Bloggers use, and don’t use, Creative Commons Licenses for a variety of reasons. Some feel that it is a great way to give back to the community, others use CC licensing as a form of promotion, encouraging their content to be used with attribution, and others feel that it is a way to promote copyright reform.
However, Creative Commons can actually provide bloggers benefits that go well beyond the buttons and badges. In the uncertain copyright climate of the Web, having a firm lawyer-written license, regardless of what it says, can have huge benefits over the ambiguity that comes with not having one.
Here are just five less-promoted ways that choosing a CC license can help you, your site and your content, even as you surrender some of your rights in a particular work.
5. Search Engine Benefit
Though it is unclear if using Creative Commons will get you a higher rank in Google, there is no doubt that it will get your content into CC-oriented search engines, such as Google and Yahoo! This can help expose your work to many new visitors.
The only caveat to this audience is that, when they are searching for CC-licensed material, searchers are looking for something to use on their site, not necessarily something to follow and enjoy. However, most searchers visit dozens of links before they find one that works and often times they discover new writers, artists and musicians along the way.
Likewise, Flickr users that add CC licenses to their images will find that their content comes up on more image searches and more API queries. Even if it is not used every time, or even most of the time, it is additional exposure.
4. Greater Copyright Clarity
One thing that I’ve noticed over the years is that there are many people on the Web that are confused about what exactly they can and can not do with content licensed under a traditional “All Rights Reserved” license. However, thanks in part to the buttons, CC terms are clearly explained, within reason.
Though the exact limitations in some cases are confusing, especially when dealing with non-commercial licenses, there is much less confusion and headache to end users and this encourages them to actually follow the license. As Anthony Falzone, the executive director of the Stanford Fair Use Project, said in one of his presentations that Creative Commons is a GUI for copyright and that though, like Windows, it may crash once in a while, it is a lot easier to use than MSDOS.
This clarity not only makes it easier for you to express your terms, but for others to follow your wishes, at least in spirit. That, in turn, makes it more likely they will do so.
3. More Likely to be Quoted
Though fair use allows others to quote and cite content from your blog, the broad fair use exemptions are a largely American invention and, even then, are very difficult to predict and use successfully. As a result, many people are not comfortable quoting even small portions of content without permission, even if the fear is unjustified in most cases.
Having a CC license offers encouragement for that kind of reuse and lets anyone interested in reusing some of your text that you are fine with it. Though the lack of a CC license may not stop many people from quoting you who was going to do so previously, it does encourage others to quote more from your site, talk more about it and link more to your work than they might have otherwise.
2. Less Time Dealing with Infringement
Though, as a copyright holder, you have the right to decide what cases you deal with and which you do not, setting up ambiguous rules makes enforcement difficult and can lead to problems. Having a Creative Commons license allows you to give permission for what might otherwise be an accidental infringement, or a more minor misstep, and focus only on those that plagiarize and/or use your material for commercial use.
This means that there are fewer infringements to deal with and less time spent deciding what cases are worth handling. This gives you more time to grow your site, create new content and build your audience.
1. An Actual License
Much of the copyright interactions we have on the Web are governed by implied licenses, or licenses that exist when no actual license is granted. For example, one of the reasons Google is allowed to index and cache Web pages is because, according to the courts, by putting your content on the Web you are giving them an implied license to do so.
Though implied licenses can be good things, they can also be bad. Since it is hard to know what an implied license grants until a court rules on it, there is always a great deal of uncertainty. This has spilled over into areas such as RSS scraping.
Granted, this can be done with any license, not just a CC one, but CC ones are lawyer-written and have been tested in at least one court internationally. If you can’t afford a lawyer to write you a license and are not comfortable doing it yourself, a CC license is a good way to get a well-written and reviewed license for free.
There are many reasons to consider a CC license for your site (and more than a few reasons to not want one as well). Every Webmaster has to make the choice that is right for them and it is rarely an easy decision.
That being said, there are a lot of benefits of CC licenses that aren’t heavily advertised. Though it does its stated mission of providing “free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry,” what it makes less clear is how marking a work with those freedoms can benefit the original author.
In the end, Creative Commons is really about a symbiosis. Creators giving up certain rights and getting other benefits in return. Though, for many, licensing one’s work under a CC license is a selfless act, it can actually provide a great deal of benefit.
Simply put, sometimes the best way to make your content work for you, is to give it a little freedom to roam.