Skip to Content

Creative Commons - Mag 08


Creative Commons explained

When WritersServices first covered Creative Commons in Inside Publishing, we felt that we hadn't explained how it worked as clearly as we had hoped to do. We asked Frances Pinter, who worked as a consultant on the project, to help explain this highly significant new approach to the licensing of rights.

Creative Commons provides a suite of licenses that can be used to proclaim extended permissions on the internet in a way that protects the author's copyright while allowing maximum flexibility to reach readers in the digital age. CC was devised by Stanford law professor, Lawrence Lessig, and colleagues who were concerned that initial reactions to the Web from the commercial sector were to lock down copyrighted materials causing a reduction in access rather than embracing the new opportunities with new business models.

Initially misunderstood as an attack on copyright, CC works within the framework of copyright, giving creators more control over what they can do by way of granting permissions over the Web. It sits in the space of 'some rights reserved' rather than 'all rights reserved' or the public domain.

What this means for authors and rights holders is that they can choose to allow people to read parts or all of their work for free under certain conditions that are clearly indicated by whichever license is applied. To view the licenses (and easy to read summaries), see how to attach them to your work, and case studies of how others have used them see Also, have a look at CC+ which allows you to include further permissions information in the metadata.

With CC+ the basic concept is to link any of the relevant CC licenses with information leading to the rights holder and information on further permissions (see under 'projects' at CC site). So, you as an author may choose a CC, attribution non-commercial license, for example, and then include your url so that anyone wanting to contact you to negotiate a commercial deal can find you (or your publisher) quickly and easily. Many other permutations are possible.

So, what does this mean for you as a writer? Well, more choice, in your hands on how you reach your readers - without sacrificing copyright protection. But these choices do need to be made with an understanding of the consequences within the commercial environment you live in. And that is changing day by day. I've heard one or two publishers say they will not publish hard copies of materials that have been available on the Web - on CC or any other kind of license. Other publishers trawl the Web for what is hot - and use that as a way of recruiting new authors.

And what does this mean for writing from around the world? Authors from developing countries are finding that they can cross national borders much more easily on the Web. By using CC licenses their writings are, in effect, marketed through enhanced exposure while still protecting their copyright. In allied creative media, musicians from Africa and Latin America are receiving increased attention around the world. Their success, measured by free listening on the Web, has translated to increased income from performances and CDs.

Creative Commons licenses are not suitable for everyone. New business models are emerging all around the world. There is a palpable excitement within writer communities at the new digital opportunities - especially for developing country authors who have an even harder time getting published than we in the North.

Creative Commons website

License your work

Inside Publishing on Creative Commons

Frances Pinter is currently a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics where she is working in the area of intellectual property rights. She has acted as a consultant to Creative Commons. She was the founder of Pinter Publishers and managing director for over twenty years, became Publishing Director of the Soros Foundation Network (Open Society Institute) in the mid nineties, and more recently was CEO of International House Trust.