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[0min:00sec] How Creative Commons licenses can interact with commerce.

[0:06] Creative Commons licenses give authors and creators a simple way to mark their creative work with the freedoms they intend it to carry. Many people have asked us how CC licenses might interact with other arrangements the creator might want to make, for example a deal with a commercial publisher, or a commercial distributor. Would a CC license conflict with these other deals? Are they inconsistent? The short answer is “no.” As long as the other deal is not exclusive, the CC license cannot conflict with another agreement.

[0:34] This short video will explain why.

[0:38] CC licenses are copyright licenses. They license to other, the right to use, in specified ways, some piece of copyrighted work. To see how they function, let’s begin with just a copyright. What does a copyright mean? How does it work?

[0:55] A copyright gives the author a bunch of exclusive rights. So, if you want to copy or distribute a piece of creative work that someone else owns the copyright to, you need permission from the copyright owner. Likewise, if you want to public perform a copyrighted work, you need permission from the copyright owner. Or, if you want to display a copyrighted work, or make a derivative work based upon a copyrighted work, or digitally publicly perform a copyrighted work, like say, in a podcast, you need permission from the copyright owner. All of these rights are reserved to the copyright owner by default, thus the infamous “All Rights Reserved” slogan.

[1:33] Now let’s add another icon, that, strictly speaking, is not an exclusive right of copyright, which will be useful when we compare the default of copyright to a CC license. This is the right to make commercial use of a copyrighted work. So, again, here are all the rules. You can’t do any of these things with a copyrighted work, especially for a commercial purpose, without permission from the copyright owner, unless your particular use is deemed to be a fair use.

[1:57] So picture copyright as a broken record. Don’t do this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or this, unless you get permission first, or unless your lawyer can convince a judge your use would be a fair use.

[2:09] Ok, so now that you have a basic idea about copyright, let’s return to the question at hand. How does a CC license interact with other deals? Let’s ask that question first about copyright itself. How does copyright interact with other deals? For example, let’s say you made a great new video. Automatically, that video is copyrighted. That means, automatically, that you have all the exclusive rights copyright grants you. The law has given you this powers simply because you created something new.

[2:37] Now imagine you enter into a deal with a company. Let’s call it “Vevver.” That deal says, basically, if you enter your video into our distribution system, we’ll add an advertisement to the end of the video, and we’ll give you 50% of the resulting add revenue. After awhile, you start receiving checks from Vevver. You are very happy. But imagine now a little nag. Call him the “C-nag,” where “C” stands for copyright. The C-nag says, “Hey, this deal is inconsistent with your copyright! Copyright says people can’t copy your work, it says people can’t distribute your work, and it says that people especially can’t do these things for commercial purposes. And yet, that’s just what this deal is doing. It’s facilitating a massive amount of copying and distribution of your work, all for commercial purposes. It violates your copyright.”

[3:22] Now obviously, the C-nag is just confused. What copyright law says is this: Here are the things you can’t do with my copyrighted work unless you have a deal with me. Copyright law doesn’t forbid you from making a deal with someone. In fact, making a deal is the whole point. With an agreement, anything is possible.

[3:39] So, what your exciting new deal with Vevver means is that you’re saying to the world through your copyright, “Don’t do any of these things—copy, distribute, etc.—without my permission. And you saying to everyone affiliated with Vevver, “Please copy, distribute, etc., as long as I get paid according to my deal with Vevver.”

[3:56] Ok, so how does Creative Commons change this? What’s different about CC-licensed content relative to content that’s simply copyrighted? Well, the simplest way to understand a CC license is to imagine it as creating a different regime of copyright law. It isn’t really, it’s simply a license that effectively changes some of the defaults of copyright law. But to make it simple, just imagine that a CC license changes copyright law for your particular work.

[4:21] So, for example, if this is again the string of icons that represents copyright law, then here’s how that string gets modified by one of our six core licenses, our attribution-noncommercial-noderivs license. This CC license gives the world the freedom to do certain things with the creative work without the need to ask the copyright owner first. A CC license doesn’t change fair use. But in addition to that freedom, this license gives everyone in the world the freedom to copy, distribute, publicly perform, display, and digitally publicly perform the work, as long as these things aren’t being done for commercial purposes. The one obligation the CC license imposes that copyright alone does not is the obligation to give attribution. If you use a CC-licensed work, you must give credit to its author.

[5:03] So, imagine again, you created this great new video, and image you discovered this company, Vevver, who has come up with a very cool way for you to earn money by distributing your video in their system. So you upload your video to Vevver, under the CC-attribution-noncommercial-noderivs license. Vevver places an ad at the end of your video, and when it’s played, you get paid. You then post the video in as many places as you can think of, and soon, millions of people are watching your video, and you’re making a bunch of cash.

[5:29] Along comes the C-nag, with the very same complaint. “Hey,” the C-nag says, “Wait a minute! This CC license may say it’s ok to copy and distribute, etc., but it explicitly says you can’t do these things for commercial purposes. The Vevver agreement is plainly a commercial agreement. It pays distributors for the use of your CC-licensed work, so it obviously conflicts with the CC license.”

[5:49] But again, the C-nag has just missed the point. A CC license, like copyright law, sets the defaults for anyone in the world, and says, “Unless you have a different agreement with me, these are things you can and can’t do.” The agreement with Vevver is a different agreement. Nothing in the CC license bans you from making this agreement. Indeed, the CC license is nonexclusive. Nonexclusive means you, the copyright owner, are free to make whatever deals you want with others. The CC license simply sets the default terms for people with whom you don’t have an agreement.

[6:20] So, say you’re surfing the web and you find a cool video with a CC license that says you’re free to copy and distribute the video as long as you don’t do it for commercial purposes. You download the video and post it on your blog. That’s totally fine—it’s just the kind of thing the CC license gives you the right to do.

[6:37] But then imagine you sign up with Vevver to share the CC-licensed video in their system. Now you’ve got even more rights. Because you’ve entered into an agreement with Vevver, and hence, indirectly with the various videos’ copyright owners, that says if you distribute “Vevverized” videos on your blog Vevver will pay you, that’s of course a commercial use of the videos. But, it’s authorized, not by the CC license, but by the agreement with Vevver. An again, nothing in the CC license would block you from entering into such an agreement with Vevver, at least as long as the agreement with Vevver was nonexclusive.

[7:10] Ok, so here’s what we’ve learned so far: Both a copyright and a CC license set the default terms for a piece of creative work. These terms govern people who don’t have any other agreements with the copyright owner. Both the copyright and a CC license permit the creator to enter into different deals with people.

[7:29] So, a noncommercial license says, “Anyone in the world can use this for noncommercial purposes without having to come to me for permission, but if you want to make a commercial use of this, give me a call and we’ll make a deal.” And so, if you distribute your video under a noncommercial license, and MTV sees it and loves it, they can call you and say, “Hey, we want to run your cool video—how much?” And so, with both ordinary copyright and content under a CC license, the author is free to enter into other deals. The deal applies to whoever signs into it. CC licenses and copyrights set the defaults for everyone else in the world.

[8:04] The one important difference, however, between copyright and a CC license is that there’s one type of agreement you can’t enter into with a CC license that you can enter into with ordinary copyright—that is, an exclusive license. With video governed simply by ordinary copyright, you’re free to enter into an exclusive deal. With a video governed by a CC license, you’re not.

[8:24] So enter the Hollywood lawyer type, puffing his cigar. “Ha! I told you the CC license was bad for you. You can’t have an exclusive deal if you use a CC license. In Hollywood, exclusive is everything.”

[8:36] Well, it used to be everything. But what many, indeed millions of people are beginning to recognize is that the viral spread of creativity depends upon nonexclusivity. To encourage a wide range of people to spread your work, you have to allow them to spread it. And so the bet that many people make with the CC license is that the gain you get from freedom far outweighs any cost from nonexclusivity, especially when any truly commercial use would require the permission from the copyright owner anyway.

[9:02] But won’t people just copy and distribute the video anyway? This is actually the hardest question for us to answer. Because of course, the answer today is largely “yes.” But as we’ve seen as the copyright wars have spread, this activity, technically illegal, simply gives lawyers an easy way to prove to politicians that the Internet is simply a haven for piracy. We want to show the world that it’s not. And one clear and simple way is for more and more content to clearly express the freedom that the creator clearly intends.

[9:31] Million of creators are now using CC licenses to express the freedoms that people can enjoy, by default, with their creativity. And all of those creators remain open to striking different deals with innovative entrepreneurs who have cool new ways to make the Internet work for creators.

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  • This page was last modified on 6 December 2007, at 20:48.