Creative Commons

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Creative Commons provides various licenses, including the many illustrated in this image.
The general goal of Creative Commons.

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization headquartered in Mountain View, California whose aim is to realize the full potential of the internet and drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity [1]. Creative Commons builds upon the already existing copyright protection, which is applied to all works immediately after the work is conceptualized. Copyright law prohibits the copying and sharing of works without the original creator or rights holder’s permission and grants authors the rights of their works following the creation of the work. Due to the nature of the internet, copyright law is increasingly relevant as it is easy to violate the law, and many ethical problems arise from the blurring of rights holder's permissions of works created, accessed, or shared in online environments.


Creative Commons was founded in 2001 in part using support by the Center of the Public Domain. Its organizational structure is a board of directors which consists of leaders who are education experts, technologists, legal scholars, investors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Currently, Creative Commons offices reside in San Francisco, California and current board consists of Hal Abelson, Glenn Otis Brown, Michel Carroll, Catherine Casserly (CEO), Caterina Fake, Brian Fitzgerald, David Guggenheim, Joi Ito (Chair), Lawrence Lessig, Laurie Racine, Eric Saltzman, Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, Annetter Thomas, Jimmy Wales, Esther Wojciki (Vice Chair). Creative Commons used to be lead by Lawrence Lesigg, however he stepped down in 2008 passing on the post to Joi Ito. Catherine Casserly is the current CEO of Creative Commons.

Creative Commons creates a free, public, and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the internet and the reality of copyright laws. Creative Commons provides an infrastructure which consists of a set of copyright licenses and tools that create a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates. This is done using a simple standardized way so artists can choose which level of copyright protection they desire. This ability plays a large roll on the Internet because information can be easily and legally, copied, distributed, edited and built upon. Specifically, this is done using 6 difference creative commons license types which give owners varying degrees of copyright protection. Furthermore, CC is recognized globally and licenses apply to affiliates all over the world. CC is especially useful because its licenses and tools are designed to work specifically with the web, which is rapidly becoming the easiest and most convenient method for information sharing. In addition to its license, CC also offers legal tools such as CC0 which is a public domain dedication for rights holders who want to put their work in public domain in advance of the expiration of their copyright.

Some of CC's major milestones:

Year Milestone
2002 CC released its first set of copyright licenses for free to the public and was inspired by the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License.
2003 approximately 1 million licenses were in use, and by end of 2004 an estimated 4.7 licensed works were using CC.
2009 there were estimated 350 million CC licensed works, and Wikipedia migrated to CC Attribution – ShareAlike as its main content license. [2].

License Types

The Three Layer Concept

Creative Commons Three Layer Concept of Licensing
Creative Commons licenses are written in three "layers". This is done to make CC even easier to use. The first layer happens to be the legaleze that actually dictates the legal aspects of the license. Legal writing is often difficult and hard to read for most of the people that use Creative Commons so the company provides the second layer which is called the Commons Deed but is often referred to as the Human Readable version. This layer provides an easy way for the every day non-lawyer to understand what exactly the license allows for and covers. The third and final layer is the "machine readable" version. This allows for software and search engines to know what is available under a CC license. [3]

Creative Commons offers six licenses for use and all of the licenses require attribution when using the work but offer varying degrees of freedom regarding the users ability to copy and distribute it.

1. Attribution license ('BY')

  • Allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform copyrighted work - and derivative works based upon it - but only as long as credit is given. [4] [5]

2. Attribution Share Alike (‘BY-SA’)

  • You allow others to distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs your work.[5]

3. Attribution No Derivatives (‘BY-ND’)

  • You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only verbatim copies of your work, but not derivative works based upon it.[5]

4. Attribution Non-commercial (‘BY-NC’)

  • Is the attribution which dictates that the original work cannot be used for commercial purposes.[5]

5. Attribution Non-commercial Share alike (‘BY-NC-SA’)

  • Is similar to BY-SA, but with restriction that further uses can only be non-commercial.[5]

6. Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (‘BC-NC-ND’)

  • Similar to BY-NC, but original material cannot be changed or adapted in any way. This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses. The work cannot be used commercially, nor can it be altered in any manner. [6] [5]

CC Zero (CC0)

CC zero or CC0 was introduced in 2008. It waives all copyright and puts material straight into the public domain, with no restrictions as to use.

Licence Attribution Chart


In December 2002, Creative Commons created licenses based on the laws of the United States. After realizing that these liscenses would not suffice worldwide, Creative Commons began to "port" licenses all over the globe. Today, over 45 countries have been "ported", including "Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Croatia, China, France, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea" according to the CC's site. [7]


The most common criticism of the Creative Commons license is that the creativity of individuals can be exploited by others without investing as much time in creating original content. This idea lumps those using the Creative Commons license into the mindset of rehashing old work without contributing anything novel. Furthermore, because of the low amount of official administration under Creative Commons, many people can abuse works under its license by claiming others' work to be their own. Smaller groups of content production, like bloggers or small news publications, can be greatly affected by others taking their work under the Creative Commons license and reusing it.

Criticism with creative commons occur in several distinct areas:

  1. While Creative Commons is revolutionary in design, its success depends on users being able to read and understand copyright protection properly. This situation is at large and widespread and can even be attributed to companies like Upon closer research of use of images almost 80% are allowed only under noncommercial use: however WIRED is a private for-profit entity, and earns money from site's advertising revenue. Furthermore, Wired urges to viewers to use images and allows them in blogs, but specifies not to use in advertisements. However, this is in conflict with the rights of property which is used under the noncommercial license. If content is copyrighted in such a way, the owner forgoes any profits associated with content because it is not allowed commercially. This example presents a major lack of understanding of what creative commons licenses entail. [8].
  2. Anti-Public Domain – One critique of Creative Commons is that creative common licenses confuse notions of what the public domain and what the common is, and therefore contribute to the dec

Ethical Implications

Because the Creative Commons relies on user collaboration in online environments, ethical concerns arise in the category of copyright credibility. Because the Creative Commons is a separate entity from other offline copyright organizations, they often are targeted for not being as strict as they should be.[9]

Creative Commons is directly related to the idea of copyleft, a joke on the word copyright. Copylefted work is work that is free to acquire and/or free to modify, with the stipulation that any derivative works also become copylefted.[10] This aspect of the “copyleft” movement is thought of as the “some rights reserved” concept in contrast to copyright’s “all rights reserved” policy [11]. Copyleft is sometimes referred to as viral licensing, as any work that includes copylefted work becomes itself copylefted much like a virus spreading to a host. Linux, a copylefted operating system, was even called by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer a "cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the way that the license works."[12]

Organizations That Use Creative Commons


CC will allow users of 500px to access more art for use in the public domain.[13]

Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera started using CC in 2009 in order to create a site for hosting videos shot from Gaza which the public and other news organizations would have access to. They have also started a CC blog for journalists and correspsondents to right in.


deviantArt began offering their artist community CC in 2008 in order for artists to freely showcase their artwork without having to worry about others taking credit of their Intellectual Property.


Flickr allows for users to license their photos under CC and currently has over 200 million CC-licensed photos making it the largest site for Creative Commons content.


Google has incorporated CC into many aspects of it's company. Users can search for CC content under Google Search, or license their work under CC through Google products such as Picasa, and Google Knol. YouTube also has a feature to allow for users to swap "All Rights Reserved" music for similar CC-licensed music.

Internet Archive

The Internet Archive allows users to search their content by which items are under Creative Commons Licenses. When submitting content to the sight, one can choose to put a Creative Commons License on the content, grating people the right to use the material in adherence to the rules of Creative Commons.


MIT allows for its courses to be posted online for access under a CC license. Since MIT started doing this in 2004 other universities have followed suit.


While Prezi does not specifically have a CC option, they do have a "reuse" option for all presentations. This gives users permission to use the presentation as a template and make it their own. In January of 2010, Joi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons, allowed his prezis for public "reuse". [14]

Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science publishes seven journals under a CC license.


The popular social sound platform Soundcloud gives users the option to choose either a Creative Commons license or All Right Reserved. If the user chooses the Creative Commons license, they have the option to make their works be available for other users to share or modify based on which protection layer was chosen. [15]

The Obama Administration has used CC for campaign photos, and when releasing information onto the White House site. The White House site also requires third parties to license their works under CC if they're going to post information on the site.


Wikipedia recently switched its content from a GNU Free Documentation License to a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license.[16]


The video-sharing site Vimeo gives users the option to choose from various levels of Creative Commons attribution licenses when publishing their videos online. A search of the 'creative commons' tag on Vimeo provides all the videos that have been licensed under a Creative Commons license.

See Also

External Links


  1. About accessed December 04 2011.
  2. Board of Directors accessed December 08 2011.
  3. License Types accessed November 5 2011.
  4. Flicker: Creative Commons
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Morgan, Cliff. "Understanding the Creative Commons Licence." Learned Publishing 24.1 (2011): 51-53. Print.
  6. Creative Commons: About The Licenses
  8. "Consumers of Creative Commons licenses do not understand them”: A little more context to Wired’s use of CC, Joshua Benton, 9 November 2011
  9. Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software Movement, Benjamin Mako Hill, 29 June 2005
  11. Broussard, S. L. (2007, September). The copyleft movement: Creative commons licensing. Communication Research Trends
  14. Joi Ito on Prezi
  15. Soundcloud: What is Creative Commons
  16. Accessed December 17, 2011

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