The majority of bloggers that choose a Creative Commons License do so for altruistic reasons. They want to encourage sharing of their work, within certain guidelines, and willingly sacrifice some of their exclusive rights to allow the rest of the world access to their content.
But what most Creative Commons users don’t realize is that, by applying a CC license, they are, potentially, providing themselves with important additional protections.
Simply put, by having a well-written, legally-sound license for their content, they eliminate many of the uncertainties that non-CC users face and can provide both themselves and their readers with copyright stability in a very tumultuous climate.
The Problem With Being Silent
The unfortunate nature of copyright on the Web is that the law has not fully caught up with the technology. This has left many gaps between what is technologically possible and where the line of the law is drawn.
Though some of the earlier questions of the Web, such as whether search engine caching is legal, have been addressed, many others have not.
At the heart of these issues is the implied license one provides when publishing a Web page or an RSS feed. This is the license one grants by simply taking an action and applies only “to the extent that the copyright owner would have allowed had the parties negotiated an agreement.”
In short, an implied license is one granted by the law to a licensor because it assumed, by one’s actions, that that intended to give that person those rights. The problem is that the law has not fully settled on what rights a Webmaster or blogger “intended” to give away by publishing their content on the Web or in an RSS feed.
Though there seems to be a small consensus among attorneys that there is no implied license for things such as RSS scraping, until a court rules on it, the question is up in the air. Furthermore, new technologies are coming online almost every day and each of them have the possibility to rewrite the implied license structure.
Simply put, leaving your content to chance is not an option.
Why Creative Commons
The beauty of Creative Commons is that it is an actual license. Therefore, it would trump any implied license by providing a clear set of rules for your content to be used by, no matter what legal rulings come down in the coming months or what new technologies come online.
The idea is simple, you can opt out of almost any use of your content that is not covered under the narrow exemptions of fair use and, by having an express license affixed to your content, that can include uses of your content that your actions might otherwise seem to allow.
Theoretically, you could do this with any copyright license you wanted, including one you drafted yourself. However, Creative Commons has at least two key advantages over the “go it alone” route.
- Creative Commons is Tested: Writing a copyright license is a difficult task and making a mistake can have dire consequences. Creative Commons has lawyers draft the licenses and port them to various countries. The licenses have been tested at least once in the courts and have survived.
- Creative Commons is Machine-Readable: As important as having the license is expressing it properly. The same as there robots.txt conventions for dealing with the search engines, there will need to be ones for dealing with more broad copyright licenses. Creative Commons has been a pioneer in that area and offers an easy, machine-readable version of all its licenses.
In short, Creative Commons has not only proved itself to be more solid in the past, but it is better prepared for the future and that is going to make a big difference as we move forward into even more uncharted waters.
Though there are many problems and issues with Creative Commons, it also has many advantages. For the most part, if you are comfortable giving up some of your rights to your work, you may find yourself better protected in the future, especially against scrapers and other spammers.
If you do decide to take advantage of this increased certainty, be sure to not only place your license on your site, but embed it in your feed. FeedBurner has this option built in and there are WordPress plugins that can also achieve this.
If you aren’t comfortable using a Creative Commons License on your work, it is important to express your issues any way you can. Even a simple statement of “All Rights Reserved” may not be adequate if the law determines your actions grant a license for use. It would be best if you used a formal, attorney-written license that covered all of the legal bases and specified the uses that are or are not allowed.
It may not be an ideal solution, but it certainly beats waiting through the uncertainty until the legal system figures it out.