Thursday, August 10, 2006

Creative Commons Licences

A report on the workshop given by Charles Oppenheim at the UKSG Conference

This workshop examined the applicability of Creative Commons (CC) in a scholarly institution. The workshop gave some background to the creation of these licences through the inspirational ideas of Lawrence Lessig in 2001. Lessig was objecting to the increasing strength of copyright laws in the USA and to the increasing dominance of what calls 'Code', i.e., technical measures that prevent easy access to electronic materials. The licences are applicable to anything on the web, and are characterised by a 'CC' in a circle symbol and the words 'some rights reserved'. Anyone coming across such a website can then click on the Creative Commons icon and read the 'human-readable' form of the Licence, which states in simple terms what can and cannot be done with the item. They can further click on a link to get the 'lawyer-readable' version of the licence, i.e., a formal licence agreement. The movement’s website ( provides full information. The workshop considered how the licences are developed in various countries around the world, the four symbols that are used to identify the type of licence on offer (attribution; derivative works; commercial use; and sharealike) and what they mean. 'Attribution', which applies to all CC licences, means the original author/creator must be identified in any copy made. 'Derivative works' means you may (or may not, depending on the licence) make changes to the item, or incorporate it into other items. 'Commercial use' means you may (or may not, depending on the licence) use the material for commercial gain. Finally, 'sharealike' means you must (or need not, depending on the licence) impose the same conditions on others as have just been imposed on you should you disseminate copies.

Then the applicability of Creative Commons licences to scholarly materials was considered. It was noted that there are some potential difficulties regarding such licences, e.g., when items are jointly authored, when content is of a sensitive nature (such as medical images, political messages) or where there are restrictions on sending the materials abroad. The plan for a Science Commons licence for e-science materials was noted. There are also issues regarding the enforceability of Creative Commons licences under UK contract law, and the fact that the recent decision on the Adam Curry versus Weekend (a Dutch court case), which supported the imposition of a Creative Commons licence on a publisher even though no contract had been signed, would not necessarily be replicated in a UK Court. Finally, the discussion focused on the potential applicability of Creative Commons licences in institutional repositories, and noted that they are not being used by JORUM because of the numerous issues relating to the creation and use of teaching materials that are raised.

Overall, then, Creative Commons is an important development that those in the Higher Education sector are increasingly likely to encounter. They are likely to be useful in a variety of situations within Higher Education, but not necessarily all of them.

Report by Charles Oppenheim


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