[Community_studios] [cc-lessigletter] CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on Compatibility
lessig at pobox.com
Wed Nov 30 21:01:55 EST 2005
[This email is part of a weekly series written by Lawrence Lessig and
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From last week's episode:
Next week I'll describe a second initiative that we'll be launching
over the next year. And while this second initiative will be
important for Creative Commons, it will be critical to the ecology of
creativity generally. Stay tuned.
The story continued:
Creative Commons didn't invent the idea of free public licenses.
Richard Stallman did, at least in the first broadly successful way.
Nor did Creative Commons invent the first free public licenses for
content. Before our work, there were many others who had followed
Stallman's lead, releasing free licenses tuned to creative work. The
Art Libre license is perhaps the most famous. The BBC's Creative
Archive licenses are the most prominent recent examples, freeing
access to important British culture, at least for British citizens.
And finally, the Free Software Foundation's GNU Free Documentation
License is a copyleft license designed initially for software
documentation, but used most prominently by the Wikipedia project.
These free licenses all share a common goal. With each, the aim is to
give creators the opportunity to offer others important freedoms. The
particular freedoms may be different. The Creative Archive licenses,
for example, are not all copyleft. And the restrictions of the FDL
make it inappropriate for much of the work covered by the Art Libre
license. But these differences reflect the diversity that exists
across creative communities. The important point is not the
differences but instead the common aim.
Yet all of these free licenses, as well as the current versions of
all Creative Commons licenses, share a common flaw. Like the world of
computing in the 1970's, or like the world of content that DRM will
produce [http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5676], these
licenses wrap creative work in ways that makes that creativity
For example, imagine you're a high school student writing a report
about the philosopher Wittgenstein. But because you're a high school
student in the 21st century, your report won't be a traditional
essay. It will instead be a short film. Your title is "Wittgenstein's
World, Today." And you create your movie based upon Wikipedia's
biography of Wittgenstein.
Your plan is very simple: You'll set the life described in the
Wikipedia entry to film, supplement it with images that you find in
Flickr, and add music that you've downloaded from Opsound.
As I described earlier, perhaps the most important feature of digital
content is that from a technical perspective such a project is now
trivial. Technology now gives creators — at a relatively tiny cost —
the ability to take sounds and images from the culture around us and
remix them to produce something new. A high school student using off
the shelf technology will find no technical barriers to the remix
I've just described. Of course, you've got to be good creatively.
(Note: why – it could be bad? The idea is to create whether it's good
work or bad.) It's not easy even with the best technology to make a
film. But that challenge, one might well think, is the appropriate
challenge for a creator. Get the technology out of the way, and let
the difficult task be the task of creating.
Yet there's another difficulty lurking in this story that many are
just becoming aware of within the Free Culture Movement. You might
be able — technically— to remix all this creativity. But can you
remix it legally? Will the licenses that "free" content permit that
free content to be remixed?
The astonishing (and for us lawyers, embarrassing) answer is no. Even
if all the creative work you want to remix is licensed under a
copyleft license, because those licenses are different licenses, you
can't take creative work from one, and remix it in another.
Wikipedia, for example, is licensed under the FDL. It requires
derivatives be licensed under the FDL only. And the same is true of
the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license that governs
Opsound content, as well as much of the creativity within Flickr. All
of these licenses were written without regard to the fundamental
value of every significant advance in the digital age —
We're going to fix this. Or at least, we're going to try. One way
would be for everyone to use just one particular Creative Commons
license. But bullying the world into using a single license is
neither consistent with our values nor sensible for the ecology of
free culture. So instead, we are launching a project to facilitate
interoperability among sufficiently compatible license types. And we
will work hard to persuade others within the free license ecology to
join us in this movement.
Here's the basic idea we're starting with (though recognize that
there will be lots of discussion before we settle on any final plan).
As you'll see, it builds upon the strategy we've already adopted to
assure compatibility across licenses in different jurisdictions:
Creative Commons licenses come in three layers: (1) a human readable
Commons Deed, which describes the freedoms associated with the
content in terms anyone should be able to understand; (2) a lawyer-
readable Legal Code — a license — that makes enforceable the freedoms
associated with the content; and (3) machine-readable metadata that
makes the freedoms associated with the content understandable by
computers. You can visualize the three together like this:
Early on, we started porting our licenses to other jurisdictions, so
that people around the world can license their creativity under local
law. In that process, our aim was to assure that creativity licensed
in one country was compatible with creativity licensed in another.
Thus we multiplied the licenses at the second layer of our
architecture, creating something that looks like this:
Today we announce the beginning of a project to explore expanding
this interoperability beyond Creative Commons licenses. We've begun a
process to build a board (what we'll call the Creative Commons Legal
Advisory Board, or ccLab for short) that will be composed of experts
in licensing from around the world. This board will establish
procedures by which similar free licenses, upon submission from the
license curator, can be deemed "compatible." And if a license is
deemed compatible, adds CC metadata to express the freedoms
associated with the content, and links to a Commons Deed, to explain
the freedoms associated with the content, then we will certify the
license as within the federation of free licenses that we're trying
to build. This world will then look something like this:
If we succeed in this project, then creative work will more easily be
able to move from one license to another, as creativity is remixed.
And this ability for creative work to move to compatible free
licenses will provide a market signal about which licenses are deemed
more stable, or reliable, by the free licensing community. Free
culture will no longer be ghettoized within a particular free
license. It will instead be able to move among all relevantly
compatible licenses. And the world of "autistic freedom" that governs
much of the free software world will be avoided in the free culture
This project won't, of course, make incompatible licenses compatible.
For example, work licensed under an Attribution-NoDerivatives license
can't be mixed with work licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike
license. That incompatibility, however, is intended by the creator.
And while I agree with many that we should work to reduce this sort
of incompatibility as well, I believe it is much more important to
eliminate unintended incompatibility first. The creators who are
joining the Free Culture Movement by releasing their creative work
under free licenses do so because of the values those licenses
express. They don't do so because of the particular flair of legal
prose that one free license might have over another. We must find a
way to push the egos of the lawyers off of center stage, so that the
values of the creators can finally be realized.
This is not an easy project. It will require lots of support. Most
importantly, it will require all of us within the Free Culture
Movement to put aside our own parochial interests, and work to
cooperate for a sensible end. As Richard Stallman famously said:
"If we don't want to live in a jungle, we must change our attitudes.
We must start sending the message that a good citizen is one who
cooperates when appropriate..."
Stallman is absolutely correct. The creators who have chosen the
values of free culture don't want a world where their creativity
can't be used consistent with their values. We who are building the
infrastructure of free culture have a responsibility to respect their
Next week, I'll turn to some of the critics of Creative Commons. But
this week, indeed, right now, we still need your support.
We're one month to the end of this drive, and have a long way to go.
Check out the Red Hat dollar for dollar challenge.
To link to or comment on this message, go to:
Week 8 - Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses
Week 8 - Lawrence Lessig on CC Licenses - Spanish Version
Thanks to Maria Cristinia Alvite for translation.
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