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Creative Commons

This guide will explain Creative Commons licenses.

The History of Creative Commons

How Creative Commons Came into Being

The story of Creative Commons begins in 1998 when the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) was enacted.  This law extended the copyright term for every work for an additional 20 years.  Meaning the new term for individuals was their life plus 70 years.  This new law extended the copyright term for things that already existed, which made some wonder if the new law was unconstitutional. Copyright as outlined by the United States Constitution and code provides an incentive to creators by giving them a limited monopoly over their works.  For works that already existed, was this extra time really an incentive?  The end date of a copyright is important since that is when a work will enter the public domain.  When a work is in the public domain it is free of restrictions to use and adds to the culture's base of knowledge.    

Lawrence Lessig was one of those who believed that the new law was unconstitutional. Lessig represented Eric Eldred who wished to challenge the law in court.  Eldred's business was to make works that were in the public domain available online to the public.  Eldred's case, Eldred v. Ashcroft was heard by the United States Supreme Court, where the court ruled against him. 

Despite the setback in court, Lessig and others were inspired by Eldred's efforts to share public domain works online. Many others who were just learning of the capabilities of the internet wanted ways to share and reuse content online.  Thus, Lessig and others came up with the idea for the Creative Commons and created a non-profit organization that would offer free, public licenses that would allow creators to retain their copyrights, but enable them to share them with more flexible terms than traditional copyrights.  Even though the Creative Commons was created in response to U.S. copyright laws, it has become a global movement and solved a problem that effects creators worldwide.  

While the Creative Commons started as a small non-profit, its reach has continued to grow into a global movement.  The CC Global Network has over 700 members with 45 chapters.  The membership includes activists, policymakers, lawyers, scholars, and other creators.  It has an Open Education platform, a copyright platform, and an Open GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) or Open Culture platform.  Members work on projects to foster open collaboration and promotion of open culture.  These tools, this non-profit, and this global movement has opened the door for creators to share and distribute their work in new ways.  What can Creative Commons do for you?