While writing a little piece on trustno1, I started explaining the concept of Creative Commons, and since this topic is probably of special interest to this site, I wanted to expand on it here some more.
The matter begins with copyright, and is really straightforward. Copyright is by default granted to anyone who creates a “work of art”, be it music, a painting, a poem, a story, anything. It’s automatic, and it grants the author an exclusive right to their own creation, meaning nobody can copy it without their permission, or create their own works based on it. While copyright in this form is a useful law to protect artists from being exploited, it doesn’t quite grasp how creativity works at large. It is quite possible that everyone is creative in some way, yet most people don’t try to make a career from it. Those people do, however, like to produce their own works of art, based on others.
That’s where the problem is: When it comes to re-use works, copyright doesn’t distinguish between private amateurs and commercial enterprises: Both are equally restricted, and both need the consent of the author for the re-use of the work, which is usually an unsurmountable hurdle for amateurs without financial backing.
Creative Commons (CC) tries to alleviate this by providing artists with premade licenses that define how their work can be used, and are easily embedded into the work. That way, an artist can say that it’s okay with them if their work is distributed and built upon in a non-commercial context, for example. Around these licenses a large community of – mainly – amateurs is growing, happily creating, building upon and redistributing their own and each others works.
Now, Creative Commons are not the only licenses that are in widespread use. Since the concept of free use, re-use and distribution of works originated in software, most other licenses are tailored to computer programs. Notable is the GNU General Public License (GPL), the BSD License, the MIT license and the Apache licenses. The Creative Commons licenses try to apply the concept of free sharing and building on others works to all areas of art and creativity. Thus, they’re more generally worded (most other licenses speak explicitly of “software”) and come in different “packages” that define what can and can not be done with the work:
- CC-by is the basic of all CC licenses. Using a creative commons licensed work will always require you to properly attribute it, i.e. mentioning in the context of your work which works you used, whom they were from, and under what license they were available. This can be as simple as “cc-by V of tgib.co.uk” with links to both the cc license and the internet site where the work is from. The attribution can be on a website (like here), in a notecard in-world, on a texture, a printout, anything that can be wrapped and shipped with your work. Note that you can only attribute as good as the original artist enables you, so if someone posts pictures on flickr under a pseudonym, it’s not neccessary to search for that person’s real name in order to give proper attribution, but the flickr username will suffice.
- CC-by-sa builds upon this basic CC rule by specifying that the work, and all works based thereupon need to be distributed under the same license. With the CC-by license it was possible to include works into new ones that could be distributed under different licenses (or be restrictively copyrighted) without problems, as long as the attribution rule was followed. For example, someone could take a CC-by picture off flickr and use it as a cover for their (commercial) music CD, properly attributing the picture in the sleevenotes, but still selling the product and not allowing any kind of free reworking and redistribution. With CC-by-sa, all music and the artwork of the CD sleeve would automatically need to be licensed under CC-by-sa as well, otherwise using that picture would violate the license and break the license agreement, with the same liabilities as any other copyright violation. CC-by-sa is a tool to force others to add works to the pool of free creations when drawing from it.
- CC-by-nc specifies that, although the work is free to use and re-use, it may not be used commercially, where commercially means “pretty much anything that earns any amount of money directly or indirectly through this creation”. That’s a pretty broad area, as it covers not only sales of the work, but also advertising revenue created through providing the work, or entrance fees for public display or performance of the work. In all other, non-commercial cases, however, the work can be used freely (as always adhering to the attribution rule).
- CC-by-nd is the most debated form of CC licensing, as it restricts creative use of the work completely. It specifies that, even though the work can be freely distributed, it can never be incorporated into other works, or other works be based on it. Basically, everything it allows you to do is copy and share the work as it is (attributing it properly, as always).
- CC-by-nc-sa is a combination of non-commercial and share-alike, meaning that the work and all derivative works need to be provided without commercial gain (as in CC-by-nc) and also be licensed under the same license (as in CC-by-sa).
- CC-by-nc-nd is the most restrictive CC license, as it prevents you from making any works based on or incorporating the according creation (like in CC-by-nd), as well as getting any financial gain from distributing it (like CC-by-nc).
Seeing the above, it’s understandable that the CC-by-sa and CC-by-nc-sa are the most popular licenses as they encourage free culture and prevent free-riding and exploiting the creations of others. On OpenSim Creations, you can choose a license for your creation underneath the entry field whenever you create a new entry. However, bear in mind that:
- CC licenses are non-revocable. This means that, even if you change your mind later on and either change the license of your work, or stop using CC altogether, everyone who got it under the original CC license is free to redistribute it under the terms they got it. Also, you can’t prevent someone from using your work just because you don’t like them or the way they used your work.
- Just because someone lets you use their work doesn’t mean they like what you do with it, so you shouldn’t make it look like your creation was approved of by, or even associated with them.
In closing, here’s a little interview with Lawrence Lessig, who founded Creative Commons, explaining how it works in his own words:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.