We’ve all seen the cute little CC buttons all over the nooks and crannies of the World Wide Web. We’ve seen them on Flickr, blogs and Obama’s campaign website. You might have even seen them beyond the screen, on a CD cover or a movie.
But what the hell are the Creative Commons, exactly?
Just about the most brilliant idea on earth. Let me explain…
Creative Commons is a set of copyleft (as opposed to copyright) licenses for creative works such as movies, music, images, essays, research papers, and of course, websites. Using copyleft, an author may, through a copyleft licensing scheme, give every person who receives a copy of their work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute the work as long as any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same copyleft licensing scheme. Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright – all rights reserved – and the public domain – no rights reserved. The content creator and you can decide whether you want your publicly published images to be remixed, sold, shared, credited, locked up in a drawer, or none of the latter.
The list of CC licensed works is long, yet it includes some big shot uses such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare and the Nine Inch Nail’s album “Ghost”. The always amazing Radiohead went the whole nine yards and shot their latest video using 3D scanning devices in place of cameras, then released the source code for free under a CC license.
With or Without Your Permission…
They call this “free culture”.
Ideas don’t come from null. Most of our inventions, cultural fixations, and innovations are the result of centuries of layered thought, whether we like it or not. Remixing is responsible for all human invention and innovation, ever.
But what happens when you have to ask permission for every use of copyrighted material, even for personal use? JD Lasica answers the question when he asked movie studios for permission to include small clips of movies in a home video he’s making with his 5-year-old son. The answers were, of course, no. Does the nice “No” actually stop people from using movies for remixing? Hell, no.
My favorite explanation of why free culture needs to be embraced is from the manifesto of Students for Free Culture:
“Through the democratizing power of digital technology and the Internet, we can place the tools of creation and distribution, communication and collaboration, teaching and learning into the hands of the common person — and with a truly active, connected, informed citizenry, injustice and oppression will slowly but surely vanish from the earth.”
Sounds All Hippie and Stuff, but Does It Actually Work?
The Creative Commons license has been upheld in courts in several places around the world. In 2006, a Spanish court decided against the Spanish Music Rights Collecting Society, in favor of a bar owner who played music released under a Creative Commons license, as the CC license did allow for public performance of the work.
Meanwhile, former MTV VJ Adam Curry sued Weekend, a Dutch gossip magazine, for copyright infringement. The photos were licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. A Dutch court ruled in favor of Curry.
Creative Commons released the following statement about the trial: “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.”
Brother, I Love You: Using Creative Commons
The good news is, Creative Commons is there to make our life easier, from both the producing and consuming sides of media. You can search the Creative Commons site for items that you can use in your own content. You can also search on other sites like Flickr for images, SpinXpress for content, blip.tv for video, and Owl for music. This screencast focuses on how nonprofits can use sites like the above to search for powerful visuals without violating copyright laws.
You can also use ccmixter, a music site where you can listen, sample, mash-up, and download CC licensed stories for free.
Here’s to creative and digital freedom, and to a world where ideas and knowledge are not owned or controlled, where people acknowledge original creators for their intellectual property due to inherent morals and respect rather than laws. The Creative Commons have two short movies to explain a little about the movement. You can watch them here.
What are your own opinions on copyright, copyleft, and Creative Commons? Have you ever used such a license?