What is Creative Commons?
Creative Commons (CC) was started in 2001 by Lawrence Lessig as a consequence of an unsuccessful law suit. Lessig had put in a complaint at the US Supreme Court to prevent fifty-year copyright (following the death of the creator) being extended to seventy-years. As this failed, CC was an attempt to "redesign copyright from within" (cf. Dreier 2004).

The eleven CC licences are written using an American legal model and are available to download from the Web site. They allow copyright holders to assign a mixture of four different conditions (attribution. non-commercial, no derivative works, share alike) to their works. The aim is to clarify the conditions of use of a work and avoid many of the problems current copyright laws pose when attempting to share information. Each license is expressed in three ways: legal code, a commons deed explaining what it means in lay person's terms, and a machine-readable description in the form of RDF/XML (Resource Description Framework/Extensible Mark up Language) metadata. Copyright holders can choose to embed the metadata code in their HTML pages, which will then aid retrieval.

Take up of the licences has been very popular, but because their current wording does not work well with the law in other countries the International Creative Commons Project (iCommons) was instigated to adapt them for use outside the US. At the end of March 2005 the process of writing new licences has been completed for fourteen jurisdictions. Ten jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, are at the finalising stages.

Creative Commons and the education sector
The CC licences obviously have a lot to offer artists creating text, audio, video and images for use on the Web. But what potential do they have for public sector communities, such as the academic and cultural heritage sectors? Within higher and further education many publicly funded bodies are involved in creation of resources that will aid learning and teaching of students and enhance research opportunities. One way to encourage use of these materials is by assigning CC licences.

A Creative Commons case study: QA Focus
QA Focus was funded by the JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) in the UK to develop a quality assurance (QA) framework which would help ensure that project deliverables funded under JISC’s digital library programmes were functional, widely accessible and interoperable. The project, which was provided by UKOLN (a national centre of expertise in digital information management based at the University of Bath) and the AHDS (Arts and Humanities Data Service), successfully developed a quality assurance (QA) framework and a wide range of support materials.

Towards the end of the project the decision was taken to make QA Focus briefing papers available under a Creative Commons licence as part of the project’s exit strategy. The project deliverables are to be available for at least three years after the end of funding, as required by the funders. However the project team were concerned that a passive approach would not be effective in maximising the project’s impact across the community and that the approach advocated and lessons learnt could be forgotten or ignored. There was also a concern that the project’s deliverables would become invalid or inaccurate over time, as a result of technological, legal, etc. changes. To ensure the deliverables continued to promote good practice in the long-term, a policy was developed to allow free use and modification of briefing papers.

What licence?
After discussions it was decided that users should be allowed to adapt and refine the QA Focus resources, enabling them to reflect local requirements, and to be distributed without seeking permission. A number of possible licence models were investigated and three approaches considered:

  • Develop a bespoke licence
  • Modify an existing licence
  • Use an existing licence.

As the QA Focus framework encourages use of interoperable open standards an existing licence that matched requirements was considered the most effective route. There are several licences that encourage users to improve, manipulate, or build on existing work in any way (General Public Licence, Mozilla Public Licence, etc.). These place importance upon collective efforts to improve a digital resource rather than the more restrictive requirements of classical copyright. However many are primarily intended for software code and cannot be applied to information papers without modification.

After a review of available options the Creative Commons licence was chosen mainly because it is easy to understand by non-experts and widely recognised within the academic community.

CC version 2.0 offers six licences that allow unrestricted distribution but tailor specific use of the resource e.g. non-commercial, no-derivatives, etc. To satisfy the QA Focus requirements a CC licence was chosen that:

  • Allows others to copy, distribute and modify briefing papers, on the provision that credit is given for the creation of the original documents (attribution)
  • Is used for non-commercial purposes only (non-commercial)
  • Specifies that derivatives must be classified under the same licence (sharealike).

Confirmation was obtained from host institutions to ensure they supported the policy decision and the recommended licence.

The choice of an existing solution significantly reduced the time required to develop and implement a licence. It was agreed that the licence would only apply to the briefing documents as the case studies contained project-specific information which would be inappropriate for others to modify. The decision also avoided the need to spend time in obtaining permission from third parties to apply this licence to their materials.

The briefing papers were updated to include the CC logo and text. In addition the machine-readable description of the licence was embedded in RDF format on the HTML pages.

The assignment of CC licences to the QA Focus briefing papers was a relatively straightforward process, but there are a number of issues that need to be considered before committing to a CC licence.

Legal status of CC
One area for concern in the past has been that the legal status of CC licences in the UK has yet to be clarified, although consensus is very near indeed. The same applies to many other European countries. However if the licences have no legal standing this should make little difference to those wanting to share resources. Until the time each country's licences become legal they will at least provide an indication of intention. QA Focus felt that this slight uncertainty should not hinder the policy decisions or the implementation of the licences.

Free availability and/or income generation
Another area for consideration is the tension between allowing resources to be freely available and the need for income generation. Although use of a CC licence is principally about allowing resources to be used by all this does not mean that there has to be no commercial use. One option is dual licensing, which is fairly common in the open source world. A copyright holder can chose to have a business model, which involves licensing their work for free alongside a commercial licence. MySQL, TrollTech, Red Hat and Sleepy Cat are all software developers who have all successfully used a dual licensing approach. The commercial work can have some form of added value, such as extra editorial content. Distributing work under a CC licence is also a very good way of advertising your expertise, potential as a speaker etc. Many feel that their academic writing makes them more money through advice giving than it ever would through article sales.

CC not always appropriate
When choosing a CC licence or working on a policy for the use of such licences it is vital to take into account scope. The same CC licence may not be appropriate for all resources available and sometimes a CC licence may not be appropriate at all, for example when external people have also contributed to work; as was the case with the QA Focus case studies. When using work commissioned from external parties it is also important to clarify the rights issues prior to publishing.

Expected impact of using CC licenses
As mentioned earlier, using a Creative Commons licence, as a means of maximising impact across the community, was part of QA Focus's exit strategy. At present there is no formal proof that use of the licences has increased impact, although interest in QA Focus documents by both the community and funding bodies continues. At present an official announcement of the documents’ CC licence status has yet to be made, mainly because the QA Focus team are waiting for CC to have legal status in the UK. Once wider dissemination takes place QA Focus will be monitoring closely use and modification of the documents through site statistics and close watch of the community. Using works that have CC licences attached will be easier in the future as more search engines allow searching of the machine-readable code embedded in pages. Search engines like Google and Yahoo now allow users to search for freely available material, but at present do not index UK CC space. In the future this could provide richer searching without any additional effort needed within institutions and if felt to be useful could provide motivation for dedicated searching tools within the community. Adding a CC license could have significant impact on shaping Internet user's behaviour as they may well search initially for resources which have liberal licence conditions.

What can Creative Commons offer the European academic sector?
The use of CC licences for academic resources is an area of great potential. Many academic organisations have a vast amount of material available for users. Making it clear to these users, through a comprehensible expression of rights, how these resources can be used is of great benefit. It will allow resources to have a consistently wide impact and will help minimise difficulties in repurposing in the future. In the UK JISC is increasingly encouraging reuse of learning resources and CC licences are a way to achieve this goal.

Recently many academic organisations have begun to use CC licences as part of their preservation strategy. Projects like the UK Web Archiving Consortium Pilot Project are investigating the long-term feasibility of archiving selected Web sites. Rights issues cause many problems and having them resolved prior to the end of a project can really help uptake of resources.

In awareness of the potential of their licences for the academic sector Creative Commons have begun initiating a number of academic focused activities. Most notably in January 2005 they launched Science Commons, an exploratory project to apply the philosophy of Creative Commons in the realm of science. The mission of Science Commons is to encourage scientific innovation by making it easier for people to share scientific intellectual property.

Bottom line
CC licences are about removing the barriers to sharing information. Surely this is what education is all about.


About the authors: Marieke Guy works for UKOLN, a centre of expertise in digital information management based at the University of Bath. She is currently a member of the Interoperability Focus team, publicising and mobilising the benefits and practice of effective interoperability across the library, information, education and cultural heritage communities. Interoperability Focus is a national activity, jointly funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) of the Further and Higher Education Funding Councils and Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). She previously worked on the QA Focus project. Contact: by phone 01225 385105, e-mail: M.Guy@ukoln.ac.uk.

Brian Kelly also works for UKOLN and is UK Web Focus, responsible for providing advice on Web technologies to the UK higher and further education and cultural heritage communities. He was the project manager for the QA Focus project, which developed a quality assurance framework for digital library development work. Contact. by phone 01225 383943; e-mail: B.Kelly@ukoln.ac.uk

Status: first posted 05/04/05; licensed under Creative Commons
URL: http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=92