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The interview with Lawrence Lessig featured below was conducted by Markus Beckedahl and John Weitzmann, leaders of the German Creative Commons affiliate organizations in late September and transcribed by Christian Wöhrl. A German version was published yesterday at netzpolitik.org. We are pleased to to publish the English original of the interview and invite others to share it as long as they abide to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license.

Lawrence Lessig at ETech 2008

Lawrence Lessig (photo by By Ed Schipul, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Maybe you’ve answered this question too many times, but why did you found Creative Commons?

Lawrence Lessig: Well, there’s a narrow reason which was that at the time we were litigating the Eldred vs. Ashcroft case, and Eric Eldred was skeptical about whether we could win that case. And he said that he wanted to make sure that out of that litigation wouldn’t just come a losing case at the Supreme Court but something that would be a more fundamental foundation to support what we’ve come to call Free Culture. So I began to think that was right and recognized, more importantly, that if we’re ever going to get real change that we would had to build the movement of understanding in people. That wasn’t going to come from the top down, it had to come from the bottom up. So a number of us began to talk about what was the way to craft such a movement and the idea of giving people a simple way to affirm that they don’t believe in either extreme of perfect control or no rights, and what’s the best way to do it. So that’s what launched Creative Commons.

So there were already several Open Content licenses. Why did you develop your own CC licenses and didn’t just support existing FSF licenses, for example? 

Lawrence Lessig: Well, there were two reasons. First, we thought we needed to have a more flexible and wider range of licenses. So that the, you know, like, the Free Document License is a particular version of a free license that might not be appropriate for all kinds of material – number one. But number two, we thought it was really important to understand your own licenses; it was very important to begin to embed an architecture that could be, number one, human-readable, understandable, and, number two, machine-readable, and, number three, at the very bottom, legally enforceable. And none of the other licensing structures that were out there were thinking of this particular mode of policy making, to have to speak three languages at the same time. So that’s what led us to architect this initially.

And it was our commitment from the very beginning, and, you know, we achieved this with the Free Document License and we’re still talking about this with the Free Art License to enable interoperability or portability between free licenses. So our idea was eventually that it didn’t matter which of the free licenses you were in as long as you could move into the equivalent free license that would be CC compatible.

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Creative Commons’ birthday party week is hardly over and the organization responsible for the most common open content licenses is back to its core business: acting as a license steward. As reported repeatedly on this blog (e.g. “Discussing the NC Module“), the NonCommercial (NC) license module has attracted a substantial amount of criticism over the years. The suggestions with regard to the NC module range from fundamental such as to get rid of the module entirely (e.g. by the Students for Free Cutlture) to moderate such as clarify the meaning of the NC clause.

In his most recent statement on the issue, Creative Commons’ Timothy Vollmer indicates that in addition to some uncontroversial suggestions  changing the name of “NonCommercial” to “Commercial Rights Reserved” is on the table:

This last point warrants a specific mention here, as it would be a big (and potentially sensitive) change to the branding of the Creative Commons NonCommercial licenses. This proposal is for a simple renaming of the “NonCommercial” license element to “Commercial Rights Reserved,” without any change in the definition of what it covers. Renaming it to something that more accurately reflects the operation of the license may ensure that it is not unintentionally used by licensors who intend something different. For more information about the idea and rationale behind this proposal, please see the CC wiki page on the topic.

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The organization Creative Commons, which is responsible for the set of alternative copyright licenses of the same name, was officially founded exactly 10 years ago. Historic documents of meetings in the run-up to founding Creative Commons are still available online at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. At the official Creative Commons birthday party in Germany I had the honor to present some useless historical facts from this and other pre- and post-foundation documents. The slides of my talk are embedded below.

[Update]

A video of my German talk is now available at Vimeo.

(leonhard)

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
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All texts on governance across borders are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Germany License.