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Permanence of CC licenses upheld in CrunchBase settlement

CC in the box of letters

CC in the box of letters / Kristina Alexanderson / CC BY-SA

For how popular they are worldwide, it’s striking how rarely CC licenses’ validity has been questioned in court. We consider that a testament to the care with which we craft the licenses: we try to find every possible area of contention or ambiguity before we launch the licenses. To our knowledge, no court in any country has ever found a CC license invalid.

An out-of-court settlement yesterday affirmed what most people reading this blog already knew: you are free to use Creative Commons–licensed content under the terms of the license without fear of infringing the licensor’s copyright, even if the licensor changes her mind later.

The complicated case involved CrunchBase, a CC BY database of names and companies in the tech space, operated by TechCrunch. A startup company called Pro Populi built an app using CrunchBase data with attribution. CrunchBase questioned the legality of Pro Populi using its data in that way, pointing to a clause in its own terms-of-service agreement reserving the right to “continually review and evaluate all uses of the API, including those that appear more competitive than complementary in nature.”

When the story hit last month, Wired’s David Kravets interviewed CC’s Diane Peters. She reiterated the non-revocable nature of the licenses, saying, “As a matter of copyright, once you have it, you have it, and can do what you want with it.”

The case has now been dropped, but more importantly, CrunchBase has now revised its own terms-of-service agreement to remove any contradiction with the CC license, thanks in no small part to our friends at the Electronic Freedom Foundation:

“Offering content under the most permissive CC license while claiming the right to shut down uses they didn’t like was a bit misleading,” said EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “CrunchBase’s new terms of service are clearer and more in line with the best practices of the open content community. The new terms should allow developers to re-use and build on the CrunchBase dataset with greater confidence.”


“We are grateful to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for playing an instrumental role in updating the CrunchBase Terms of Service,” said CrunchBase President Matt Kaufman. “At their suggestion, we adopted Creative Commons 4.0 and open content best practices. These updates provide more clarity to our community and provide a stronger foundation from which to build and extend the CrunchBase dataset.”

Posted 13 December 2013