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A quick introduction to Creative Commons

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When artists, both amateur and professional, create original works, the Internet is an obvious choice for sharing that work with the largest audience possible. But copyright law is anything but uniform around the world, and the Internet is nothing if not a worldwide forum. Creative Commons (CC) is a nonprofit organization that offers a range of free, internationally recognized, easy-to-use licensing options for making content available on the Internet. The organization provides a “simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work–on conditions of your choice…[changing] your copyright terms from the default of ‘all rights reserved’ to some rights reserved.’” CC licenses are not designed to be an alternative to copyright, but rather work alongside existing laws that vary among countries and regions.

Many CC licenses allow for open use and modification with a caveat of attribution, or allow non-commercial use only, and some include both non-alteration and attribution clauses. The key is flexibility; artists and professionals can mix and match licenses for different projects in several different mediums–photography, music, video, blog post, etc. In turn, users can seek out materials that offer explicit alteration permissions to use for future projects (this is especially helpful when using content that originated in countries that don’t have a Fair Use copyright exception). Each license has three parts: a legalese description, a plain language explanation, and machine-readable text for easy indexing by sites like Google or Flickr. You can read more about each individual license option here.

CC licenses are already being used for several high profile projects. Some of the more famous uses of CC licensing include:

Of course, licensing is simply another part of the copyright toolkit; CC licenses aren’t intended to replace fair use, but rather offer a third option for international sharing and distribution. They offer a solution that is both easy to understand and easy to use by content creators all over the world.

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Abby Lull

Abby Lull was a research associate for the Washington Office.

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