Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer

Creative Commons Seeking To Build Layer of "Reasonable Copyright"

Have you heard of Creative Commons? If not yet, you may soon. Creative Commons consists of a US charitable corporation and a UK not-for-profit company that has the underlying message that "some people may not want to exercise all of the intellectual property rights the law affords them."

Creative Commons believes that "there is an unmet demand for an easy yet reliable way to tell the world 'some rights reserved' or even 'no rights reserved.'" Why? Because "many people have concluded that all-out copyright doesn't help them gain the exposure and widespread distribution they want." Instead, significant numbers of artists and entrepreneurs prefer depending on "innovative business models rather than full-fledged copyright to secure a return on their creative investment."

Thus, a growing number of Netizens want to share their work on "generous terms." This is where Creative Commons comes into play, by offering a set of licenses on its Website,, free of charge.

Creative Commons came into being understanding that "too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes." On one end of the spectrum is a total control paradigm, "a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and in which 'all rights reserved' (and then some) is the norm." At the other end of the spectrum is anarchy, "a world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation." The people behind the concept of Creative Commons became concerned that "balance, compromise and moderation - once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally" had devolved into "endangered species."

Thus, Creative Commons was born in 2001 with the goal of reviving these driving forces. According to Creative Commons, its ends "are cooperative and community-minded, but [its] means are voluntary and libertarian." Creative Commons seeks to offer creators methods to protect their works while also encouraging certain uses of them. Bottom line, Creative Commons aims to "build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules."

So, how does this work? Creative Commons has developed a Web application that assists people in dedicating their works to the public domain or to allow them to retain their copyrights while licensing them for no charge for specified purposes based on certain conditions. The Creative Commons licenses are not designed for software, but instead are geared for other types of creative works, such as music, film, photography, Web sites, and literature. Creative Commons also has developed metadata that can be implemented to associate "creative works with their public domain or license status in a machine-readable way."

Thus, for online works, a creator can apply for a Creative Commons license from the Creative Commons Web site for a work by choosing the license that applies based on preferences. The selection will guide instructions to include html code to the work that will automatically generate the "some rights reserved" button with a statement that the work is licensed under a Creative Commons license or a "no rights reserved" button if the work is selected to be put into the public domain.

Creative Commons is gaining use and notoriety among prominent creators. For example, in May of this year, Creative Commons announced that Pearl Jam's new single "Life Wasted" was to be offered to the public under its Attribution-Non-Commercial-NoDerivs license, enabling people internationally to copy, distribute and share the clip legally.

Furthermore, in the same month, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, people were able to legally remix and share their own personal versions of two different songs from the album "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts" by David Byrne and Brian Eno.

It does appear that Creative Commons is offering the "flexible copyright" copyright options that it envisioned at the outset. Time will tell whether it will inspire a true movement that gains more and more momentum.


Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. His Web site is and he can be reached at To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.


Was this helpful?

Copied to clipboard