Magazine article Information Today

Creative Commons Nurtures the Public Domain. (News Break)

Magazine article Information Today

Creative Commons Nurtures the Public Domain. (News Break)

Article excerpt

Creative Commons ( is a new nonprofit organization that develops alternative approaches to handling copyright licensing and encouraging contributions to the public domain within the framework of the current copyright system. In May it made the first public announcement of its plans at O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in Santa Clara, California.

Chaired by Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford intellectual property scholar, and funded in large part by a major grant from the Center for the Public Domain (, Creative Commons is supported by a coalition of noted public interest legal scholars and organizations and is endowed with a $900,000 budget (the latter according to an AP report). The organization's initial thrust is to develop two Web-based tools for which prototypes ( have already been built:

* Contributor Application--To be available at no cost, it will assist artists, authors, software developers, and other creators in legally defining acceptable uses of their work through execution of Common Deeds or "custom licenses." A custom license allows a person to retain copyright but might grant permission for others to copy, distribute, display, or perform a work; create derivative works; or restrict usage in terms of requiring proper credit, allowing use only for noncommercial purposes or not allowing derivative works.

* Search Application--Freely available on the Creative Commons site, this will enable the public to find works that are entirely in the public domain or available for use with some restrictions. Creative Commons will not host the works itself.

The Contributor Application template is easy to use and consists of checklists, pull-down menus, and fill-in-the-blanks sections. No lawyers are needed to execute these legal documents, making the system free and affordable by all. The fact that a document or other work has a custom license or is in the public domain will be noted on each electronic document by a symbol linked to its digital license. The machine-readable license will indicate how a work could be used and shared with the public. Metadata containing the license provisions and generated through a Web-based application will be distributed, then recognized by search engines and digital rights management systems, thus making it clear how each work displaying them is to be used.

According to Creative Commons, teachers, scholars, scientists, writers, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, graphic designers, and Web hobbyists are among those who will want to take advantage of these new options. Many such creators, it is assumed, would welcome the exposure and even benefit financially if some of their work were easily accessible in the public domain.

Final versions of the tools are scheduled for completion by this fall. Later, the organization will also establish a conservancy to solicit donations of copyrighted material and may even purchase rights in order to keep valuable creative works freely available to the public. Immediate goals for the size and scope of the database and specifics of Creative Commons' marketing strategy are not yet determined, according to executive director Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, a Harvard-trained lawyer and fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Internet and Society.

The basic premise on which the organization is based, and, indeed, the open source and copyleft movements from which it has arisen, is that creative endeavor relies, in one way or another, on the work of others. (See George H. Pike's column, "What Is Right About a Copyleft?" on page 22 of the April 2002 issue of Information Today.) "We stand on the shoulders of giants by revisiting, reusing, and transforming the ideas and works of our peers and predecessors," the organization states in its literature.

Creative Commons is responding to the following perceived and related needs that appear to be widely felt in many kinds of creative communities:

* The public domain must be honored and replenished, as it has been depleted over the years due to repeated extensions of the copyright law and the automatic provision of copyright since 1976. …

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