrictions apply to people’s ability to use the resources within the common field. The is restricted entirely within the private rights of others and has nothing to do with rights shared by all. Creative Commons also does not define “creativity” or what aspects a work requires in order to become part of the commons.

19Critics such as David Berry and Giles Moss also argue that the founding of Creative Commons is not the proper mechanism for creating a commons of original content. Rather, a commons should be created, and its presence preserved, through the political process and political activism, not through lawyers writing down new rules.


20Critics have also argued that Creative Commons worsens license proliferation, by providing multiple licenses that are incompatible. The Creative Commons website states, “Since each of the six CC licenses functions differently, resources placed under different licenses may not necessarily be combined with one another without violating the license terms.” Works licensed under incompatible licenses may not be recombined in a derivative work without obtaining permission from the license‐holder. Some worry that “without a common legal framework, works which inadvertently mix licenses may become unshareable.”


21Some copyright holders have complained that internet users erroneously brand their copyrighted works with Creative Commons licenses, then re‐upload the works to the internet. Critics assert that this stems from rampant user‐confusion about the licenses. At present, there are no checks in place to hold users accountable for mislicensing.

22Although Creative Commons offers multiple licenses for different uses, some critics suggest that the licenses still do not address the differences among the media or among the various concerns that different authors have. For example, one critic points out that documentary filmmakers could have vastly different concerns from those held by a software designer or a law professor. Additionally, people wishing to use a Creative Commons‐licensed work would have to determine if their particular use is allowed under the license or if they need additional permission.

23Lessig wrote that the point of Creative Commons is to provide a middle ground between two extreme views of copyright protection–one demanding that all rights be controlled, and the other arguing that none should be controlled. Creative Commons provides a third option that allows authors to pick and choose which rights they want to control and which they want to relinquish. The multitude of licenses reflects the multitude of rights that can be passed on to subsequent creators.


24Some Creative Commons licenses do not meet the standards of the Free Software Foundation and other free content organizations. Specifically, the Creative Commons NC license has been denounced by FSF founder Richard Stallman because, he says, it denies users a “basic freedom” to reuse materials as they see fit.

25Mako Hill asserts that Creative Commons fails to establish a “base level of freedom” that all Creative Commons licenses must meet, and with which all licensors and users must comply. “By failing to take any firm ethical position and draw any line in the sand, CC is a missed opportunity.... CC has replaced what could have been a call for a world where ‘essential rights are unreservable’ with the relatively hollow call for ‘some rights reserved.’” Some critics fear that Creative Commons’ popularity may detract from the more stringent goals of other free content organizations.


26Other critics, such as Erik Moeller, raise concerns about the use of Creative Commons’ non‐commercial license. Works distributed under the Creative Commons Non‐Commercial license are not compatible with many open‐content sites, including Wikipedia, which explicitly allow and encourage some commercial uses. Moller explains that “the people who are likely to be hurt by an ‐NC license are not large corporations, but small publications like weblogs, advertising-funded radio stations, or local newspapers.”

27Lessig responds that the current copyright regime also harms compatibility and that authors can lessen this incompatibility by choosing the least restrictive license. Additionally, the non‐commercial license is useful for preventing someone else from capitalizing on an author’s work when the author still plans to do so in the future.


28The maintainers of Debian, a GNU and Linux distribution known for its rigid adherence to a particular definition of software freedom, do not believe that even the Creative Commons Attribution License, the least restrictive of the licenses, adheres to the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) due to the license’s anti‐DRM provisions (which could restrict private redistribution to some extent) and its requirement in section 4a that downstream users remove an author’s credit upon request from the author.

29As the other licenses are identical to the Creative Commons Attribution License with further restrictions, Debian considers them non‐free for the same reasons. There have been efforts to remove these problems in the new version 3.0 licenses, so they can be compatible with the DFSG. In contrast to the CC‐SA 2.0 license, version 3.0 is considered to be compatible to the DFSG.



30A Creative Commons license was first tested in court in early 2006, when podcaster Adam Curry sued a Dutch tabloid who published photos without permission from his Flickr page. The photos were licensed under the Creative Commons Non‐ Commercial license. While the verdict was in favor of Curry, the tabloid avoided having to pay restitution to him as long as they did not repeat the offense. An analysis of the decision states, “The Dutch Court’s decision is especially noteworthy because it confirms that the conditions of a Creative Commons license automatically apply to the content licensed under it, and bind users of such content even without expressly agreeing to, or having knowledge of, the conditions of the license.”


31In 2007, Virgin Mobile launched a bus stop ad campaign promoting their cellphone text messaging service using the work of amateur photographers who uploaded their work to Flickr using a Creative Commons‐BY (Attribution) license. Users licensing their images this way freed their work for use by any other entity, as long as the original creator was attributed credit, without any other compensation required. Virgin upheld this single restriction by printing a URL leading to the photographer’s Flickr page on each of their ads. However, one picture, depicting 15 year‐old Alison Chang at a fund‐raising carwash for her church, caused some controversy when she sued Virgin Mobile. The photo was taken by Alison’s church youth counselor, Justin Ho‐Wee Wong, who uploaded the image to Flickr under the Creative Commons license. In 2008, the case was thrown out of court for lack of jurisdiction.


32The issue in this case was not whether the CC license was enforceable, but instead whether the major collecting society in Spain could collect royalties from a bar that played CC‐licensed music. In this case, the main Spanish collecting society – Sociedad General de Autores y Editores (“SGAE”) sued a disco owner for the public performance of music managed by the collecting society. However, the Lower Court rejected the collecting society’s claims because the owner of the bar proved that the music he was using was not managed by the society, since it was under CC licence.


27 This appendix is a modified version of the text we found at on August 13, 2010.


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