MET:Creative Commons

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Created by David Symonds in Spring 2011 for ETEC510, section 65E

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.It is premised on the idea that copyright laws must change and adapt if they are to be useful or applicable in the digital age. Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig, author of "Free Culture," and one of the leading supporters of copyleft culture, which seeks to replace the rigid, "all rights reserved" copyright standard with a more flexible, "some rights reserved" model more suited for application to New Media in a Networked Society, making materials more freely available for public use through a voluntary reduction in control on the part of the author. [1]

File:Creative Commons 2.jpg
The Creative Commons Logo


The purpose of the Creative Commons aligns with the Copyleft movement , which works to give authors, artists, and other intellectual property owners a more flexible range of options for both sharing and protecting their work. Creative Commons is related to the Open Source Software (OSS) movement in that it is premised on the idea that by putting information, resources, and creative works in the public domain, they will be more rapidly and readily improved and built upon by others than if their source code were hidden and content protected by strict copyright laws, but it stops short of allowing all content to be used freely, allowing license owners to retain some control over their work. It also differs from the Fair Use exception to copyright law. It goes above and beyond fair use by explicitly stating that the content may be freely used, copied, and distributed for any purpose. This removes the uncertainty involved when using copyrighted materials under the assumption of fair use, and eliminates the need to ask for permission to use work[2].

Key Figures

File:Larry Lessig CC.jpg
Larry Lessig, founder of Creative Commons

Lawrence Lessig is the founder of Creative Commons. He is a Law Professor at Stanford, and one of the premier advocates of open-source software and free sharing and remixing of media. He is the author of several books about Internet culture and the laws which inhibit it, most notably his 2001 book entitled Free Culture [1]. He is on the board of directors for Creative Commons.

Joi Ito is the Chairman of the Board for Creative Commons. He made his career in developing personal communication technologies, has started numerous websites, and is considered to be one of the most influential people on the Web.

Cathy Casserly has recently taken over the position of CEO from Joi Ito. She is the former director of the Open Educational Resources Initiative at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and currently works with the The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Key Supporters

Creative Commons receives broad support from users of its content, but is bolstered by strong relationships with the photo-sharing website Flickr, as well as informational websites such as Google and Wikipedia. Even the Obama Administration has used Creative Commons licenses to share photos from the 2008 Presidential Campaign.[3]

Applications to Education

Because many of the Creative Commons licensing options allow for free modification, reproduction, and distribution of work, it creates an invaluable resource for teachers, who are able to customize content, translate freely into different languages, or otherwise modify available content to better meet the needs of their students [4]. Open-Source and copyleft software and resources

For a generation of Digital Natives, [5] Copyright law feels incredibly restrictive, and options for creatively building on the work of others are limited. Those who want to remix, remash, and re-purpose creative works are forced to either accept that they are breaking the law and hope they aren't caught and prosecuted, or give up their craft entirely [6], neither of which is appealing in the least. Creative Commons offers a third option - it creates a space where artists who are willing to share and have their work adapted by others can do so, without forfeiting all of their rights. For artists, and students working on projects on any topic in school, the Creative Commons space is one of refuge, where they can freely collect, combine, edit, and re-make creative works for their own use. They can make something new, which is an expression of themselves, without having to worry that their creative pursuits are "illegal." [7]


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Creative Commons licenses allow people to freely share their work with others

Creative Commons offers a range of licensing options, each of which offers the license owner a different degree or type of control over how their work is shared and used. There are 6 licensing options available, the most relaxed of which is the CC BY - Attribution. This license allows others to distribute, modify, and build on the license owner's work, even for commercial gain, as long as they attribute the origins of their creation to the license owner. The most restrictive of the licensing options is the CC BY-NC-ND - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs. This license allows work to be freely accessed and shared (as long as the original creator is credited), but not modified in any way or used for any commercial purposes.

There are 4 basic elements which may be included or omitted in a Creative Commons License:

BY - Attribution: All Creative Commons licenses require that the original author/creator be acknowledged.

SA - Share-alike: This element requires that all works derived from the original must be used under the same license. That is, if it was originally created under a very open license, a derivative work cannot be placed under a more restrictive license.

NC - Non-commercial: This work cannot be used for any commercial purpose.

ND - No derivatives: This work can be shared and reproduced, but not altered without consent of the creator.

Creative Commons licenses also offer plain-language summaries which allow users to quickly and easily understand the nature of the licensing options without having to wade through difficult legal jargon[8]. Creative Commons licensing is admittedly more restrictive than the GNU General Public License or other Open-source software licensing options the different degrees of control offered by Creative Commons licensing make it possible to customize the license agreement to best suit the needs of the license owner.


In 2010, Senator Patrick Leahy (D -Vermont) proposed bill S. 3804 - the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). Although it never reached the floor of the house or senate for a vote [9], it was nicknamed the "Internet Blacklist Bill", and was supported by many entertainment distributors, but drew opposition from lawyers and human rights organizations who feared it would have serious consequences to freedom of expression and human rights by allowing large corporations significant control over Internet content.

Additional Resources

RiP!:A Remix Manifesto [2]

Larry Lessig TED Talk on the restrictions of copyright law [3]

Introduction to Creative Commons on Youtube [4]

Creative Commons Stop Motion Animation: M.Trautman [5] Press the > button after the in media video finishes to return to the slideshow

See Also

Intellectual Property


Copyright Infringement

Open Source

Fair Use

Public Domain


  1. Jones, 2009
  2. Valenza, 2009
  3. Creative Commons homepage
  4. West, 2009
  5. Prensky, 2001
  6. Lessig, 2004
  7. Roland, 2010
  8. Weitzman, J.B. & Lessig, L., 2004
  9. Govtrack Website


Creative Commons homepage,

Geach, N. (2009). The future of copyright in the age of convergence: Is a new approach needed for the new media world?. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 23(1/2), 131-142. doi:10.1080/13600860902742588

Govtrack Website, Accessed February 24, 2011

Jones, R. (2009). Technology and the cultural appropriation of music. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 23(1/2), 109-122. doi:10.1080/13600860902742570

Lessig, L. (2004) Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity, New York: The Penguin Press.[6]

Phelps, J. L.(2010) Copyleft Termination: Will the Termination Provision of the Copyright Act of 1976 Undermine the Free Software Foundation's General Public License?, Jurimetrics: The Journal of Law, Science & Technology, 50(2) 261-273

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).

Roland, C. (2010). Preparing Art Teachers to Teach in a New Digital Landscape. Art Education, 63(1), 17-24.

Valenza, J. (2011). Opening Gates: On Celebrating Creative Commons and Flexing the Fair Use Muscle. Library Media Connection, 29(4), 30-32.

West, P., & Daniel, J. (2009). The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth. Open Learning, 24(1), 85-95.

Weitzman, Jonathan B., and Lawrence Lessig. "Open Access and Creative Common Sense." [7]