Skip to content

Creative Commons Announced

About CC


Representatives from the new nonprofit Creative Commons ( today outlined the company’s plans to help lower the legal barriers to creativity through an innovative coupling of law and technology. The Creative Commons will provide a free set of tools to enable creators to share aspects of their copyrighted works with the public. “Our tools will make it easier for artists and authors to make some or all of their rights available to the public for free,” Stanford Professor and Creative Commons Chairman Lawrence Lessig explained at the O’Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference. “If, for example, an artist wants to make her music available for non-commercial use, or with just attribution, our tools will help her express those intentions in a ‘machine-readable’ form. Computers will then be able to identify and understand the terms of an author’s license, making it easier for people to search for and share creative works.”

Creative Commons was formed by a coalition of academics from a broad range of institutions, including Duke, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Villanova. Its aim is to use the flexibility of copyright law to help support a rich public domain alongside traditional copyrights. In a separate Creative Commons presentation, Molly Van Houweling, Executive Director, and Lisa Rein, Technical Architect, previewed the web-based application that will help scholars, artists, and others make their works available for copying, modification, and redistribution. Authors and artists who use the tool may choose to dedicate their works to the public domain or choose to retain their copyright while allowing creative reuses subject to custom combinations of conditions. An illustrator seeking exposure, for example, might choose to let anyone freely copy and distribute her work, provided that they give her proper credit. An academic eager to build a public audience could permit unlimited noncommercial copying of his writings.

“The aim,” Ms. Van Houweling explained, “is not only to increase the sum of raw source material online, but also to make access to that material cheaper and easier.” To do this, Creative Commons will translate authors’ intentions into “metadata” associated with their creative works. This will enable people to use the Internet to find, for example, photographs that are free to be altered or reused, or texts that may be copied, distributed, or sampled with no restrictions whatsoever – all by their authors’ permission, expressed in code as well as plain, straightforward language.

Creative Commons expects to launch these applications for general public use this fall. In the meantime, Creative Commons is inviting feedback on its prototype and its mission.

Creative Commons also announced its longer-term plans to create an intellectual property conservancy. Like a land trust or nature preserve, the conservancy will protect works of special public value from exclusionary private ownership and from obsolescence due to neglect or technological change. The conservancy will house a rich repository of high-quality works in a variety of media, and help foster an ethos of sharing, public education, and creative interactivity.

More about Creative Commons:

Creative Commons was founded upon the idea that creativity and innovation rely on a rich heritage of prior intellectual endeavor. We stand on the shoulders of giants by revisiting, reusing, and transforming the ideas and works of our peers and predecessors. Digital communications and personal computing promise a new explosion of this kind of collaborative creative activity. At the same time, expanding intellectual property protection leaves fewer and fewer creative works in the “public domain” – the body of creative material unfettered by law and, to quote Justice Brandeis, “free as the air to common use” – while the growing complexity of copyright makes it more and more difficult to know when it is legal to copy or alter a work. Creative Commons will work within the copyright system to help reduce these barriers to creativity. Creative Commons was founded in 2001 with the generous support of the Center for the Public Domain. It is now based at and receives generous support from Stanford Law School, where Creative Commons shares space, staff, and inspiration with the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. It is led by a Board of Directors that includes law professors Lawrence Lessig, James Boyle, and Michael Carroll, MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-cyberlaw expert Eric Saltzman, and public domain web publisher Eric Eldred. The organization is also advised by a technical advisory board that includes boardmember Hal Abelson, Barbara Fox (Senior Architect, Cryptography and Digital Rights Management, Microsoft WebTV), Don McGovern (Senior Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School), and Eric Miller (Activity Lead for the World Wide Web Consortium’s Semantic Web Initiative).

Please direct press inquiries to Molly Van Houweling, Executive Director, or Glenn Otis Brown, Assistant Director, at

Posted 16 May 2002