Creative Commons

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Creative Commons
Creative Commons logo
Founder Lawrence Lessig
Type Non-profit organization
Founded 2001
Focus Expansion of public domain information
Method Creative Commons licenses

The Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share. The organization has released several copyright licenses known as Creative Commons licenses. These licenses, depending on the one chosen, restrict only certain rights (or none) of the work.


The Creative Commons licenses enable copyright holders to grant some or all of their rights to the public while retaining others through a variety of licensing and contract schemes including dedication to the public domain or open content licensing terms. The intention is to avoid the problems current copyright laws create for the sharing of information.

The project provides several free licenses that copyright owners can use when releasing their works on the Web. It also provides RDF/ XML metadata that describes the license and the work, making it easier to automatically process and locate licensed works. Creative Commons also provides a "Founders' Copyright" contract, intended to re-create the effects of the original U.S. Copyright created by the founders of the U.S. Constitution.

All these efforts, and more, are done to counter the effects of what Creative Commons considers to be a dominant and increasingly restrictive permission culture. In the words of Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and former Chairman of the Board, it is "a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past". Lessig maintains that modern culture is dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons can provide alternatives to these restrictions.


Golden Nica Award for Creative Commons
Golden Nica Award for Creative Commons

The Creative Commons licenses were pre-dated by the Open Publication License and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL). The GFDL was intended mainly as a license for software documentation, but is also in active use by non-software projects such as Wikipedia. The Open Publication License is now largely defunct, and its creator suggests that new projects not use it. Both licenses contained optional parts that, in the opinions of critics, made them less "free". The GFDL differs from the CC licenses in its requirement that the licensed work be distributed in a form which is "transparent", i.e., not in a proprietary and/or confidential format.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Creative Commons was officially launched in 2001. Lawrence Lessig, the founder and former chairman, started the organization as an additional method of achieving the goals of his Supreme Court case, Eldred v. Ashcroft. The initial set of Creative Commons licenses was published on December 16, 2002. The project itself was honored in 2004 with the Golden Nica Award at the Prix Ars Electronica, for the category "Net Vision".

The Creative Commons was first tested in court in early 2006, when podcaster Adam Curry sued a Dutch tabloid who published photos without permission from his Flickr page. The photos were licensed under the Creative Commons NonCommercial license. While the verdict was in favour of Curry, the tabloid avoided having to pay restitution to him as long as they did not repeat the offense. An analysis of the decision states, "The Dutch Court’s decision is especially noteworthy because it confirms that the conditions of a Creative Commons license automatically apply to the content licensed under it, and bind users of such content even without expressly agreeing to, or having knowledge of, the conditions of the license."

On December 15, 2006, Professor Lessig retired as chair and appointed Joi Ito as the new chair, in a ceremony which took place in Second Life.


The original non-localized Creative Commons licenses were written with the U.S. legal system in mind, so the wording could be incompatible within different local legislations and render the licenses unenforceable in various jurisdictions. To address this issue, Creative Commons International has started to port the various licenses to accommodate local copyright and private law. As of January 2007, there are 34 jurisdiction-specific licenses, with 9 other jurisdictions in drafting process, and more countries joining the project.

Projects using Creative Commons licenses

Several million pages of web content use Creative Commons licenses. Common Content was set up by Jeff Kramer with cooperation from Creative Commons, and is currently maintained by volunteers.

Sampling of CC adoption scope

This list provides a short sampling of CC-licensed projects which convey the breadth and scope of Creative Commons adoption among prominent institutions and publication modes.

Portals, aggregation, and archives

Flickr, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons, Ourmedia, deviantART, ccMixter

Formal publications

Public Library of Science, Proceedings of Science, Sino-Platonic Papers

Instructional materials

MIT OpenCourseWare, Clinical Skills Online, MIMA Music

Collaborative content

Wikinews, Wikitravel, Memory Alpha, Uncyclopedia, Jurispedia, Microsoft Developer Network, Open Architecture Network and many other wikis

Blogs, Videoblogs, and Podcasts

Groklaw, This Week in Tech, : Rocketboom, Jet Set Show, newspaperindex


20 minutes newspaper



Progressive culture

Jamendo, BeatPick, Revver,,


Star Wreck


Elephants Dream

Bumper stickers



The Good Girl

Notable works

  • Professor Lessig's 2004 electronic version of the book Free Culture. (The printed version of the book, however, was published under a restrictive licence.)
  • Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
  • Dan Gillmor's We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People
  • The fiction of Cory Doctorow
  • Three of Eric S. Raymond's books (although with some added restrictions): The Cathedral and the Bazaar (the first complete and commercially released book under a CC license, published by O'Reilly & Associates), The New Hacker's Dictionary and The Art of Unix Programming
  • Teach, a 2001 short film directed by Davis Guggenheim.
  • Cactuses, a 2006 full-length dramatic movie.
  • Elephants Dream, a 2006 CG short film created with free/ open-source software
  • mariposaHD, the first original HDTV series made for the Internet.

Record labels

  • BeatPick
  • LOCA Records
  • Magnatune
  • OnClassical
  • Opsound
  • Kahvi Collective
  • Small Brain Records
  • Krayola Records
  • Jamendo
  • Thinner/ Autoplate
  • Comfort Stand Recordings

Tools for discovering CC-licensed content

  • Creative Commons' Search Page
  • Yahoo's Creative Commons Search
  • Common Content
  • Mozilla Firefox web browser with default Creative Commons search functionality
  • The Internet Archive - Project dedicated to maintaining an archive of multimedia resources, among which Creative Commons-licensed content
  • Ourmedia - Media archive supported by the Internet Archive
  • ccHost - Server web software used by ccmixter and Open Clip Art Library

Audio and Music

  • Electrobel Community - More than 10,000 electronic music songs released under one of the CC licences.
  • iRATE radio
  • Adrenalinic Sound - Italy
  • Gnomoradio
  • BeatPick A creative commons music licensing site
  • Jamendo - An archive of music albums under Creative Commons licenses
  • CC:Mixter - A Creative Commons Remix community site.
  • Date a Conocer - A Spanish archive of music under Creative Commons licenses

Photos and images

  • - Search engine and member bookmarking for Creative Commons Photos
  • Open Clip Art Library


During its first year as an organization, Creative Commons experienced a "honeymoon" period with very little criticism. Recently though, critical attention has focused on the Creative Commons movement and how well it is living up to its perceived values and goals. The critical positions taken can be roughly divided up into complaints of a lack of:

  • An ethical position - Those in these camps criticize the Creative Commons for failing to set a minimum standard for its licenses, or for not having an ethical position to base its licenses. These camps argue that Creative Commons should define, and should have defined, a set of core freedoms or rights which all CC licenses must grant. These terms might, or might not, be the same core freedoms as the heart of the free software movement. In particular, Richard Stallman has criticised the newer licenses for not allowing the freedom to copy the work for noncommercial purposes, and has said he no longer supports Creative Commons as an organisation, as the licenses no longer provide this as a common basic freedom.
  • A political position - Where the object is to critically analyze the foundations of the Creative Commons movement and offer an eminent critique (e.g. Berry & Moss 2005, Geert Lovink, Free Culture movements).
  • A common sense position - These usually fall into the category of "it is not needed" or "it takes away user rights" (see Toth 2005 or Dvorak 2005).
  • A pro-copyright position - These are usually marshalled by the content industry and argue either that Creative Commons is not useful, or that it undermines copyright (Nimmer 2005).

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