Creative Commons: a clarification

Creative Commons symbols -- or an
infringement of the Olympic logo? 
Last Monday the IPKat posted this piece by Maxine Horn, CEO of Creative Barcode, which sought to explain the difference between Creative Commons and Creative Barcode. This feature attracted a considerable amount of interest and some responses. Needless to say, Maxine's piece also attracted the attention of Creative Commons. The following has been penned by Aurelia J. Schultz (Counsel, Creative Commons) in order to clarify some of the points made regarding Creative Commons. Aurelia writes:
"We caught your post about Creative Barcode and want to clarify a very important point about Creative Commons’ legal tools. It’s not actually true that CC’s tools are predominantly used in “supporting usage rights and file sharing for works in the public domain.”

Creative Commons does indeed provide free legal tools that support and expand the public domain (specifically CC0, which makes it easy for an author to effectively release her work as public domain, and the Public Domain Mark, which allows any member of the public to mark and tag a work that is free of known copyright restrictions).

But Creative Commons' most-used tools, CC licences, are meant for works that are not in the public domain (and should not be used for works that are indeed in the public domain). CC licences are free, easy-to-use copyright licences that give copyright holders a simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use creative work – on conditions of the copyright holder's choosing. CC licences let a copyright holder easily change her copyright terms from the default of “all rights reserved” to “some rights reserved.” CC licences make it easy, for example, to grant noncommercial rights to the public, while exclusively reserving commercial rights and the right to be attributed.

The vast majority of works shared via Creative Commons' tools are offered under CC's copyright licences and are not in the public domain. More than 400 million works (which we believe is a conservative estimate) have been made available by copyright holders under CC's copyright licences.

The IPKat has very much enjoyed learning more about the respective creative tools, thanks Maxine, Aurelia and his readers for their respective comments and contributions.  He also hopes that this little exercise has had the effect of clarifying exactly what it is that Creative Commons and Creative Barcode can achieve for their respective users and for third parties.  Merpel's a little disappointed, though. She just found a website for Creative Transformation and discovered that it was nothing to do with flagging transformative use of copyright-protected works at all ...
Creative Commons: a clarification Creative Commons: a clarification Reviewed by Jeremy on Sunday, March 13, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. I cannot take credit where credit is not do. The piece above was written by Creative Commons, but not by myself personally.
    Thanks for letting us add some clarifications!

  2. And indeed many of us, including myself, use Creative Commons licenses on our blog posts. By using the Creative Commons 2.5 Canada Attribution License, I'm telling everyone that I'm perfectly happy if they reproduce what I've written, but that I want attribution.

    Because of my choice of license, some of my work has been translated into Spanish and Russian. I couldn't have done this on my own (I have a hard enough time with English some days), and at the same time, my name has been spread to places it otherwise wouldn't have reached.

    As a novelist, who is releasing a fantasy novel in April, the additional exposure that the Creative Commons gives me is invaluable.


    PS: You can read my opinion pieces on and the intro and first six chapters of the novel have now been published at - shameless plug :)

  3. Hello IPKat,

    I am so happy you have established contact with a Counsel, Creative Commons, because I might now have a reply to the following query that I sent in good faith last year:

    "To: on 20 July 2010
    Subject: Science Commons


    I am contemplating the license called:
    "Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported"

    I am quite able to read both legal text and the "deed", but I find no satisfactory definition of what "derivation" means, other than:

    "No Derivative Works — You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work".

    This appears to me slightly circular.

    Let us take a work that contains factual data arranged in a particular way.

    Does "derivative work" mean that I cannot extract the factual data, for instance perform statistical analysis on them and publish the results with the attribution that the original data come from the work under this particular license?

    Or does it mean that I cannot take one page in a multi-page work of this type, highlight an area of interest, show and publish a discussion of the importance of this highlighted area, again with full attribution of the source for the highlighted portion?

    Does "fair use" (quoting in context) at all apply to this type of license?

    If you cannot contribute definitions, can you then refer me to practical cases where this has been an issue? To court cases?

    If the above uses of the work under license are not possible, then its publication under this type of license would have no scientific value and the license would only be good for hanging the work on the wall (with due attribution!). Scientific use requires the possibility to re-interpret.

    I am eagerly awaiting your comments.

    Yours sincerely,

    George Brock-Nannestad"

    Do you cats consider me thick or naïve?

    Kind regards,


  4. Hi Aurelia
    An IPKat reader with the user name filemot made the first comment on the origanl article - regards 'confusion of public domain' - she is so right.

    If professional communities are a bit blurry about public domain then the 'public' will be even more so.

    Reading your clarification of CCL as public domain being both open source with no permissions required but also licenses for works not in the public domain (?) and those half in and half out (some restrictions).

    On the CCL site Creators works are shown with usage rights icons which state unrestricted, some restrictions, full restrictions

    But are those works when published on the CCL site or any other web site, for marketing purposes,considered in the public domain or not.

    All of the creative industries use their own and others web sites, to promote their own creations or those they have created for paying clients.

    So 'public domain' needs to be clarified and that description carried prominently by us all to assist others to understand it.

    Is there a 'definitive' description that also covers the marketing of works commissioned by clients that are promoted on web sites to attract new business commissions?

    Our own meaning of not in public domain in context of Creative Barcode is pre-contract (not yet commercialised concepts, not published publically)proposals and concepts submitted to a known recipient for private negotiation to form a co-creation partnership or be commissioned to undertake a commercial project.

    I would be interested to hear IPKat readers views on this

  5. Normal copyright restrictions apply to the extend the licence does not provide a waiver. The waiver in question appears clear and straightforward:

    "Derivative Works - You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work"

    Without commenting on copyright provisions themselves:

    Extracting data, analysing, reporting, with attribution to origin of data is not prevented by this restriction in the licence.

    Taking a single page in the manner suggested would be permitted.

    'Fair use' and other copyright provisions apply in the jurisdiction of application.

    This is not legal advice, as "Anonymous" is not insured.


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