Free and easy way to online licensing enters the mainstream


NET RESULTS:IN THE relatively short period of its existence, the Creative Commons licence – an easy online way of licensing how others can use your creative property – has become a phenomenon, writes KARLIN LILLINGTON

You might be using it yourself, without even being aware, because online content-sharing sites often use it. You opt in to choosing some form of the licence when you use public photo sharing site, for example. Also, some blog software lets you have the option of protecting your writings with a Creative Commons licence.

But perhaps the most obvious sign of just how mainstream Creative Commons has become (after emerging from its libertarian, academic roots at Stanford University) is that the Obama administration uses it for licensing content on the official White House website, It was also used for, the Obama-Biden transition team website.

Creative Commons is an international effort to create “reasonable copyright” – copyright that does not depend on extremes of all rights reserved or no rights reserved, but a more moderate point in between.

At the Creative Commons website, they are at pains to stress that they are not anti-copyright: “Our licences help you retain your copyright while allowing certain exceptions to it, upon certain conditions. In fact, our licences rely upon copyright for their enforcement.”

They also point out that they are not a replacement for copyright but exist in addition to copyright – whether those rights are automatically attached to a creative work or whether one has formally applied for copyright.

All of this emerged as the brainchild of well-known cyber rights lawyer and Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001. Lessig has been one of the foremost critics of the relentless forward advance of blanket, long-term copyright restriction in the US and international markets, and thought something much better could and should be developed.

Appropriately, the Creative Commons project – as its name suggests – drew (and continues to draw) upon public input from any interested party. The terms of the licences and the overall philosophy have been hammered out in internet and real-world discussions.

As the Creative Commons website states: “We use private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are co-operative and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them – to declare ‘some rights reserved’.”

Some good news for people here is that an Irish version of the licence is in its final drafting stages. It has been a long and meticulous process, begun in 2003 at University College Cork by law lecturers Dr Darius Whelan and Louise Crowley (the wheels of public-feedback law projects grind slowly).

Whelan has said that separate international licences are needed to deal with the variations in the legal framework for given jurisdictions. One can, of course, use the US licence, but Ireland has really needed a specifically Irish version.

Feedback in these final stages is again, invited from the Irish public. More information is available at, where anyone can subscribe to the discussion list, view the current copy of the draft, and read what’s described as an “English explanation of substantive legal changes” between drafts.

Before leaping into the Irish draft, though, be sure to check out the main Creative Commons site (, especially for its useful FAQ as it is full of helpful background on the larger copyright issue – all explained in accessible language rather than confusing legalese.

If you want a licence right now, then you can download the US version. Getting a licence is both free and easy. You just go to the website and generate one by clicking the boxes that offer the elements you want to incorporate into your personal licence. Voilà, you’re done.

You are also issued with a bit of code that you can pop onto your website. This produces a Creative Commons icon that visitors can click to read the terms of your licence.

It will be great to see an Irish licence in the near future, though. Kudos to Whelan and Crowley for spearheading this involved and important, community-focused project.