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Creative Commons licenses are essential to virtually all of the different “open movements”, which have emerged over the past two decades beyond open source software. In the realm of open education, open science and open access, Creative Commons licenses are the standard way to make content open to the wider public. Also in fields such as open data and open government Creative Commons licenses are widely used to make it easier for third parties to re-use publicly funded content.
In spite of this vital role in different fields of openness, not to speak of all the open Wikimedia projects, Creative Commons has long struggled with its role. During its first decade, Creative Commons nearly exclusively focused on its role as a license steward, carfully abstaining from political copyright activism typical for the open movements. Only very recently, following a speech by its founder Lawrence Lessig at the CC Global Summit 2013, Creative Commons has issued a policy statement on “Creative Commons and Copyright Reform” saying that “the CC vision — universal access to research and education and full participation in culture — will not be realized through licensing alone.”
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.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.
This post has been written “live” at the Creative Commons Global Summit 2011, taking place from September 16-18 in Warsaw, Poland.
In the field of open content licensing, Creative Commons licenses have been the first and still are the only licenses that are adapted (“ported”) to local jurisdictions. Free/open source software licenses such as the GNU GPL, which had served as the role model for Creative Commons in the first place, are generally unported licenses. And also in the realm of Creative Commons, not all licenses are ported.
In the first session on the upcoming versioning process, Paul Keller (CC Netherlands) mentioned the “no rights reserved” (CC0) license as an example for a Creative Commons license working without any adaption to local jurisdictions. Therefore, Keller argued, the laborious task of license porting could be abondoned as the licenses approach version 4.0. This statement was followed by several legal arguments with respect to the benefits and pitfalls of license porting.
Harward law professer Lawrence Lessig is one of the most recognized copyright experts in the world. When giving public presentations, he regularly includes short video clips to make his point. Obviously, these video quotations are covered by the fair-use-clause in US copyright. Residing in Germany, however, YoutTube does not allow me watching the video of one of Lessig’s talks embedded below. I stumbled upon the link to the video as a Slovenian colleague, Domen Bajde, recommends it to his students in a course on global business environments. When clicking on the link, YouTube just tells me that
“Dieses Video enthält Content von UMG. Es ist in deinem Land nicht verfügbar.” (translation: “This video contains content from UMG. It is not available in your country.”)
Previously on this blog, I have described how such problems arise as a consequence of (re-)negotiations between platform providers such as Google (the owner of YouTube) and rights holders, which demand a share from the platform’s ad revenues and hold content created and shared by users hostage (see “Private Negotation of Public Goods: Collateral Damage(s)“). The funny thing is how this erects new and increasingly ridiculous barriers in the seemingly global online world that are still tied to national borders. As an Austrian living in Germany, for example, I can only watch every second video shared by my Austrian friends via Facebook. Obviously, I am not the only one annoyed by this phenomenon. Paul Mutant, a Hungarian artist currently living in Brighton, U.K., converted his frustration into the great painting featured below. Read the rest of this entry »
In a speech given at the Italian parliament earlier this month titled “Internet is Freedom”, Lawrence Lessig prominently addressed issues recently discussed in this blog: as argued in “Reflections on Abolitionism: Copyright and Beyond“, he painted the picture of fighting extremists – abolitionists on the one, copyright zealots on the other hand -, thereby presenting himself as the sensible moderate seeking a middle course. So far, so business as usual.
What struck me was the particular compromise Lessig suggested: referencing the book “Promises to Keep” (2004) from his Harvard Berkman Center colleague William Fisher III and the German Green Party, he advocated for introducing a “Cultural Flat-rate” (see “Extending Private Copying Levies: Approaching a Culture Flat-rate?“).
While the short clip above delivers those 6 minutes of Lessig’s half an hour long speech that deal with abolitionism, copyright zealots and the Cultural flat-rate, I can only recommend watching the whole speech at blip.tv.
The founder of the organization Creative Commons, Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford and soon Harvard law professer, was one of the first to support Barack Obama’s run for precidency. He endorsed Obama even long before the Iowa caucuses in November 2007 on his blog. Funnily enough, the first paragraph of his endorsement reads like this:
“‘DON’T DO THIS!’ a friend wrote, a friend who never uses allcaps, a friend who cares genuinely about what’s good for me, and who believes that what’s good for me depends in part upon how easily I can talk to the next administration. ‘He is NOT going to win. She has it sewed up. DON’T burn your bridges before they’re hatched — so to speak.'”
Today, only hours after Obama’s inauguration, Lessig’s risky endorsement seems to pay off. The copyright notice on whitehouse.gov reads now as follows:
“Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.”
Seems as if Creative Commons has arrived in the mainstream by now.