Creative Commons has announced a long-awaited (at least by me) addendum to its licenses. From the CC Web site:
CC+ is a protocol providing a simple way for users to get rights beyond the rights granted by a CC license. For example, a work’s Creative Commons license might offer noncommercial rights. With CC+, the license can also provide a link by which a user might secure rights beyond noncommercial rights — most obviously commercial rights, but also additional permissions or services such as warranty, permission to use without attribution, or even access to performance or physical media.
This is a radical proposition, though it was implicit in CC from the beginning.
Why radical? Because CC is often (and mistakenly) thought to be part of the “information wants to be free” culture, but it actually is more of an administrative service, one that makes it easier to clear copyright permissions. Many (perhaps most, perhaps all) users of CC notices put their works onto the Internet with what is in effect a prenegotiated copyright permission: You can use this material provided that you cite the author, don’t benefit economically from reuse, and don’t distort it through improper editing (CC has several different licenses, of course). This is great, and I am all for it. It saves buckets of time and money, as anyone who has ever had to clear copyright permissions knows. (My first, and most tedious, job in publishing was as the rights and permissions editor at Rutgers University Press.)
Prenegotiated licenses have other benefits, however. It’s sometimes nice to know what something costs without having to request permission; and for the holders of copyrights, it can be useful and administratively inexpensive to announce these costs and the authorized uses.
The CC addendum essentially brings proprietary content into the world of Web 2.0. The holder of a copyright can publish the rules of engagement, and prospective users and reusers of copyrighted material can, with a single mouse-click, get the authorization to rip, slice, dice, augment, diminish, mash up, and whatever, provided the particular use is authorized (and, in some instances, properly paid for). Information does not have to be free to do a mash-up; it simply has to be available for use in a convenient form, which could include the exchange of money. Hence the value of the new CC addendum: It creates the contractual framework to make the flow of information easier.
There are two important issues here. The first is what I would call the libertarian (lowercase “l”) dimension: Who owns the intellectual property in the first place? While many commentators focus on users’ rights, producers have rights, too, though they are sometimes enforced in ham-handed ways by overzealous trade associations. If a producer grants users the right to reuse copyrighted material, and the users agree with the terms, what’s not to like? The second is economic: By providing a means for the creators of copyrighted material to authorize and benefit from the reuse of material, more capital will be invested in the creation of material, and when it comes to intellectual output, more is always better.
It’s wonderful to see that Creative Commons is at last becoming creative. We should expect to see a number of follow-on developments, such as a series of templates for commercial uses and fees (e.g., how to use characters in fan fiction). In time we are likely to see a book published under the title How to Profit from Creative Commons. And it will be published with a CC addendum.