License Examples

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Creative Commons wants to make it easier for people both to offer and find works that are available for creative collaboration. Here are some examples of what we have in mind.

The filmmaker and the photographer

Jill is a budding photographer who has put her portfolio online. Someday she might want to charge people for copying her photos. But now, when she is still trying to build her reputation, she wants people to copy her work as much as possible. Among her favorite photos are some dramatic black and white shots of famous skyscrapers.

Jack is making a digital movie about New York City using his new home computer. He wants to include a still photo of the Empire State Building, but he forgot to take one the last time he was in New York. He searches the Internet for “Empire State Building” and finds a collection of websites, some with photos. But he isn’t sure if the photos are copyrighted or not. He uses a search engine that helps him look for files without copyright notices on them. But he knows that even things without copyright notices can be copyrighted. He worries that if he uses the photos he has found online and then posts his movie on the Internet, the people who took the photos will find the movie and get upset and sue him.

Creative Commons wants to make it easier for Jack and Jill to find each other online and to launch the creative collaboration they both seek. We are building a web-based application that Jill could use to create a document (technically a “license”) that announces that anyone may copy her photos so long as she is credited as the photographer. The license terms will be “machine-readable.” That is, computer applications like search engines will be able to determine how Jill’s photos are licensed. So Jack will be able to search for photos of the Empire State Building that are available under a Creative Commons license that permits copying and posting on the Web. He will find Jill’s photos, and know that he has Jill’s permission to use them in his movie.

The scholar and the teacher

Professor Isaac is a physics professor at a famous university. He has written a new article that includes several colorful diagrams. He hopes that the diagrams will help physics students understand the novel ideas about the laws of thermodynamics that made him famous years ago. He doesn’t want to get paid for use of the diagrams, and he doesn’t even need credit for them. He just wants to contribute back to the store of physics knowledge upon which his own successful career was built.

Ms. Newton is a high school physics teacher designing her first course. She wants to get her students excited about physics by helping them build a website about key developments in physics over the centuries. The students want to include excerpts and diagrams from physics articles they find on the Internet. Ms. Newton isn’t sure what to tell them. She knows that the articles may be copyrighted even though most of them don’t have a copyright notice. The students could contact the authors to ask for permission to copy the articles, but they are running out of time to enter the website into a national competition.

Creative Commons hopes to make it possible for Professor Isaac to remove the copyright restrictions that automatically apply to his articles and to dedicate them to the public domain. Ms. Newton’s students would be able to search for physics articles in the public domain, and to find out that they could copy Professor Isaac’s diagrams — and their own modified versions of the diagrams — onto their website without special permission from anyone.


Gus is building a website; Marie is a digital artist. Earl conducts a community orchestra; Andrea has just completed the score for her first symphony. Jamie is writing a book about Vikings; Lisa has posted photos of Norse artifacts. Robert is making a video about rock climbing; Mickey has just recorded his first CD. Creative Commons wants to foster these potential creative connections. We will help copyright holders who do not want to exercise all of the restrictions of copyright law either dedicate their work to the unrestricted public domain, or license their work on terms that allow copying and creative reuses subject to some conditions. And we will help would-be copiers and creative reusers find those works by making the public domain and license terms machine-readable (and therefore easily searchable) and easy to understand.