A new version of the Creative Commons license came out today. It’s the fourth iteration of the legal agreement, which was first released in 2002 and has since become nearly ubiquitous on the web among digital-friendly photographers, writers, and artists.
Two college professors and a copyright activist founded the non-profit organization Creative Commons in 2001 to solve a problem. Digital distribution was confounding traditional copyright strictures, and amateur content-producers had trouble both retaining long-term control of their work while allowing others on the web to use it.
The Creative Commons license was meant to make that much easier. Now, if a photographer wants to let other people (but not companies) use her images, she can choose to license them under a Creative Commons Atrribution-NonCommercial agreement. If she’s okay with anyone using them, but want those users to “give back to the commons,” too, she can choose to license the photograph under a “Share Alike” license.
The Creative Commons license (CC), in other words, is a contract, freely available to anyone online, that allows a work to be used in ways that copyright protections would normally prohibit. CC licenses come in both necessary legalese and a “human-readable” summary. An artist using a CC license retains copyright over her work; she just also makes it very clear how others can freely share in those copyright benefits.