September 2010
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An aside: Creative Commons licenses

Link to An aside: Creative Commons licenses

Yesterday's post mentioned the CC-BY license that covers most of the images that we use on the blog and elsewhere.

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that developed and promotes a family of licenses to provide an easy way for creators to specify what others may or may not do with a creative work. Each license has a simple abbreviation that adds a specific constraint:

  • BY: anyone may use and modify, as long as they indicate who the original work is by ("attribution")
  • NC: non-commercial use only (which unfortunately isn't clearly defined, e.g. what about personal blogs that display ads? And company-owned blogs (like this one) if the image isn't part of a specific ad or product?)
  • ND: no derivative works, i.e. may not modify
  • SA: share alike, a "viral" license (like GPL for software) that requires derivative works to also use a SA license

Some combinations: "cc by", "cc by-nc", "cc by-nd", "cc by-sa", "cc by-nc-sa", "cc by-nc-nd".

The set of options is generally well thought out. However, there's also a potential source of confusion. Merely saying that a work is covered under a Creative Commons license says very little. The details are critical, and it's vital to check which cc license before proceeding. It would be helpful if the organization played a stronger role in encouraging people to post the exact license rather than just using the umbrella term.

There's also one useful license option that is missing (or at least unclear): requiring that any changes to the actual work are shared, but allowing the original or derivative work to be incorporated into a larger work without forcing the larger work into a certain license. (Model: the LGPL for software.)

A tidbit: in 2009, Wikipedia migrated from the GFDL to cc by-sa.

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