The goal of Creative Commons is to ensure the recognition of authorship whilst, at the same time, allow for flexibility and creativity in non-commercial use of intellectual property. This ensures wider access to creative works and encourages imaginative forms of engagement with them.
Creative products on the internet are the easiest to reproduce and share; this immense power of replicability represents not only an opportunity, but also a challenge, as it is very hard to claim one’s intellectual property on the web. The most famous case of self-regulation on sharing and reproducing material published on the web is Creative Commons, which acts as a nonprofit organisation. Creative Commons works along the normal copyright laws, but offers some flexibility for non-commercial use of works published on the internet. Works can be “copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law” (Creative Commons 2020). Therefore, some works can not only be shared, but also rewritten and reinvented without incurring in sanctions; the text is something as fluid and open to transformation as the author wants. Furthermore, unlike the copyright licence, a CC licence is completely free: this enables emerging web authors to protect their work with no expense. CC licences permit a fluid, creative circulation of ideas, but with some basic rules that protect the intellectual property of individuals. The philosophy behind CC is about the democratisation of knowledge: ideas can circulate freely, but everyone is entitled to claim the authorship of their own work.
1. Create The creative commons licence is designed to protect and distribute different kinds of creative work. This encompasses the whole field of production that it is normally protected by copyright, with the exception of software; in that context, Open Source is more commonly used. Furthermore, the Creative Commons licence should not be used for works that are already in the public domain. 2. Find a platform The Creative Commons licence can be applied both to online and offline content, but it is particularly effective in supporting creators who publish their works on online platforms. A number of online platforms have built-in Creative Commons licences, thus enabling users to engage with this legal tool from the moment they create their account. A Creative Commons licence can also be used offline, for example in the case of printed material. 3. Decide your own boundaries The Creative Commons licence addresses one of the main failures of copyright, which is its inability to make a distinction between commercial and non-commercial use of intellectual property. This kind of licence, instead, allows non-commercial use of this property and, in some cases, even commercial use. The Creative Commons licence allows creators to decide the level of freedom of use of their work; indeed, if copyright guarantees “all rights reserved”, Creative Commons aim for “some rights reserved” instead. Creators have six different forms of licences to choose from, each allowing for a different level of engagement. All licences state that credit must be given to the creator: this is an essential element of the concept of Creative Commons, which is not to be perceived as against the concept of authorship. Instead, it argues for a protection of authorship, but also for the author’s right to decide how they’d like the public to engage with their work – or reuse it. These different forms of Commons licence can present the following characteristics: • They either allow both commercial and non-commercial use; or they allow non-commercial use only; • They might include the obligation to licence the material under the same conditions as the original source; • All derivative, adapted and “remixed” uses of the original form might be allowed; or only the reproduction of the original material can be allowed. This range of rights can suit different needs: a professional creative professional has different needs than an amateur, and while a novelist might be happy to see people engaging creatively with their work, a journalist might prefer to have their work shared verbatim. From a legal point of view, Creative Commons licences are designed to enforceable in court in different national contexts; if a user violates a licence, they might face legal prosecution. 4. Share Once creators have identified the kind of Creative Commons licence that best fits their needs, they can share their content with the rest of the world. It must be noted that Creative Commons licences are not revocable and have the same duration as applicable copyright. A creator who uses this licence might decide to stop using it for the distribution of their work, but this does not prevent people who have a copy of the original work obtained through the Creative Commons licence to use it.
The Creative Commons can be seen as a form of copyleft, that is an umbrella term that encapsulates a range of different practices that challenge the concept of copyright. It must be noted, however, that unlike more radical forms of copyleft, the Creative Commons do not deliberately oppose copyright, but rather address some of its shortcomings by offering more flexibility in non-commercial areas. According to WIPO, the aim of copyright is to ensure “economic rights, which allow the rights owner to derive financial reward from the use of their works by others; and moral rights, which protect the non-economic interests of the author” (2020). Nevertheless, as pointed out by Lessig (2004) and Goss (2007), copyright can ‘overprotect’ authors’ rights, making the creative process unnecessarily complex. This is rooted in a lack of understanding of how the creative process works, and how creative content creators are inspired by existing creative products. As a result, this inhibits innovation and creativity, as creatives are prevented from using existing ideas that are protected by copyright in novel ways in their work. The Creative Commons licence is designed to address this problem, allowing for a greater level of freedom and to foster creativity and innovation in online communities. The concept of commons escapes the dichotomy between private and public property and opens up for new opportunities for cooperation, both with other artists and the audience, for arts practitioners. In the case of the Creative Commons licence, however, this does not represent a direct alternative to copyright, but rather a solution that exists alongside it. Conceptualizing one’s creative practice as a commons is appealing to many artists because it fosters collaboration and collective creative practices. Furthermore, it represents an alternative to the much more restrictive framework of the copyright, especially from a philosophical perspective. The Creative Commons licence, however, only focuses on non-commercial uses of creative work, and thus does not provide an economic alternative to copyright. Nevertheless, it ensures the protection of creators’ rights and loss of income caused by plagiarism and misappropriation of creative work for commercial purposes. For example, for artists who use online platforms to share their productions, it might not be unusual to see their artworks to be stolen by companies for their own products and reproduced elsewhere with no acknowledgment. The Creative Commons licence addresses this issue, ensuring artists and creative workers’ rights are respected, and at the same time fosters innovation and a flexible approach to creativity.