Creative Commons (CC) is an American non-profit organization 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. Creative Commons licenses do not replace copyright, but are based upon it. They replace individual negotiations for specific rights between copyright owner (licensor) and licensee, which are necessary under an "all rights reserved" copyright management, with a "some rights reserved" management employing standardized licenses for re-use cases where no commercial compensation is sought by the copyright owner. The result is an agile, low-overhead and low-cost copyright-management regime, profiting both copyright owners and licensees. Wikipedia uses one of these licenses.
The organization was founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred with the support of Center for the Public Domain. The first article in a general interest publication about Creative Commons, written by Hal Plotkin, was published in February 2002. The first set of copyright licenses was released in December 2002. The founding management team that developed the licenses and built the Creative Commons infrastructure as we know it today included Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, Glenn Otis Brown, Neeru Paharia, and Ben Adida.
In 2002 the Open Content Project, a 1998 precursor project by David A. Wiley, announced the Creative Commons as successor project and Wiley joined as CC director. Matthew Haughey and Aaron Swartz also played a role in the early stages of the project.
As of January 2016 there were an estimated 1.1 billion works licensed under the various Creative Commons licenses. As of March 2015, Flickr alone hosts over 306 million Creative Commons licensed photos. Creative Commons is governed by a board of directors. Their licenses have been embraced by many as a way for creators to take control of how they choose to share their copyrighted works.
Aim and influence
Creative 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, and has been 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."
Creative Commons attempts to counter what Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons, considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture. Lessig describes this as "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.
Governance and staff
Creative Commons staff include two full-time legal counsel, as well as a number of open education, free culture and free software veterans including:
- Ryan Merkley, CEO
- Diane Peters, General Counsel
- Cable Green, Director of Open Education
- Rebecca Lendl, Director of Development
- Jane Park, Director of Platforms
- Eric Steuer, Director of Content and Community
- Claudio Ruiz, Director of Ecosystem Strategy
- Scott Seethaler, Director of Finance and Operations
- Jennie Rose Halperin, Communications Manager
- Sarah Hinchliff-Pearson, Senior Counsel
- Mari Moreshead, senior administrator
- Rob Myers, Software Developer
- Simeon Oriko, Network Manager
- SooHyun Pae, Regional Coordinator – Asia-Pacific
- Alison Pearce, Event Coordinator
- Eva Rogers, Development Manager
- Timothy Vollmer, Manager, Public Policy
As of 2015, the Board of Creative Commons consists of:
The Advisory Board consists of:
CC's Audit Committee has three members, who are also members of the Board. As of 2017, they are Paul Keller, Molly Van Houweling, Chris Thorne.
As of 2015, there are more than 100 affiliates working in over 75 jurisdictions to support and promote CC activities around the world.
Creative Commons Korea (CC Korea) is the affiliated network of Creative Commons in South Korea. In March 2005, CC Korea was initiated by Jongsoo Yoon (in Korean: 윤종수), a Presiding Judge of Incheon District Court, as a project of Korea Association for Infomedia Law (KAFIL). The major Korean portal sites, including Daum and Naver, have been participating in the use of Creative Commons licences. In January 2009, the Creative Commons Korea Association was consequently founded as a non-profit incorporated association. Since then, CC Korea has been actively promoting the liberal and open culture of creation as well as leading the diffusion of Creative Common in the country.
Bassel Khartabil was a Palestinian Syrian open source software developer and has served as project lead and public affiliate for Creative Commons Syria. From March 15, 2012 he was detained by the Syrian government in Damascus at Adra Prison. On October 17, 2015 Creative Commons Board of Directors approved a resolution calling for Bassel Khartabil's release. In 2017 Bassel's wife received confirmation that Bassel had been executed shortly after she lost contact with him in 2015.
All current CC licenses (except the CC0 Public Domain Dedication tool) require attribution, which can be inconvenient for works based on multiple other works. Critics feared that Creative Commons could erode the copyright system over time or allow "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."
Critics also worried that the lack of rewards for content producers will dissuade artists from publishing their work, and questioned whether Creative Commons is the commons that it purports to be.
Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig countered that copyright laws have not always offered the strong and seemingly indefinite protection that today's law provides. Rather, the duration of copyright 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.
The maintainers of Debian, a GNU and Linux distribution known for its rigid adherence to a particular definition of software freedom, rejected the Creative Commons Attribution License prior to version 3 as incompatible with the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG) due to the license's anti-DRM provisions (which might, due to ambiguity, be covering more than DRM) and its requirement that downstream users remove an author's credit upon request from the author. Version 3.0 of the Creative Commons licenses addressed these concerns and is considered to be compatible with the DFSG.
License proliferation and incompatibility
Mako Hill asserted 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.'" He 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 copyright owner.
Richard Stallman of the FSF stated in 2005 that he couldn’t support Creative Commons as an activity because "it adopted some additional licenses which do not give everyone that minimum freedom", that freedom being "the freedom to share, noncommercially, any published work". Those licenses have since been retired by Creative Commons.
Creative Commons is only a service provider for standardized license text, not a party in any agreement. Abusive users can brand the copyrighted works of legitimate copyright holders with Creative Commons licenses and re-upload these works to the internet. No central database of Creative Commons works is controlling all licensed works and the responsibility of the Creative Commons system rests entirely with those using the licences. This situation is, however, not specific to Creative Commons. All copyright owners must individually defend their rights and no central database of copyrighted works or existing license agreements exists. The United States Copyright Office does keep a database of all works registered with it, but absence of registration does not imply absence of copyright.
Although Creative Commons offers multiple licenses for different uses, some critics suggested that the licenses still do not address the differences among the media or among the various concerns that different authors have.
Lessig 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 grant to others. The multitude of licenses reflects the multitude of rights that can be passed on to subsequent creators.
Criticism of the non-commercial license
Erik Möller raised 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. Möller explained 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."
Lessig responded 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. The non-commercial licenses have also been criticized for being too vague about which uses count as "commercial" and "non-commercial".
Bright Minds, a non-profit educational publisher that released works under an -NC license, sued FedEx for violating the license because a school had used its services to mass-produce photocopies of the work, thus commercially exploiting the works. A U.S. judge dismissed the case in February 2017, ruling that FedEx was an intermediary, and that the provision of the license "does not limit a licensee's ability to use third parties in exercising the rights granted [by the licensor]."
In 2007, Virgin Mobile Australia launched a bus stop advertising campaign which promoted its mobile phone text messaging service using the work of amateur photographers who uploaded their work to photo-sharing site 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 being 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 depicted 15-year-old Alison Chang posing for a photo at her church's fund-raising carwash, with the superimposed, mocking slogan "Dump Your Pen Friend". Chang sued Virgin Mobile and Creative Commons. The photo was taken by Alison's church youth counsellor, Justin Ho-Wee Wong, who uploaded the image to Flickr under the Creative Commons license.
The case hinges on privacy, the right of people not to have their likeness used in an ad without permission. So, while Mr. Wong may have given away his rights as a photographer, he did not, and could not, give away Alison's rights. In the lawsuit, which Mr. Wong is also a party to, there is an argument that Virgin did not honor all the terms of the nonrestrictive license.
On 27 November 2007, Chang filed for a voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit against Creative Commons, focusing their lawsuit against Virgin Mobile. The case was thrown out of court due to lack of jurisdiction and subsequently Virgin Mobile did not incur any damages towards the defendant.