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by adam mathes
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Pissing on Circled C's

Creative Commons launched today. Which is good, you know, encourage commons of intellectual property, fight the mouse, rah rah and such.

But if you’re one of the people who know what the “creative commons” project is you’ll probably see more than enough cheerleading about this today. So I’ll just stick to what I’m good at: pointing out hypocrisy and needlessly cutting down what other people put hard work into.

With that in mind, a few thoughts:

What license is the material on the Creative Commons web site under? The text? What about that picture on the homepage? Is the code behind the site available for me to look at and use? Or is everything on the site governed by a traditional copyright with no rights waived?

But that’s nothing. Take a look at the disclaimers.

“Creative Commons licenses the use of its trademarked corporate logo (shown immediately to the right) on the condition that the trademark licensee use the mark to point to the Creative Commons homepage, http://creativecommons.org and only to the Creative Commons homepage. Creative Commons retains full, unfettered, and sole discretion to revoke this trademark license for any reason whatsoever or for no specified reason.”

Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but that seems a bit limiting. If I make a paper zine and want to release it under a cc license, can I put the logo on it? If I’m licensing photographs can I print out a little something with the creative commons logo and a license on the back of a print? It sounds like I can only use the logo on web sites. This sentiment is confirmed when you read the license for those cute little innocuous little badges -

”…on the condition that licensee use the mark to point to a Creative Commons license or Commons deed on the Creative Commons server, and only to such marks; and provided that licensor does not alter or remove the hyperlink embedded in such logo as made available on Creative Commons webpage. Creative Commons retains full, unfettered, and sole discretion to revoke this trademark license for any reason whatsoever or for no specified reason.”

Just in case that was too vague, they continue -

“Creative Commons is particularly likely to revoke said license if, in its full, unfettered, and sole discretion, it finds that licensee’s use of the mark is likely to bring disrepute to licensor or its mark.”

This language, of course, immediately made me want to open up Photoshop and do unimaginably horrible things to that logo and then post them everywhere. But I got over that knee-jerk reaction, and I’m sure the hordes of Slashdot kiddies will get to it eventually anyway.

While I understand that lawyers feel the need to protect trademarks as if they were holy relics, this sounds, well, harsh. It comes off a bit like, only use it with the proper URL and oh, by the way, if you make fun of us or we don’t like you or even if we do like you but we are having a really bad day we will hunt you down and make you stop using those most important and holy of 88x31 pixel patterns.

I know I’m exaggerating, but I think Creative Commons are the good guys, really. But these disclaimers makes it sound like Creative Commons are the bad guys. You know, like the evil mega-corporations who harass people over domain names and say VerizonSucks.com is a trademark violation and kill kittens. And I’m pretty sure that CreativeCommons.org is firmly against killing kittens.

Even if you grant that this usage policy for the buttons is a decent idea, why aren’t there any similar options for the licenses I can create for my own content? Where’s the “only use my content if you promise to only say nice things to me” checkbox? Or the “only use my content to link to my site?” Or the “only use my content if you love Bert and Ernie” checkbox? Or, more seriously, the “do not oppress people with my content” checkbox?

Notice that they trademarked (cc). (Or, specifically, cc surrounded by a circle, which although I’m not a lawyer, may make (cc) an unauthorized trademark dilution.) But, I mean, seriously, isn’t trademarking that, kind of, well, ridiculous? Do I owe Lessig a royalty every time I CC someone on an email? (1)

Finally, I think The Founders’ Copyright is a great idea. The idea is your work is copyrighted for 14 years and then it enters the public domain, which was the original scope of copyright law. I still feel that a reasonable copyright life of somewhere between 15 and 20 years is the best balance between the rights of content creators and users, but it seems unlikely the government will ever bring copyright law back to its original lifespan.


  1. That was supposed to be a joke, I think. Obviously, not that funny if I have to explain it.

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