Creative Commons (CC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that develops legal and technical tools used by individuals, cultural, educational, and research institutions, governments, and companies worldwide to overcome legal and technical barriers to sharing and innovation.
CC licenses and public domain tools are easy to understand and use, with 1) a human-readable deed that simplifies the terms of each license into a few universal icons and non-technical language, 2) lawyer-readable legal text, which has been vetted by a global team of legal experts, and 3) machine-readable code that enables search and discovery via search engines such as Google – lowering the transaction costs normally associated with seeking permission to use works by granting some rights in advance, consistent with the rules of copyright, and making the public domain more accessible.
CC tools constitute a globally-recognized framework, developed in consultation with legal experts and CC affiliate institutions in over 70 jurisdictions. Over 350 million CC-licensed works have been published by their authors on the Internet. The following are examples of CC uses in key sectors, followed by stories by creators leveraging the cultural and economic benefits of CC tools in Appendix A and descriptions of CC licenses and public domain tools in Appendix B.
Governments around the world recognize the power of the distributed network to enable growth in scientific, educational, and creative content, resulting in healthy, thriving economies. For instance, in order to stimulate European content markets and maximize the potential of public sector information (PSI), the European Commission launched a public consultation on the EU directive on the re-use of PSI, which aims to remove barriers such as “discriminatory practices, monopoly markets and a lack of transparency” through open policies leveraging tools such as CC’s. Moreover:
- Seventeen national governments  employ CC tools for government data, official reports and other media, presidential websites, and educational resources. These include Armenia, Australia, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Greece, Guatemala, Italy, South Korea, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.
- Recognizing that the U.S. public domain has contributed to the country’s rapid growth, third-party contributions to http://www.whitehouse.gov have also been made freely available via CC Attribution (CC BY).
- The Australian federal government and the United Kingdom have followed suit, requiring CC BY for government data.
- The Netherlands implemented the CC0 public domain dedication as their default copyright policy earlier this year, signalling a seriousness about open sharing of public sector information.
- International government organizations also use CC, including the European Cultural Foundation, the European Union, Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations.
CC’s legal and technical tools are playing an increasing role in digital cultural heritage and the growth of the digital economy:
- Europeana, Europe’s digital library, museum and archive, is the first major adopter of the CC-powered Public Domain Mark, which will be used to label millions of out-of-copyright works.
- Flickr contains approximately 160 million CC-licensed photos, establishing it as the Web’s single largest source of CC-licensed content.
- Google’s Picasa, Fotopedia, Vimeo, Blip.tv, SoundCloud, Jamendo, the Free Music Archive, and other services host tens of millions of CC-licensed photos, videos, and musical works.
- Films such as Sita Sings the Blues and RiP: A Remix Manifesto use CC licenses to increase dissemination and awareness of important cultural concepts.
- Major museums, such as the Brooklyn Museum and Powerhouse Museum, have adopted CC to increase public participation in the preservation of works.
- Emerging journalism models Propublica, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, and Spot.us, in addition to traditional channels Al Jazeera and GOOD Magazine, use CC to increase readership, citizen participation, and viral dissemination.
- Major publishers like Bloomsbury and authors like Cory Doctorow use CC as part of mixed business models that encourage noncommercial reuse.
- Wikipedia contains 16 million CC-licensed articles in 270 languages (over 3.4 million in English), as the default license for Wikipedia is CC Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA).
- Wikimedia Commons, the multimedia storehouse for Wikipedia, is one of the premier repositories of free cultural works on the web, currently hosting approximately 7.5 million media files licensed CC BY-SA or equivalent open content license.
Educational institutions, organizations, and individuals (teachers and learners) use CC tools to overcome the legal and technical restrictions that prevent educational resources from being accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable.
- Connexions, a repository for Open Educational Resources (OER), offers over 17,000 reusable, customizable learning modules, licensed CC Attribution (CC BY).
- The Open CourseWare movement has taken off around the world, powered by CC licenses. Materials from 2,000 MIT courses are available for reuse, translation, and remix under the CC Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license (CC BY-NC-SA); nearly 800 MIT OCW courses have been translated into other languages.
- The Open Courseware Consortium contains over 230 global member institutions and affiliates, including the African Virtual University, Japan OCW Consortium, Open University Netherlands, and China Open Resources for Education.
- Commercial textbook publisher, Flat World Knowledge, incorporates CC licensing into the core of its business model, offering free online access and customizability to CC-licensed open textbooks and inexpensive on-demand printing.
Scientists and research institutions seeking to overcome the legal and technical barriers to sharing and building on data and knowledge are using CC tools, maximizing potential on investments and increasing scientific innovation.
- GlaxoSmithKline is one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in the world, and has waived all copyright restrictions to its malarial data set via the CC0 public domain dedication, which includes more than 13,500 compounds known to be active against malaria.
- Personal Genome Project, a pioneer in the emerging field of personal genomics technology, released a large data set containing genomic sequences for ten individuals using the CC0 public domain dedication; next 1,000 participants will be selected.
- Sage Commons is a public resource and information platform for scientists, research foundations, and research institutions to share and develop human disease and biological research; it will enable the CC0 public domain dedication as an option for waiving copyright restrictions to data hosted in the network.
- There are over 1,100 CC-licensed Open Access journals. Studies across more than a dozen disciplines show that Open Access articles are cited 50-250% more often than non-Open Access articles published in the same issues of the same journals.
- The Public Library of Science (PLoS), one of the world’s largest publishers of open access journals, publishes all content in its seven scientific journals under CC Attribution (CC BY); PLoS has received submissions from over 60,000 authors and is on track to being the largest peer-reviewed journal in the world.
Creative Commons ongoing development
Creative Commons develops, stewards, and promotes legal and technical tools that expand the interoperable commons and enhance creativity and innovation. Current priorities include:
- Supporting the public domain, building on the CC0 public domain dedication (released 2009) and the Public Domain Mark (released 2010), especially policy and technology work in the areas of cultural heritage, open data, and public sector information.
- Development of metadata, search, and registry technologies facilitating provenance, discovery, and reuse, increasing the effective size and value of the commons and solving domain-specific challenges in open education, cultural heritage, science, and more.
- Policy work with funders, NGOs, governments, universities, web platform companies and communities, and other institutions to increase effectiveness of funding and align outcomes with public good and institutional missions.
- Scaling our global network of affiliates and other advocates and experts in order to continue to develop tools that interoperate globally and to effectively increase adoption and understanding worldwide.
When CC tools are not appropriate
- CC licenses are not recommended for software – existing free/open source software licenses serve the purpose of building an interoperable commons in that domain.
- It may not be possible to release works under one of the CC licenses if you do not control all of the necessary rights.
- Copyright holders with existing revenue streams from traditional licensing or statutory collections should carefully weigh potential impact of CC licensing on those revenues.
Appendix A: Adopter and Advocate Stories
“Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has been through more printings than I can keep track of, been translated into more languages than I know, and has been downloaded more than 750,000 times (as of 2007) from my site alone (I don’t know the total number of downloads, because, of course, anyone is free to redistribute it). Creative Commons licenses have allowed my work to spread far and wide, into corners of the world I never could have reached. My readers have made innumerable technical remixes, fan-fic installments, fan-art drawings, songs, translations and other fun and inspiring creative works from mine, each time humbling and inspiring me (and enriching me!). As Tim O’Reilly says, my problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity, and CC licenses turn my books into dandelion seeds, able to blow in the wind and find every crack in every sidewalk, sprouting up in unexpected places. Each seed is a possibility, an opportunity for someone out there to buy a physical copy of the book, to commission work from me, to bring me in for a speech. CC lets me be financially successful, but it also lets me attain artistic and ethical success. Ethical in the sense that CC licenses give my readers a legal framework to do what readers have always done in meatspace: pass the works they love back and forth, telling each other stories the way humans do. Artistic because we live in the era of copying, the era when restricting copying is a fool’s errand, and by CC gives me an artistic framework to embrace copying rather than damning it. Writers all over the world are adopting CC licenses, creating an artistic movement that treats copying as a feature, not a bug.” - Cory Doctorow, NYTimes bestselling author and BoingBoing editor/blogger
“But is something so compelling about the Creative Commons license, the idea that you could attach it to a piece of art you had made and declare your intentions – please, share my music, put it in a remix, make it into a music video. I was thrilled and emboldened by the idea that I could give my songs legs, so that they could walk around the world and find their way into places I would never dream of sending them. I immediately started licensing my songs with CC, and a year later I quit my job to create music full time. My growing audience started to feed back to me things they had created based on my music: videos, artwork, remixes, card games, coloring books. I long ago lost track of this torrent of fan-made stuff, and of course I’ll never know how many people simply shared my music with friends, but there’s no question in my mind that Creative Commons is a big part of why I’m now able to make a living this way. With Creative Commons, the act of creation becomes not the end, but the beginning of a creative process that links complete strangers together in collaboration. To me it’s a deeply satisfying and beautiful vision of what art and culture can be.” – Jonathan Coulton, Singer and songwriter
“We have people working to build free knowledge around the world, collaborating mostly informally. Some see themselves as part of one or more movements and communities, others just want to share and collaborate. Creative Commons is about building infrastructure for a new kind of culture — one that is both a folk culture, and wildly more sophisticated than anything before it. How much better would the world be if we allow education, entertainment, government, science and more to be transformed by the web? If we do not support Creative Commons, the realization of these dreams about what the Internet can and should become are at risk.” – Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipediaxxxv
“A large part of embracing free culture is accepting the fact that you are forsaking control in exchange for something greater – the empowerment of the creative community. This means that you never quite know where things will lead. When launching our repository, we had thought that it would be a key resource for anyone producing content on the war and that it would primarily be used by other news organisations and documentary filmmakers. What we saw was both surprising and delightful. Soon after posting our first video, Wikipedia editors had extracted images to enhance the encyclopedia entries on the War on Gaza. Soon thereafter educators, filmmakers, video game developers, aid agencies and music video producers all used and built upon our footage.” – Mohamed Nanabhay, Head of Online, Al Jazeera Englishxxxvi
“After spending seven years building massive models of human disease it becomes clear to me that no single company, not even one as big as Merck, could possibly gather and integrate enough information to make the decisions we need to make about when and how to treat something as complicated as cancer or Alzheimer’s, or for that matter, cardiovascular disease. It was going to take a collaborative effort. I saw inspiration in Wikipedia, in GNU/Linux, in systems that were capable of scaling far beyond the capacity of a single institution. We’re working on the construction of a scalable, open commons for biological research. What Creative Commons is doing to build scalable communities who share – whether it’s creative works like photographs, stem cells, patents, or massive biological data like we’re doing at Sage – is essential infrastructure for the Web.” – Stephen Friend, President, CEO, and Co-founder of Sagexxxvii
“Why is Creative Commons so helpful and important? Because it provides a balanced, sane alternative to the madly out-of-whack copyright system I deal with every day. I am an academic librarian and copyright specialist who teaches faculty, students, librarians, archivists and others about their rights as creators and their rights as users. In the United States alone, plummeting budgets and rising costs for both K-12 and higher education are making it harder for students and teachers to access the quality educational resources they need. Until recently, most educational content was locked behind digital paywalls or hidden in print books, and the free stuff you could find online was often unreliable. Now, the pool of high quality open educational resources is growing every day, with open textbooks, open courseware, and other experimental projects popping up all the time.” – Molly Kleinman, Special Assistant to the Dean of Libraries, University of Michiganxxxviii
“Copyright laws solved one problem for a prior era, a way of marking a piece of content to indicate who the creator (or publisher) is. But, if you want to actually USE that content, under standard copyright law you or your lawyer send a letter, you get back a license agreement, you agree to terms, and you get rights to reuse the content. Every single use requires a new agreement. As they say, that doesn’t scale. The genius of Creative Commons is a simple, universal way to let people know what they can do with your content without having to bother you each time. With the Internet, we’ve found that a whole class of uses of creative material makes sense, and with a Creative Commons license you can clearly tell people what it is they can do. What is impressive about Creative Commons is that it scales. Public.Resource.Org, the non-profit I run, has published a boatload of content we get from the U.S. government: 90 million pages of documents, 1,000 videos, and a few handfuls of photographs. With the Creative Commons CC Zero and Public Domain tools, we have an easy way of telling people that they don’t have to ask permission to use this information.” – Carl Malamud, Founder of Public.Resource.Orgxxxix
“Indaba Music is a community of over 350,000 musicians from 185 countries who create music together in online recording sessions. As you might surmise from this concept, Indaba Music leverages Creative Commons licensing in a number of ways, each meaningful to our business and to the community we have cultivated. For instance, the Indaba Music Sessions are online projects in which musicians come together to combine tracks recorded in different places into single pieces of music. Every file that is uploaded to a session can be explicitly licensed under Creative Commons so musicians have control over how their music is used by those with whom they collaborate. Indaba Music Contests are another great example of how Creative Commons has continuously broken down barriers in music. We have run several collaborative contests in which our entire community was able to remix and re-imagine such artists as The Roots, Rivers Cuomo, John Legend, and The Crystal Method with all remixes licensed under Creative Commons. Our Creative Commons Clips Library is the newest CC addition to Indaba Music. Anyone can search thousands of CC licensed audio clips generated by professional musicians for Indaba Music. CC licensing has opened up possibilities that never before existed, and has created an environment full of openness, collaboration, and sharing.” – Daniel Zaccagnino and Matthew Siegel, Co-founders, Indaba Musicxl
“We are on the cusp of an explosive revolution in human knowledge and culture. We now have the tools and the global infrastructure to let the billions of humans on Earth collaboratively create their own entertainment and reference works: films, textbooks, images, and music. Regular people, working together, are smashing apart the short-sighted, curmudgeonly cultural framework of micropayments, IP portfolios, walled gardens, and dot-com data silos to free up information for everyone to enjoy, use, and share. I truly believe that within a generation we can open the world’s knowledge to all of its inhabitants and reduce or eliminate the misery caused by lack of access to information. And Creative Commons is a crucial part of the cultural compact that makes that revolution possible. Free Culture licenses, like those from Creative Commons, are a promise between global collaborators that indeed we are working for the good of all. Creative Commons licenses tell readers and listeners that they, too, can be participants in a global community of creators.” – Evan Prodromou, Writer, programmer, and entrepreneurxli
“It was at this juncture that we hit upon the Creative Commons licensing model as one that would help us achieve many of our aims of flexibility, scalability and being able to help catalyse our mission of a book in every child's hands. In particular, three things stood out – a shared value system of sharing and openness, a community that was deeply embedded in these ideals and, from our perspective, it was scalable because it allowed us to license content to multiple organizations and individuals, both known and unknown, with a one time effort of releasing them under a Creative Commons license as opposed to the traditional model which involves time consuming negotiations and discussions with each known organization or individual who wants to use our content. We license entire books under CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses, we license our illustrations similarly and even photographs and other publicity material too. Over the last year we have been building the foundations for a social publishing model – where we curate communities that are passionate about reading and help us create content. Such a model rests on the idea of a participatory culture and an essential ingredient is a permissive licensing strategy – Creative Commons licenses offers us this, a large community with shared values and an ecosystem to tap in to.” – Gautam John, Pratham Booksxlii
“Figuring out how to get maximum protection for a photograph you take is easy. One simply does nothing -- in most countries a creative work is automatically subject to default copyright law. If one wants to emphasize this one can add a copyright notice, but this is not required. Maximum restriction is the default. Figuring out how to let other people build upon one's creative work is actually much harder. In fact, without Creative Commons there is no easy way to do so. Creative Commons provides a clear, effective way for each of us to choose to share our creative work when we want to, dramatically reducing the barriers to voluntary sharing. It provides legally enforceable mechanisms that live happily alongside the default of maximum restriction of copyright law. Creative Commons empowers creators to choose how our works are used and shared as well as protected. The ability to share our creative work easily is an important complement to the traditional ability to restrict their use. It's important for individuals and it's important for society. There is no doubt that the voluntary sharing of effort can produce immense civic, social, and individual value. Voluntary collaboration, based on shared resources, shared data and shared creative work provides new tools for solving complex problems. By making voluntary sharing easy, Creative Commons provides new avenues for individual choice and human interaction.” – Mitchell Baker, Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundationxliii
“The flexibility afforded by a CC-BY license allows for materials to be adapted quickly. I hear that a typical textbook revision works on a 7-year cycle. Curriki materials can be updated and “published” in a matter of seconds and the community can correct any content errors just as quickly. However, OER allows teachers to freely adapt materials to best fit their pedagogical and cultural needs. Furthermore, by creating or uploading such materials onto a public repository, teachers will no longer need to work in isolation, continuously ‘re-inventing the wheel.’ ” – Christine Mytko, Educator and Lead Science Reviewer at Currikixliv
“A lot of educators and creators in the education space are creating different types of content and curriculum and want to share them. They think that other people can just pick them up and take them, but they don’t realize they’re most likely locked up under copyright. Creative Commons is the foundation for open education. Without flexible licensing there’s no way to determine which materials are shareable, adaptable, reusable, and localizable.” – Cathy Casserly, Vice President for Innovation and Open Networks and Senior Partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachingxlv Appendix B: Creative Commons Licenses and Public Domain Tools
Attribution (CC BY) This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.
Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.
Attribution-NoDerivatives (CC BY-ND) This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. Others can download and redistribute your work just like the by-nc-nd license, but they can also translate, make remixes, and produce new stories based on your work. All new work based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also be non-commercial in nature.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives (CC BY-NC-ND) This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, allowing redistribution. This license is often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download your works and share them with others as long as they mention you and link back to you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.
CC0 Public Domain Dedication CC0 enables owners of copyright-protected content to waive copyright interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright. In contrast to CC’s licenses that allow copyright holders to choose from a range of permissions while retaining their copyright, CC0 empowers yet another choice altogether – the choice to opt out of copyright and the exclusive rights it automatically grants to creators.
Public Domain Mark Public Domain Mark (PDM) is a tool that allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work’s public domain status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC0 or the CC licenses — it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain status, not change a work’s current status under copyright. However, just like CC0 and CC licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet.