Modifying the CC licenses

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The beauty of standardization

One of the fundamental design principles of all CC licenses is that of granting permission in advance to the public, without the need for users of the work to seek permission first. The key benefit of this design is that it provides assurance to those seeking to reuse content of their ability and right to do so, under standard terms and conditions, thereby facilitating reuse and reducing transaction costs.

CC licenses achieve this result through terms and conditions that are standard, meaning the same terms and conditions apply for all content licensed under a particular CC license. The result is reduced friction for creators who want to allow certain reuses without negotiating and granting permission after permission, and the people who wish to creatively reuse those works.

Friction undermines the goals of public licensing

Friction takes many forms, and can broadly be described as anything that increases the time, effort, resources and risk associated with licensing or reusing content. Perhaps the two most significant and common sources of friction are:

  • having to contact the licensor in advance for permission (and correspondingly, having to respond to and negotiate those requests)
  • having to locate, understand, and accommodate interpretations or modifications of standardized license terms that apply to a particular reuse

Friction is most commonly caused by licensors' attempts to modify or supplement the CC licenses (whether directly in the text of the licenses or through terms of use or similar) with explanations, interpretations or additional agreements that narrow or contradict existing terms and conditions. These main sources of friction undermine the central goal that CC was designed to serve: to provide the public with a standardized, reliable mechanism for communicating usage rights for works and facilitate remixing of compatibly-licensed works.

CC policy

CC recognizes that we cannot, even if we wanted to, control or prohibit separate agreements or understandings outside of CC's standard license terms, whether offered by creators or users of content. After all, CC is not a party to the license – it is an agreement between the licensor and licensee. We can, however, clarify in our licenses how those separate agreements, understandings and interpretations interact with our licenses to minimize friction. Separate or supplemental agreements, understandings and interpretations often appear in terms of use on websites where CC-licensed content is hosted, or as part of terms for downloading CC-licensed content.

First, we recognize that providing clarification can make sense intuitively, and is arguably useful in a few limited circumstances, but only when doing so:

  • is consistent with, and not contrary to, the terms of the license, and does not alter the usage permissions or alter the conditions imposed
  • does not impose any requirement on a particular class of users that they contact the licensor in advance for permissions the license has already granted
  • does not otherwise increase transaction costs for any potential licensee

But other than when clarifications are implemented consistent with the foregoing, CC discourages such practices and policies of licensors. Doing so undermines the spirit of the CC licenses, the communities they support, and the legitimate, common goals of those in any particular domain where sharing is vital to the goals of that community. Thus, CC has established three policies that support these objectives:

  1. We do not allow modified versions of our licenses to be called "Creative Commons" or "CC" licenses.
  2. We only allow our trademark and brand to be used in association with our CC licenses and our organization’s activities.
  3. All CC licenses include a commercially standard clause making clear that there are “no other understandings, agreements or representations” not specified within the licenses themselves relating to use of the work. Note that in version 4.0 of CC's licenses, the licenses will clarify that where such separate agreements or understandings are found to exist, they are separate and independent of the CC licenses themselves, and if they conflict then the terms of the CC licenses prevail over the conflicting terms.

The above are designed to preserve the underlying principles and benefits of public licensing, both for licensors and licensees, by reducing conflicts and confusion that may ensue.

A word about Open Educational Resources (OER)

It is worth mentioning how particularly important the above topic is to OER. The feature of CC’s licenses – that they grant certain permissions in advance – is core to the success of OER and sharing. We actively discourage practices that interfere with or undermine that feature, particularly when those policies expressly require that users or some subset of users must ask permission first.