Creative Commons Replacing Copyright?

    August 20, 2003

Plagiarism is an issue that has always plagued writers online and those of us that offer our stuff for free are most at risk for this.

I am testing a program called “Creative Commons” which helps to preserve some of the rights to your articles when they are distributed freely. The idea is to protect you from abuse while offering a stated public license to your work which allows you to specify what rights are reserved, including copyright.

I’ll be distributing this article on the concept widely through the various free content lists, including my own at where over 1000 list members post an average of 200 articles a month for free distribution.

Take a look at the web site for the non-profit Creative Commons organization

Where the stated IDEA is:

Taking inspiration in part from the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), Creative Commons has developed a Web application that helps people dedicate their creative works to the public domain — or retain their copyright while licensing them as free for certain uses, on certain conditions. Unlike the GNU GPL, Creative Commons licenses are not be designed for software, but rather for other kinds of creative works: web sites, scholarship, music, film, photography, literature, courseware, etc. We hope to build upon and complement the work of others who have created public licenses for a variety of creative works.

The part that I find valuable is that line stating

“…or retain their copyright while licensing them as free for certain uses, on certain conditions…”

This perfectly reflects the idea of the free-content list of allowing free public use of our articles with the required “resource box links” stated by most online authors seeking wide dissemination of their writing while maintaining copyright and prohibiting commercial use if desired.

The Creative Commons site offers code to place on your site to make your license “machine readable” based on a W3C standard (W3C stands for the World Wide Web Consortium standards body) which links back to the creative commons web site and the appropriate licensing restrictions placed on the work displaying the graphic.

I have placed that graphic on my own site both on my ezine archive page and on several of the article pages themselves. But the key to this is the code placed in the < head> section of your site. It looks like the following, with variations based on your own chosen license from among several variables.


Note that I’ve placed an extra space after left facing brackets to make the code visible in HTML mail readers or for AOL subscribers and other web based email accounts. You get this code from their site after choosing your license.

Notice that this license has five attributes listed within it:

“Requires Attribution”
“Permits Reproduction”
“Permits Distribution”
“Prohibits Commercial Use”
“Requires Notice”

Each of those are rather clear two word descriptions of what might otherwise be pages of legalese, but the last one may need clarification for some. The link in the code provides this to us.

“copyright and license notices must be kept intact”

I’ve toyed with the idea of requiring this to be posted in the head tag at the sites who republish my articles, but this is probably too much to ask of many of the small webmasters who use these pieces since many either won’t understand what you are asking them to do or will botch the code while pasting it into their own page. The most obvious drawback is that those who use the articles in email publications or printed newsletters don’t have access to the license link within that machine readable code meant for online publication. The obvious solution to that would be simply to require this link within your article resource box next to a BRIEF description of that license.

A condensed license for allowable uses of your work is stated at that URL with a link to the full license at:

If you have a broadband connection, Creative Commons offers an animated 1.5 mb Flash film on the basics of the concept of “cc” over “C” or, Some Rights Reserved versus All Rights Reserved at the following URL.

Much of the concept centers around pre licensing of certain rights to the public to your creation, writing in our case. The idea is plainly stated within the Creative Commons flash movie that we are attempting to eliminate the intermediaries – mostly attorneys. 😉

This is interesting since the Creative Commons founders are themselves attorneys. These attorneys include famed Stanford internet legal scholar, Lawrence Lessig, author of The Future of Ideas, as well as Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Lessig is well known for battling the Copyright Term Extension Act in a Supreme Court Case against the extension of copyright. CTEA extends copyrights 70 years after the death of the artist and, for those copyrights held by corporations, a total of 95 years in duration. The actual text of the law is available for download here:

The Creative Commons license is likely to be at the heart of internet copyright issues for years since it is known and discussed by attorneys, but I have yet to see it mentioned in discussions by Authors. Shall we begin talking about this or simply leave it to the attorneys?

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of
in-house content managers
as well as the Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial at and blogs about SEO at
where this article appears with live links to SMO stories, buttons, blog posts and examples.