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There were a number of thoughtful replies to my Creative Commons post the other day, you should go read them here if you’re interested.

I’d most like to reply to this part in evil_d’s comment because I only really glossed over it in my first post:

Sure, licenses like these are legally binding. I’m pretty sure copyright laws don’t require you to restrict use of your work if you don’t want, they just allow you to. I assume you can release your work under any terms you want as long as they don’t break some other law.

I see the licenses as very convenient for stating your intent to ignore aspects of copyright, but what if you change your mind? One of my questions is: how legally binding are these licenses for the licensees?

Here’s a wacky scenario:

Person X slaps a Creative Commons license on their music requiring only attribution. They’re pretty sure they’re not going to make any money off of it, so what the hell. I, improbably evil Brad, take this music, modify it and somehow (use your imagination) make a kabillion dollars off of it. I give them credit as the author of the original work, thereby honoring the requirements of their CC license.

Person X sees me rolling around in hundred dollar bills and understandably has a change of heart. They come to me and ask for some of the money earned from their work. I, being totally frigging evil, tell them I am not giving them a single dirty damn dime, as specified in their license.

Let’s say Person X doesn’t accept this gracefully and instead takes the Creative Commons license buttons off their site and decides to try to get the courts to squeeze me for some of that money. Then what do the courts do? Do they pay attention to the Creative Commons license and tell Person X he’s out of luck or do they just ignore it and go by the existing copyright law and force me to hand over some cash?

I haven’t been able to find this addressed anywhere on the Creative Commons site. I would think that if they’re actually trying to provide a real legal alternative to “all rights reserved”, it’s worth being concerned with scenarios like this.

Posted on - May 26, 2003 [at] 1:30 pm by Brad
Tagged in -

5 Comments on this post

evil_d on Creative Commons II
May 26, 2003 at 1:58 pm

I agree, that’s a scenario you’re right to be concerned about.

I’m not a lawyer or anything, but my guess is that if you could prove that the person had made their original content available to you under a CC license, you’d be in the clear. How you could prove that for certain, I don’t know. Maybe the Internet Archive ( ) could help.

What troubles me is really the timing issue. Let’s say in January, Person X puts his original content on his website, along with a notice stating it’s available under a CC license. In March, you take it and use it in a derivative work; whether you make money off it is irrelevant. In April, Person X has a change of heart and takes the CC license notice off his site. Then in September he contacts you and demands that you stop distributing your derivative work and/or pay him money for it. Does releasing the work under a CC license at any time prevent the author from ever deciding to use a more restrictive license in the future? If not, how can you prove you took and distributed the content at a time when it was freely available? If you’re concerned this might come back to bite you, I’d do as much as you can to document your actions. At any rate, you should be able to prove to the court that you were acting in good faith.

Side note: this section of the CC FAQ indirectly addresses whether or not their licenses are legally enforceable: ( ) That was the only thing I could find on their site that seems to address your concern. If you’re still worried, why not e-mail them about it? Maybe they’ll add it to their FAQ. If you do, let us know what their response is — I’d be interested to hear it too.

Brad on Creative Commons II
May 26, 2003 at 2:20 pm

The timing issue is a good point as well. It would add an extra complication in the scenario I described. How is anyone to know when Person X really took that Creative Commons license off their site? How can we know if the person who’s taking advantage of the license really saw it?

I think the Creative Commons is a really interesting idea, I just don’t quite get how it can all work. I see how it can exist as a nice communal grey area of people who agree to agree not to rip each other off and violate each others licenses, but what happens once you throw some people who don’t care in there? That’s inevitable and they tend to be the ones who determine whether a system is ready for prime time or not.

I think you’re right, I’ll email them and see how that goes.

Brad on Creative Commons II
May 26, 2003 at 2:38 pm

I was poking around their website just a second ago looking for contact info and came across this page ( which describes the baseline rights and restrictions in all CC licenses.

The last section says that every license “lasts for the duration of the work’s copyright” and “is not revocable”.

So the timing shouldn’t be an issue at all because it’s apparently licensed forever if you display the graphic once. Or at least until the copyright on the licensed work lapses.

But the reality of that seems a little weird to little ol’ layman me. When you choose your license you aren’t required to enter any information about what you’re licensing, so there’s no list kept as far as I can see.

It still seems to me that it would be pretty easy for people to change their minds to stick it to somebody who was taking fair advantage of the license.

bryan on Creative Commons II
May 28, 2003 at 9:16 am

I offer loops from my recordings on my site. I have a sorta altered CC license in that if people use them for indie projects I just want credit; but if they sell more than 5000 copies I’ll want compensation.

I think if one lawyer told you a person offering their work under CCL couldn’t sue in retrospect, another could probably find a situation where this wouldn’t necessarily be true. My guess is CCL is binding over the long term though.

I guess it does lead to the question of whether or not you would compensate the CCL artist whose stuff you are using if you used it and made a lot of money.

Kameron on Creative Commons II
December 6, 2011 at 8:35 pm

I think I heard somewhere that you release your albums under copyleft. One of the things about copyleft is that you need to release derivative works under a similar license. Would the Creative Commons “ShareAlike” license be an acceptable license to put derivatives of your work under?

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