Creative Commons - changing the way people consume & use media

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Creative Commons is the non-profit organisation that provides an alternative to the automatic “all rights reserved” copyright that is automatically created whenever someone creates something new. It hopes to build a richer, better and more vibrant culture, through a more open, and shareable Internet. I was lucky enough to catch up with Elliot Harmon from Creative Commons to find out more ...

Catching up with Creative Commons

We at EuroDNS are big supporters of the open-Internet and huge fans of Creative Commons. We rely on Creative Commons to help keep content free. You'll have seen some of the incredible creativity of its licensees showcased on our homepage.

Why should our readers care about Creative Commons, isn’t copyright just something for media executives in sharp suits?

It actually wasn’t that long ago that that was essentially true. If you weren’t a professional creator or one of those media executives, you didn’t create anything in your day-to-day life that copyright applied to. Today, that’s different. Think of all the places on the Internet where you upload your own work. Think of all of the companies whose business models rely on user-generated content. Today, we’re all creators.

So, how does Creative Commons help?

Here’s the basic idea of Creative Commons. The Internet makes it easy for people to borrow and reuse each other’s creations, building on them and adapting them and doing all kinds of creative things with them. But copyright law was created in a pre-Internet world. In the eyes of the law, I need your permission in order to remix your song or use your photograph in my blog post.

Getting that permission can be annoying, or even impossible. What if there were a simple way that you could give that permission ahead of time, not just to me, but to anyone who wants to use it? That’s Creative Commons. You can set your content free for anyone to use it, as long as they follow a few simple rules.

OK, so assuming I want to put something out under CC license, how should I do it?

The first thing you should do is read up on how Creative Commons licenses work. Be sure that you actually own the copyright to the work you want to license, and understand what rights you’re giving the public by putting the work under CC.

When deciding which CC license to use, there are really just two questions to ask yourself. First, are you willing to let others use the work commercially? Second, do you want to let others create and publish their own edited versions of your work, and if so, should they be required to share their version under a CC license? We have a tool on our website that will help you choose a license and generate a piece of HTML code for marking your work.

Are there any interesting examples of Creative Commons out there?

Hearing about interesting uses of CC is my favorite part of my job! One that I’ve been enamored with lately is The Noun Project. It’s a great place to find well-designed, simple icons. Noun Project icons are completely free to use, even commercially, under a CC license. But you can pay a small fee to have the attribution requirement waived.

That’s a great business model – and it’s a great example of how CC makes perfect business sense in a lot of industries. By giving content away for free, The Noun Project has secured its place as the go-to-source for these designs. And by charging for people to use the icons without attribution, it’s turned that ubiquity into a source of income.

Is Creative Commons limited to photos or music? Or are there other projects and applications that you’re working on?

Photos and music are definitely how most people first find out about Creative Commons. But you can use the licenses on literally anything that’s covered by copyright – educational resources, research articles, film, anything.

In the past few years, Creative Commons has put a lot of focus into license adoption at the governmental level. We’re of the opinion that publicly funded materials – be they cultural works, educational resources, or scientific research – should be openly licensed. We recently formed a project called the Institute for Open Leadership to equip advocates for open policy across disciplines.

In November you launched Version 4.0 of your license suite. What’s new?

There are dozens of improvements in the new licenses. To be honest, most of them will go unnoticed by the vast majority of users, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. We worry about the nuances of copyright law so you don’t have to.

The most noticeable improvement is in the licenses’ global enforceability. The 4.0 licenses are designed to function in every jurisdiction around the world, with no need for localized adaptations of the licenses.

A lot of the changes reflect CC’s growing user base. There are provisions in the new licenses relating to database rights, personality rights, and data mining. These issues have become more important as people have begun using CC in more fields.

Has Creative Commons ever been tested in the courts?

We keep a list of every court decision we know of that directly relates to Creative Commons licenses. To our knowledge, no court in the world has ever found CC licenses invalid.

How do you think Creative Commons is changing the way people consume and use media?

I think there’s been a massive change in the past ten years, and CC has been a big part of it.

I always find this interesting – when I talk with teenagers about Creative Commons, it’s a very different discussion than when I talk with people my age. I recently spoke at the National High School Journalism Convention. The kids I met there were all very serious about starting careers as content creators. They all knew that the success they wanted would require getting their work seen by as many people as possible. And they intuitively understood the idea of getting exposure by giving other people permission to use their content for free. That’s not the world I grew up in, but it’s the world they’re growing up in.

The Internet has changed the way we consume and share material. What do you think the next step for copyright is? Is there anything that worries you?

There are problems with copyright law that won’t be solved by open licensing. Or to put it another way, CC is a useful app, but the operating system (that is, copyright law) needs an upgrade.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation? How’s that working out? How can our readers get involved?

A lot of times, after I explain to someone how Creative Commons works, their first question is, “How much does it cost?” Of course, the answer is nothing. If only we charged a dollar for each license, we’d never have to worry about money again.

Joking aside, it’s no secret that we’re a small non-profit. There are projects that we’d really like to take on but can’t because we don’t have the money or staff time. At the moment, we’re wrapping up our annual fundraising campaign. If any of your readers would like to make a donation, this is a good time to do it, because The Brin Wojcicki Foundation is doubling every donation that we receive between now and the end of January.

There are a lot of other ways that people can get involved. If people are interested in our policy and advocacy work, they might want to get involved with the Open Policy Network. If you’d like to learn more about open licensing (or teach others), check out the School of Open. If you’d like updates from us on what we’re working on, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organisation that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. You can find out more information by visiting . I encourage everyone reading this to use Creative Commons and if possible to support them with a donation:

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