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CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses


[This email is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig and others about the history and future of Creative Commons. If you would like to be removed from this list, please click here:
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From last week’s episode:
In the next two weeks, I’ll describe two other new initiatives that will define our work over the next year. And then this path of missives will turn to consider some criticisms of what we’ve done and where we’re going. Stay tuned, but fear not: I promise to be finished by Christmas!

The story continues:
From the start, we’ve had a simple slogan: “Some Rights Reserved.” A Creative Commons license gives permission to exercise some rights, but also allows the author or creator to keep some rights to him- or herself. Thus the meaning of a BY-NC (Attribution-NonCommercial) license is not that the author would never grant commercial rights. Instead it simply means that the commercial rights are not granted or “pre-cleared” by the Creative Commons license. To get the commercial rights, you need to ask the author first.

Many people have never understood this about us. They’ve confused “commons” with “communist.” They’ve suggested we believe that artists don’t need to eat. But nothing in our mission is against artists profiting from their work. Indeed, our message from the start has been that for at least some creative work, and some artists, the exposure that a Creative Commons license offers could help the artist profit from his or her work.

Today we announce a project to make that message clearer. Over the next six months, we will be developing a new feature with some Creative Commons licenses to enable creators to add links to permit users to commercially exploit their works.

We call this project “,” and while the details are still being hammered out, here’s the basic idea: Let’s imagine you’re a musician who is happy to have your music shared noncommercially. But, like most, if someone is going to make a profit from your work, you want a piece of that pie. So while you’ll allow members of the public to use your work noncommercially under a Creative Commons license, you reserve the commercial rights. But you’d also be very happy to offer the commercial rights to others on certain terms.

Here’s how might work. You come to the Creative Commons site and select your Creative Commons license. If you select a license with a NonCommercial license element, then we’ll give you the choice of partners who might be able to offer your work commercially. (Alternatively, you could simply specify a link back to yourself for any commercial licensing.)

If you select a partner, the system would pass you through a partner site to enable you to specify the commercial terms associated with your content. That information would be added back to the Creative Commons license as a link to the partner site. Your Commons Deed could then look something like this:

So that when someone comes to your Commons Deed, they would be informed of the rights you have licensed to the public for free use and enjoyment. But then they’d also be given a link to a site where they can buy something more than what is given for free. That something more could be more rights. It could be CDs. Or it could be anything that you and our partners decided would be useful to offer through the Commons Deed link.

Creative Commons would not be running these commercial sites. Except for selecting trusted partners, we would have nothing to do with any commercial transaction. Our aim would simply be to enable another link between the artist and a fan, so that the artist could more directly profit from his or her creativity.

We’re already tinkering with the technology to make this work. We’re beginning to talk to potential partners. There’s lots left to be done. But I’m confident that within the next 6 months, we’ll be launching this important new Creative Commons initiative, with the support, I’m confident, of many important creators.

Next week I’ll describe a second initiative that we’ll be launching over the next year. And while this second initiative will be important for Creative Commons, it will be critical to the ecology of creativity generally. Stay tuned.

One final fundraising plug: It took a lot of work, but I convinced my staff to re-release the original Creative Commons t-shirt, with a slight, but important, modification. Check it out here.

And buy millions for your friends here.