INSTITUTE FOR INFORMATION LAW
Creative Commons Licenses Legal Pitfalls:
Incompatibilities and Solutions
Melanie Dulong de Rosnay
Institute for Information Law
University of Amsterdam
20 December 2010
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Nederland license available
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword .................................................................................................................................... 1
Executive summary .................................................................................................................... 2
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 7
1.1 Sources of legal incompatibilities .................................................................................... 9
1.2 Scope, methodology and outline .................................................................................... 10
2. Creative Commons licenses diversity .................................................................................. 13
2.1 Creative Commons: an organization and a set of licenses ............................................. 15
2.1.1 The licensing infrastructure: a technical standard .................................................. 15
2.1.2 Creative Commons policy strategy: not quite a legal standard............................... 18
2.2 The different licenses available ..................................................................................... 20
2.2.1 The licenses formats ............................................................................................... 20
2.2.2 The license elements ............................................................................................... 25
i. Attribution (BY) ...................................................................................................... 27
ii. Share Alike (SA) .................................................................................................... 30
iii. Non Commercial (NC).......................................................................................... 31
iv. No Derivative (ND) ............................................................................................... 34
v. Instruments Outside The Core Suite.................................................................... 35
2.2.3 The main clauses ..................................................................................................... 39
i. Definitions ................................................................................................................ 41
a. Work ..................................................................................................................... 41
b. Adaptation ............................................................................................................ 43
c. Collection ............................................................................................................. 44
d. Rights: Reproduce, Distribute and Publicly Perform .......................................... 45
e. The parties: the Licensor, the Original Author and You ...................................... 47
ii. Fair Dealing Rights .................................................................................................. 48
iii. License Grant .......................................................................................................... 48
iv. Restrictions ............................................................................................................. 49
v. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer & vi. Limitation on Liability ............ 51
vii. Termination............................................................................................................ 51
viii. Miscellaneous ....................................................................................................... 52
2.3 The legal nature of the licenses ...................................................................................... 53
2.3.1 Unilateral permissions or contractual agreements? ................................................ 54
2.3.2 Consent to online non-negotiated texts ................................................................... 57
2.3.3 Transmission of obligations to third parties............................................................ 63
3. Sources of potential incompatibility .................................................................................... 67
3.1 Incompatibility between different formats..................................................................... 69
3.2 Incompatibility among different versions ...................................................................... 72
3.2.1 From 1.0 to 2.0, in May 2004 ................................................................................. 72
a) Attribution becomes standard .................................................................................. 72
b) Share Alike compatibility with future and international versions ........................... 73
c) Link-back attribution requirement ........................................................................... 74
d) Synchronization and music rights............................................................................ 74
e) Limited warranties: the hidden risk of infringement ............................................... 74
3.2.2 From 2.0 to 2.5, in June 2005 ................................................................................. 75
a) Attribution to authors or other parties...................................................................... 75
3.2.3 From 2.5 to 3.0, in February 2007 .......................................................................... 76
a) Attribution and the no-endorsement clause ............................................................. 76
b) Compatibility structure between BY-SA and other licenses: to be determined ...... 76
c) Internationalization of the generic/unported licenses .............................................. 77
d) Moral rights clause, for international harmonization .............................................. 77
e) Collecting society clause, for international harmonization ..................................... 78
f) TPM language clarification ...................................................................................... 78
g) Database sui generis rights in CCi versions ............................................................ 78
3.3 Incompatibility between different options ..................................................................... 80
3.4 Incompatibility among different jurisdictions ............................................................... 83
3.4.1 Legal porting ........................................................................................................... 84
3.4.2 Internal validity vs. unexpected inconsistencies ..................................................... 85
3.4.3 Representation of non-infringement ....................................................................... 86
3.4.4 Scope of rights ........................................................................................................ 86
3.5 Incompatibility with other open content licenses .......................................................... 88
3.5.1 Cross-licensing: the example of the Free Art License ............................................ 89
3.5.2 Combination of works licensed under non-compatible terms: the Digital Peer
Publishing Licenses ......................................................................................................... 92
3.5.3 Dual licensing and relicensing: Wikipedia and the GNU-GFDL ........................... 94
3.5.4 Free Culture core freedoms: defining open license ................................................ 95
4. Impact of the differences between licenses ......................................................................... 98
4.1 Identification of the parties and enforcement ................................................................ 99
4.2 Scope of rights granted ................................................................................................ 100
4.2.1 A difference among formats: Collections and Adaptations ...................................... 101
4.2.2 Differences among jurisdictions ............................................................................... 102
a. Database rights ....................................................................................................... 102
b. Moral rights ............................................................................................................ 104
c. Representation of non-infringement ...................................................................... 106
d. Collecting societies ................................................................................................ 109
5. Conclusion: options to mitigate risks and improve compatibility ..................................... 111
5.1 Improve the interface ................................................................................................... 111
5.1.1 Develop more technologies to support the licenses’ requirements ....................... 111
5.1.2 Remodel the acceptation infrastructure ................................................................ 113
5.1.3 Reverse the system’s logic .................................................................................... 114
5.2 Simplify the system...................................................................................................... 116
5.2.1 Redraft the text of the licenses .............................................................................. 116
5.2.2 Options rationalization: generalization vs. customization .................................... 121
5.2.3 Diminish the impact of the law ............................................................................. 122
6. References .......................................................................................................................... 124
Literature ............................................................................................................................ 124
Cases .................................................................................................................................. 128
This study is part of the Creative Commons Netherlands (CC-NL) shared work program led
by the three institutions affiliated to Creative Commons in the Netherlands: Nederland
Kennisland, Waag Society, and the Institute for Information Law (IViR) of the University of
CC-NL is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sciences (Ministerie van
Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen).
Publications on Creative Commons published by the CC-NL team both in English and
in Dutch are available at http://creativecommons.nl/onderzoek/rechtswetenschappelijk-
This study received numerous suggestions from Lucie Guibault, principal investigator of the
project at the IViR. The author is also grateful for comments sent by Shunling Chen, Herkko
Hietanen, Paul Keller, and Mike Linksvayer. First published on the IViR website in
September 2010 as version 1.0., this version 1.1 released in November 2010 contains minor
Melanie Dulong de Rosnay
Creative Commons licenses have been designed to facilitate the use and reuse of creative
works by granting some permissions in advance. However, the system is complex, with a
multiplicity of licenses options, formats and versions available, including translations into
different languages and adaptation to specific legislations towards versions that are declared
compatible with each other after an international porting process. It should be assessed
whether all licenses cover exactly the same subject matter, rights, and restrictions or whether
small language differences may have an impact on the rights actually granted, ensuring legal
security of current users or availability of works for future generations to access and build
upon. As different licenses have different phrasing, differences may change the content of the
grant and its substantial conditions, thereby affecting users’ expectations and threatening the
validity of the consent along the modification chain.
Possible sources of legal uncertainty and incompatibility – as well as their actual or potential
consequences on the validity and enforceability of the licenses across jurisdictions with
different and possibly inconsistent legislations – need to be evaluated. This study presents the
different licenses (chapter 2), identifies various possible sources of legal incompatibility
(chapter 3), evaluates their actual impact (chapter 4) and finally proposes recommendations
(chapter 5) to mitigate risks and improve compatibility, consistency, clarity, and legal security
by restructuring and simplifying the system.
Before analyzing the compatibility among licenses, this study checks compatibility with
international law to identify which notions are exactly covered to make sure that no right or
party has been left out. Scrutinizing the licenses’ optional elements and main clauses allows
detection of a few formal inconsistencies that should be fixed. Indeed, the grant intends to be
as broad as possible and, therefore, it can be expected that all works and all rights are
addressed by the licenses and that no restrictions on the nature of works and rights covered
are hidden behind long wording. For instance, broadcasts and adaptations of broadcasts
should be included.
After examining how the licenses clauses are compatible with international copyright law, it
is considered whether the licenses as a whole are compatible with contract law and consumer
law. If the license is deemed invalid and consent has not been reached after all, courts may
deem that permission will not have been granted. Licensors may not be able to request
enforcement of non-copyright infringement-related conditions even if they apply to acts
triggered by the exercise of a copyright-related right, and Licensees might not be able to claim
the exercise of rights beyond copyright law which is fully applicable by default, and thus
reproduce the work freely.
Finally, specific attention is dedicated to the Share Alike clause reciprocal effects and the
transmission of obligations to third parties that should be bound by the license conditions.
Indeed, the system would not be sustainable if the agreement enforceability would stop after
the first derivative. The Share Alike clause declares compatible subsequent versions,
jurisdictions versions and other open content licenses. If their content is different, it will bind
Licensors and Licensees to obligations of which they are not aware and therefore could not
consent to, potentially invalidating the agreement.
Two sources of difference between the content of the various instance of the licenses are
visible from the license interface (formats and options), but actually five sources of
differences between the licenses may raise incompatibility issues:
1. The licenses formats, the machine-readable code, the human-readable common deed, and
the legal code (formats). The human-readable summary, which is visible and easily readable,
does not contain the same level of details as does the legal code, which is much longer and
more detailed. Provisions from the core grant do not appear in the title of the licenses, which
display only the optional provisions. It could be possible that a Licensee is not aware of
important limitations that are available only in the middle of the legal code. The human-
readable summary and the prominence of the options are hiding essential provisions. As the
Deed itself has no legal value, according to the disclaimer, there is no legal incompatibility
per se between the Legal Code and the Commons Deed; rather, the problem is that the version
that is actually read can mislead users who will overlook the more detailed clauses and may
underestimate the full range of permissions and conditions. Besides, a fourth format has been
identified: the notice button displaying icons of selected optional elements. It is the only
element that is visible to the end-user before clicking on the links and, often, the lack of a
proper sentence indicating which work is licensed undermines the effect of the license.
2. The licenses different options’ combinations: Attribution BY, Attribution Share Alike BY-
SA, Attribution Non Commercial BY-NC, Attribution No Derivatives BY-ND, Attribution
Non Commercial No Derivatives BY-NC-SA, Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives
BY-NC-ND (options). Many options propose to answer users’ needs. License proliferation
makes it impossible to remix works licensed under incompatible options, leading to open
content ghettoization. Aside from creating incompatibilities among works licensed under
different options, providing many options also has information and political costs. Reducing
the number of options could lead to a clearer definition of freedom, make the choice easier for
users and diminish incompatibilities among works licensed under different options that cannot
3. The licenses successive versions – 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0 (incremental versions) – will be
analyzed as to whether the differences between successive versions create incompatibilities in
licenses carrying the same optional elements.
It appears that the three aforementioned sources of differences do not create legal
incompatibilities that could generate contract law problems of consent such as the two
following sources of differences are generating. Still, some of the changes among formats and
versions increase the burden placed on the Licensee. Indeed, many restrictions placed on the
Licensee are not listed in the Commons Deed. For instance, all uses are not necessarily free,
as royalties might be collected by collective societies.
4. The differences between the licenses adaptations to various jurisdictions are more
problematic. They are hidden in more than 50 versions. The Share Alike clause admits the
relicensing of an Adaptation under a license from another jurisdiction. They are declared
compatible; in fact, they are not really compatible because they do not cover exactly the same
scope of rights and limitations because they reflect local legislations that are not harmonized.
The goal of the international porting process is to facilitate local implementation, avoid
interpretation problems, and improve compatibility with copyright legislations. But it leads to
a contract law problem. Because of the Share Alike option transmission, a Licensor is
expected to consent to the Adaptation of his or her Work to be licensed under different,
future, unidentified terms and may leave the Licensor’s expectations unfulfilled along the
chain of derivatives and Licensees. Indeed, after modification and relicensing of the
derivative under another jurisdiction’s version, the Licensee of the derivative may enforce a
lower standard, and inconsistencies may grow exponentially after several generations. The
problem is still theoretical, but a Licensor could sue a downstream Licensee who would still
have respected the terms of the license received – only it was different from the license
initially used by the Licensor.
Examples of differences between provisions include limited warranties and representation of
non-infringement (which are granted in some versions), whether database rights are covered
and the scope of applicable rights (what constitutes an Adaptation). Thus, a downstream
Licensee could assume representations are granted while the Licensor used a version which
excluded them, and a Licensor could see the work modified according to his or her standards
while a Licensee using a work licensed under a different jurisdiction version – where the
scope of what does not constitute an adaptation is broader – would assume his or her usage
not to be a derivative.
5. Differences with other similar open content licenses that have the same purpose but use a
different language and may become compatible with the BY-SA license. Efforts indeed are
being led to reach compatibility by accepting that derivatives may be licensed not only under
the same license but also under licenses that will have been recognized compatible. The same
contractual issues as for jurisdictions licenses could arise, as there will be differences, and the
Licensor will be supposed to consent to the licensing of derivatives under conditions
unknown as yet.
All the more theoretical – as no other license yet has been declared compatible – it is difficult
to assess the actual impact after several generations of derivatives and relicensing under other
licenses by virtue of the Share Alike clause. In any cases, it becomes complicated and may
limit the development of free culture in a way that neither the licenses’ drafters nor the
licenses’ users (the Licensors and the Licensees) intended – especially after more than three
parties, collections and adaptations, and all the more if the identification and contact of the
parties are unavailable. Adding the contact of the Licensor would be simple contractual
improvement to the licenses.
Four methods to improve compatibility among different open licenses and open licensed
works are considered:
1. Cross-licensing and reciprocal compatibility clauses, with the example of the Free Art
2. Combination of works licensed under different licenses and partial compatibility among
content, with the example of the Digital Peer Publishing Licenses.
3. Dual-licensing and relicensing or de facto compatibility among content by disappearance of
one license, with the example of the Wikipedia migration from the GNU-GFDL to the CC BY
SA 3.0 unported license.
The three first methods present political advantages of compatibility but introduce complexity
while postponing incompatibilities issues.
4. Definition of common freedoms among licenses, one step backwards, going back to the
Instead of considering all the differences and issues arising after derivatives, which weakens
the commons, another intellectual path is to compare licenses to define shared principles. It
helps to reach consensus among communities, allowing an understanding of needs, and it
could help reduce the number of options and complexity of licenses’ wording.
Before considering possible solutions to improve the system, it behooves us to assess whether
corrections are really necessary; that is, whether there are severe incompatibilities and
substantial cases where licenses cannot be held valid and enforced. The legal impact of
detected incompatibilities among licenses that are deemed compatible could be that Licensors
may not be able to require their conditions to be enforced and that Licensees may not be able
to claim the benefit from a grant that is more generous than copyright law, possibly spreading
involuntary infringement. Further, if parties consent to one legal code, they cannot consent to
all the other legal codes under which their modified work may be relicensed after the Share
Alike compatibility clause. Intentions aside, these differences are inaccessible information,
hidden in the licenses’ different versions, including future licenses.
Based on conclusions reached at various stages of this study, solutions are proposed to solve
legal problems of incompatibility and issues that raise complexity, even if they do not create
formal legal incompatibilities. To a greater extent, they are of a logical or technical nature.
Some elements could be drafted and implemented in the short term without requiring too
much effort. Other more substantial points could evolve in the long term but require more
research and development as well as consultation – particularly on the user interface, the
definition of community guidelines, and for decisions involving changes in the substance of
More technologies can be developed to better support the licenses requirements, including
attribution, management of derivative works, the notice text, definition of what constitutes the
work being licensed, information on the Licensor, and so on.
I also propose options to improve the interface design. Following the model of the CC Public
Domain, tools could solve problems of consent regarding consumer law requirements, limited
representations of non-infringement, and lack of identification of the contact person, the
author or Licensor.
The logic of the system would also better reflect positive freedoms and core clauses, before
focusing on the options chosen to modify these freedoms. Exploring first what is at the core
of all licenses and will be modified by the choices of the Licensor may be prudent rather than
focusing on the options – qualitatively crucial, but quantitatively minor elements – that may
hide the core of the licenses. This change would be reflected in the license chooser and in the
Finally, I recommend reorganizing and redrafting the text of the licenses to rationalize and
simplify the whole system. The text of the licenses should be shorter and in plain language.
The Commons deed and legal code could be combined in a single, short, and human-readable
document. The document should present all the clauses in the form of clustered bullet points
and be drafted in non-legal language, illustrated by corresponding icons. However, even
before taking the important step to write that one short text, a reorganization of the legal code
could improve the layout and readability. It would be easy to reorganize and cluster thematics
and add subtitles. I also suggest changing the international porting process that introduces
involuntary legal inconsistencies. Definitions could be drafted according to no particular
legislation. Instead of being localized into jurisdictions, the Creative Commons porting
process could take place within user communities and focus on translation and social
governance by users rather than on legal normativity. Best practices could be defined and
implemented within creative or user communities. A set of ethical principles – described in an
extended common deed or in a separate document – may be more effective and accessible
than a detailed doctrinal definition ported in a multiplicity of jurisdictions. Both judges and
users could use these soft law guidelines to better understand and implement the licenses.
The extension of copyright law duration and the expansion of its scope are currently reducing
the possibilities to access and reuse works, while digital technologies can make works more
available instead of locking them even more.1 Creative Commons aims at removing barriers
to access and creativity by facilitating sharing of works.2 To achieve this goal, Creative
Commons provides standard licenses and other tools for authors to mark their works with the
degree of freedom they wish to grant to the public, free of charge.
On one hand, the movement born in 2002 has been relatively successful. More and more
people have heard about Creative Commons,3 and millions of works – many of them created
by famous artists and reputable institutions, or distributed on well-known websites,4 are
available for free: Permission has already been granted, and icons makes it easy to identify
these works. They are widely used by the “free culture” and “open access” movements.
On the other hand, the message and the strategy of the organization may lack clarity and a
strong ideology to fix and redefine copyright.5 Several licensing options are available, and the
text of the licenses – that is, what constitutes a “free” work6 or which rights are actually
granted – are not always well defined. Despite a user-friendly interface,7 this diversity of
terms may have a chilling effect on the reuse of CC licensed works. The seven-year-old open
content sharing system offers many different licenses to answer to the needs of various user
communities, and the system is quite complex.8
See, for instance, James Boyle, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of
the Public Domain", Law and Contemporary Problems, vol. 66, 2003, 33–75, and Lawrence Lessig, Free
Culture – How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (New
York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 348.
Its motto on the website current homepage is “Share, Remix, Reuse – Legally.” Creative Commons is a
nonprofit organization that increases sharing and improves collaboration.” http://creativecommons.org/
Among a population of 1,115 first-year students in the United States surveyed for a research on Internet
users skills in 2009, 7% of surveyed people had heard about Creative Commons. The percentage is higher
among those who share content on the Internet and especially among those who use sites such as Flickr. Eszter
Hargittai, “Skill Matters: The Role of User Savvy in Different Levels of Online Engagement,” Berkman
Luncheon Series, Harvard Law School, June 23, 2009.
Gil Gilberto, MIT Open CourseWare, Al Jazeera, the White House, Flickr, Wikipedia.
Niva Elkin-Koren, “Creative Commons: A Skeptical View of a Worthy Pursuit,” in Lucie Guibault and
P. Bernt Hugenholtz (eds.), The Future of the Public Domain, Kluwer Law International, 2006 and “What
Contracts Cannot Do: The Limits of Private Ordering in Facilitating A Creative Commons,” Fordham Law
Review, vol. 74, November 2005, 375, ; see also Séverine Dusollier, “The Master’s Tools v. The Master’s
House: Creative Commons v. Copyright,” Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts, vol. 29 no. 3, 2006, 271–293
and Shun-ling Chen, “To Surpass or to Conform – What are Public Licenses For?” University of Illinois Journal
of Law, Technology & Policy, vol. 2009, no. 1, 107–139.
Benjamin Mako-Hill, “Towards a Standard of Freedom: Creative Commons and the Free Software
Movement,” July 2005. http://mako.cc/writing/toward_a_standard_of_freedom.html
Creative Commons, “License Your Work,” http://creativecommons.org/choose/
Even if some licenses answering specific needs (Developing Nations, Sampling) have been retired.
Not only are there several options but also several versions of the licenses, each being
translated into different languages and adapted to specific legislations.9 It is unclear whether
they contain exactly the same rights and restrictions or whether small language differences
impact the rights actually granted, the legal security of current users, or the availability of
works for future generations to access and build upon. The Share Alike provision is
transmitted to derivative works that can be mixed only among works licensed under the same
or compatible conditions.10 Provisions other than the Share Alike clause – including in non-
Share Alike licenses – must be respected in derivatives. Therefore, not only are these works
incompatible with works licensed under other copyleft licenses but also pose possible
problems which may be transmitted into the future. Further, other sources of legal uncertainty
and incompatibility, as well as their actual or potential consequences, need to be evaluated.
These include the enforceability of the licenses across jurisdictions with different and possibly
inconsistent legislations, the variations among the licenses summaries and the actual text
written in legalese language, and the interoperability with other copyleft licenses.
The objective of this study is not to add to the critics and to doubts of the skeptics of the
system11 without constructive propositions; rather, it is to make an objective evaluation of the
licenses’ legal pitfalls and possible problems that may or may not arise to ensure that works
can be shared, accessed, and reused with a maximum of certainty and security and with a
minimum of information and transaction costs. The marketing of a socially useful project
must be supported not only by a clear political discourse – as suggested by critics of
supporters of a strong public domain12 – but also by a solid legal infrastructure that may
require some adjustments to mitigate risks and improve legal certainty and compatibility for
This research aims at identifying legal issues and assessing the actual consequences of
inconsistencies of a system submitted to multiple constraints: users’ community requirements,
national legislations diversity, international private law complexity, and differences among a
multiplicity of licenses. When possible and useful, this research will try to propose solutions
to legal pitfalls and incompatibilities so as to maintain the original goals of legal security and
simplicity of the open licensing framework. Indeed, “the establishment of a reliable semi-
commons of creative material that can be used by others without worrying about the overly
See the Creative Commons international “porting” process description,
Here is the definition of Share Alike in the human human-readable summary of the Legal Code, and in
the Legal Code (the full license):
“If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the
same, similar or a compatible license.” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
“You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of: (i) this License; (ii) a
later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License; (iii) a Creative Commons
jurisdiction license (either this or a later license version) that contains the same License Elements as this License
(e.g., Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US); (iv) a Creative Commons Compatible License. If you license the
Adaptation under one of the licenses mentioned in (iv), you must comply with the terms of that license.”
See Kamiel Koelman, “Waarom Creative Commons niet kan werken,” Computerrecht 2009, 112, and
Joëlle Farchy, “Are Free Licenses Suitable For Cultural Works?” European Intellectual Property Review, 2009,
vol. 31, no. 5, 255–263.
See op cit Chen, Dusollier, Elkin-Koren, Mako-Hill.
restrictive and complicated law of copyright (…) is central to the goal of Creative
1.1 Sources of legal incompatibilities
Creative Commons licenses have been designed to facilitate the use and reuse of creative
works by granting some permissions in advance. However, the system is complex and has a
multiplicity of options, formats, and versions, making it difficult to understand exactly which
subject matter and rights are covered. There is a risk to see resources intended to be part of an
intellectual commons pool underused and transaction and information costs increased, while
the initial goal of the framework was to provide simple tools, support legal security, and
foster sharing, reuse, access, and creativity.
The risk of license proliferation – or of not being able to remix works licensed under close but
nonetheless different open content licenses requiring derivatives to be licensed under the same
license – has been identified by many scholars and users, including the founder of the
movement.14 It is inherent that the copyleft provision and cross-licensing policies may solve
the issue and avoid open content ghettoization. Not all works available under one of the
Creative Commons licenses can be combined without further negotiation because not all
licenses options are compatible: “an unsolvable dilemma.”15 The multiplicity of Creative
Commons licensing options increases confusion and information costs as well as frustrating
internal incompatibilities.16 Can the proliferation of licenses lead to the anticommons17 with
fragmented, underused resources that cannot be recombined?
In addition to these visible sources of incompatibility among works, there are also differences
within each license that might be sources of inconsistencies but are not visible to the average
user – first among the various formats and second among the local adaptations.
The human-readable summary – that is, visible and easily readable accessible, but not legally
binding – does not contain the same level of details as the legal code, which is much longer
and more detailed. Provisions from the core grant do not appear in the title of the licenses that
Lydia Pallas Loren, “Building a Reliable Semicommons of Creative Works: Enforcement of Creative
Commons Licenses and Limited Abandonment of Copyright” George Mason Law Review, 2007, vol. 14, 271.
“The project of private ordering a commons, however, faces a number of significant challenges.
Perhaps the most important is to assure that freely licensed creative work can, in a sense ‘interoperate.’ If work
licensed under one free public license cannot be integrated with work licensed under a second free public
license, then a significant part of the potential for free licensing will be lost.” Lawrence Lessig, “Recrafting a
Public Domain” (2006) 18 Yale Journal of Law & Humanities 56, 77.
Séverine Dusollier, Sharing Access, op cit, p. 1425 et s.
Niva Elkin-Koren, “What Contracts Can’t Do,” op cit, p. 51 et s. and Molly Shaffer Van Houweling,
“Cultural Environmentalism and the Constructed Commons,” Law and Contemporary Problems 70, Spring
The tragedy of the anticommons has been coined by Michael Heller: When too many owners hold a
right of exclusion, rights clearance is too difficult or even impossible, all the more for products and collective
works which require to assemble many preexisting works: Heller Michael, “The Tragedy of the Anticommons:
Property in the Transition from Marx to Markets,” Harvard Law Review, vol. 111 no. 3, January 1998, 621–688;
Michael Heller, The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and
Costs Lives (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 304.
display only the optional provisions. Are users aware of the conditions to which they really
consent? What are the risks for the licenses’ validity, and could the infrastructure be improved
to increase awareness and informed consent without losing the simplicity of the two-tier
Differences among the various licenses, especially between adaptations to jurisdictions’
legislations, are not accessible to the public, and the differences’ impact has not been studied.
To be compatible with the legislation of each jurisdiction, their terms are adapted and thus are
all slightly different; then, how can they be declared compatible among each other? Does the
Creative Commons porting process generate additional difficulties, or are inconsistencies a
necessary harm due to the fact that copyright is a national matter but which do not worsen
cross-national differences that cannot be solved by private regulation but only by public
ordering? What happens if users are unaware of differences among the licenses? Is there a risk
of breach of contract in addition to copyright infringement?
This study will present the different licenses (chapter 2), identify possible sources of legal
incompatibility (chapter 3), assess their actual impact (chapter 4), and finally, propose and
evaluate options to mitigate risks and improve compatibility, consistency, clarity, and security
(chapter 5). Indeed, the goal of the study is not to criticize the project18 but to identify
potential problems and attempt to solve them before they become acute.
Are these incompatibilities and possible sources of inconsistencies a real threat to the security
and the sustainability of the system? Could the Creative Commons system be simplified and,
if so, what would be possible solutions to improve rights clearance, licensing information, and
legal security for Licensors and Licensees? Could sectoral user communities play a role in a
possible reform or tailorization of the Creative Commons system? If so, how? What are the
best ways to deal with licenses’ incompatibility and proliferation problems that are also
happening in the free and open source software communities?19 Would the definition of
common principles and guidelines to govern the licenses solve legal problems?
1.2 Scope, methodology and outline
To compare the licenses and assess the impact of their differences, we chose as a starting
point the legal deed of the licenses version 3.0 unported, which will be considered as the
standard to be compared with the other formats, versions and jurisdictions.
The unported license is the text that jurisdictions are translating and porting to their local
law.20 They are expected to vary as little as possible from this standard in order to stay as
Following other critics of the strategy of the movement identifying “potential defects and risks of the
model (...), it helps to counteract possible criticisms that might undermine the very objective of the action,” in
Séverine Dusollier, “The Master’s Tools v. The Master’s House: Creative Commons v. Copyright,” Columbia
Journal of Law and the Arts, vol. 29 no. 3, 2006, 273.
The Open Source Initiative drafted a report on license proliferation
(http://www.opensource.org/proliferation-report) and approves some licenses as “open source”:
On the Creative Commons international (CCi) porting process, see Catharina Maracke, “Creative
Commons International. The International License Porting Project – Origins, Experiences, and Challenges,” in
compatible as possible. Variations are justified only to the extent that they are required to
ensure local validity.21 Beginning with version 3.0, the unported license refers to concepts
defined in international treaties. Before version 3.0, the unported license was called generic,
and it was based on US copyright law definitions.
The comparison among licenses will be systematic and will highlight all the differences
among formats and versions, while it focuses only on key provisions of the core grant to
illustrate the differences among jurisdictions’ versions and other open content licenses.
Differences will be analyzed among the successive unported and jurisdictions versions of the
Creative Commons core licensing suite combining the following optional elements:
Attribution (BY), Non Commercial (NC), Non Derivative (ND), and Share Alike (SA). The
Sampling licenses, the Developing Nations license, the Founders’ Copyright, the Public
Domain Dedication, the CC0, and the CC+ protocol will be analyzed to the extent that their
characteristics can be useful for the study’s purpose without leading a systematic comparison
to identify differences or incompatibilities.
This legal study on the Creative Commons licensing system pitfalls, risks, and potential
incompatibilities starts by a presentation of the CC movement and the licenses (section 2.1)
that are made available from a online license chooser in a multiplicity of formats (section
2.2.1) and options (section 2.2.2) flavoring core clauses (section 2.2.3). We then will analyze
their legal nature and effects (section 2.3).
After a description of the licenses’ diversity from the viewpoint of the user downloading a
license from the interface (chapter 2), the study will detail the identified and potential sources
of incompatibilities among all the licenses that are actually available (chapter 3) – from the
identified sources that are easy to grasp and manage to the less visible and more problematic
- The differences among the languages contained in the various formats of the licenses
- The evolution among the four successive versions, when clauses have been added or
removed for improvement and rationalization purposes (section 3.2).
- The variety of options, preventing to combine two works licensed under different license
optional elements and causing fragmentation in the commons pool and philosophy (section
- The opportunities and caveats offered by the porting process of the unported licenses, which
legal deed has been adapted into the language and legislation of more than 50 jurisdictions
- The differences with other similar open content licenses, in the light of the work achieved of
the Open Source Initiative22 on an ongoing or possible negotiation process towards
compatibility with the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license: the GNU Free
Documentation License (GFDL),23 the copyleft Free Art License (FAL),24 and the Digital
Danièle Bourcier, Pompeu Casanovas, Mélanie Dulong de Rosnay, Catharina Maracke (eds.) Intelligent
Multimedia. Sharing Creative Works in a Digital World, Series in Legal Information and Communication
Technologies, vol. 8 (Florence: European Press Academic Publishing, 2010), 67–88.
“For compatibility purposes, you may not modify the license beyond what is necessary to accomplish
compliance with local law.” http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Legal_Project_Lead_produces_a_first_draft
Report of license proliferation, op cit.
GNU Free Documentation License. Version 1.3, November 3, 2008.
Peer Publishing Licenses (DPPL).25 Four possible solutions to the problem of license
proliferation will be analyzed:
- Dual-licensing and relicensing with the example of the Wikipedia migration process.
- Cross-licensing provisions.
- Combination of content licensed under non-compatible terms.
- The definition of standard or “essential freedoms” to categorize open content licenses, with
a proposal in the light of the initiative of the Definition for Free Cultural Works and
The impact of pitfalls and incompatibilities then will be analyzed with a spotlight on the
consequences for the licenses’ validity and enforcement for creators, users, and
intermediaries’ legal security, as well as for the ecosystem simplicity and balance.
The legal validity of the agreement will be analyzed from the viewpoint of Licensors and
Licensees with a description of contract formation and how this framework applies to the
ability to consent to Creative Commons agreements (section 4.1).
Licensees and intermediaries’ legal security, as well as the ability to actually use all works
and make derivatives, then will be evaluated (section 4.2), focusing on a selection of clauses
of the core grant that differ among versions and jurisdictions: moral rights, database rights,
warranties, and collecting societies.
The concluding chapter of the study will consider and assess several possible solutions to
correct pitfalls and incompatibilities, mitigate or limit consequences, and try to simplify the
system. This will include improving the interface design and the language of the licenses and
relying on technology and coordination by intermediaries.
Free Art License 1.3 (FAL 1.3), 2007. http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en
Digital Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL), Version 3.0 – November 2008.
“Definition of Free Cultural Works,” http://freedomdefined.org/Definition
2. Creative Commons licenses diversity
The expression “Creative Commons” designates an organization, a set of copyright licenses,
and a trademark. The set of Creative Commons licenses proposed to the public by the
Creative Commons organization are private agreements that apply on the top of the law as a
form of exploitation of rights emerging from copyright. The Creative Commons organization
promotes Creative Commons licenses aimed at supporting the needs of various communities
who want to share and reuse works more easily and under more permissive terms than
allowed by default copyright law. The licenses are free and come with a set of tools, logos,
educative material, and machine-readable code.
We will describe Creative Commons’ infrastructure (section 2.1.1) and policy (section 2.1.2).
The licenses are made available to the public in different formats (section 2.2.1) and
combination of optional elements (section 2.2.2) around core clauses (section 2.3). Beyond
the core clauses, which constituting the common denominator of the licenses, some provisions
are optional and lead to a puzzle of optional elements (section 2.2.2) that are to be selected
from the license chooser interface and combined around the main clauses (described under
section 2.2.3). The assemblage of the optional elements around the core clauses produce one
of the six licenses currently available. Licensors may or may not request their work to be used
for non-commercial purposes only; they may or may not request their works to be used in a
non-derivative way only; and they may or may not request the derivatives to be licensed
under the same conditions. Based on the Licensors’ choices, the current six licenses27
combine none, one, or two of the three optional elements: Non Commercial, No Derivative
Works, and Share Alike:
-Attribution - Share Alike (BY SA)
-Attribution - No Derivative Works (BY ND)
-Attribution - Non Commercial - No Derivative Works (BY NC ND)
-Attribution - Non Commercial (BY NC)
-Attribution - Non Commercial - Share Alike (BY NC SA)
Several incremental versions have been made available to rationalize the licenses’ text. Some
of the clauses have been deleted or added among the four versions – namely versions 1.0, 2.0,
2.5, and 3.0. The licenses are being released by the organization in generic or unported
versions: first based on US law definitions, and then based on international conventions’
definitions. Finally, jurisdictions’ versions of the licenses are being made available: The
organization uses the term “legal porting” to convey the idea that clauses of the unported
version are translated and localized to improve compatibility with local languages and
national legislations after legal adaptation. We will study these questions in section 3.3
(incremental versions from 1.0 to 3.0, thereafter named “versions”) and section 3.4. (localized
Version 1.0 of the licenses had one additional optional element, Attribution, which ceased to be
optional and became part of the core grant from version 2.0 (more details in section 3.2), thus reducing the
number of available licenses from 11 to six.
versions of the unported version, porting the licenses’ legal code to the legislation of more
than 50 jurisdictions, named “jurisdiction licenses” or “ported licenses”).
However, for the methodological purposes of this study, we will start by considering in
chapter 2 only the differences that are immediately visible from the workings of the system;
when using the license chooser interface, a license is generated in various layers or formats
(2.2.1) according the optional elements (2.2.2) that have been selected to modulate the core
clauses (2.2.3) of the license available in its currently available version, namely version 3.0.
When not mentioned otherwise and to define a standard or median point of comparison with
other licenses of the system to be studied, we will analyze the CC BY NC SA 3.0 unported
license. Indeed, this license in its unported version was released by the headquarters intending
to reflect international texts such as the Berne Convention, and it contains almost all the
existing clauses28 after the previous incremental versions and before the localized versions,
the jurisdictions’ licenses.
It is important to differentiate the median license containing the language of all the clauses
from the core, basic, or minimum freedoms offered by all the licenses. This notion was not
obviously displayed in the early years of the organization when it did not have a clear policy
(section 2.1.2). It now has been defined as the right to share the work for non-commercial
purposes only, with attribution and without modification (BY NC ND), which can be
augmented by more freedoms by replacing ND with SA or by removing NC and/or ND
After a review of the licenses infrastructure and policy (section 2.1), we will describe the
licenses as generated by the system in different formats (section 2.2.1) with optional
provisions (section 2.2.2) wrapped around main clauses (section 2.2.3). Once we have a
clearer picture of the object of our analysis – that is, the licenses – we will be analyzing and
interpreting their legal nature (section 2.3) in a systemic way. Indeed, the licenses are used by
agents and circulate along with works. They are supporting a complex system, the pool of
works made available to the public for sharing and reuse and which this study tries to keep
sustainable in order to allow agents to distribute and reuse works at the lowest costs and risks
possible. The legal nature of the licenses should be qualified according to contract law to
evaluate how they apply and what their effects can be among the parties involved: Licensors,
Licensees, authors, the public, and potential future users. It should be qualified as to who has
what relationship with whom, what kind of relation it is – casual or contractual, permissive or
with duties (section 2.3.1) – and how this relationship impacts subsequent partners and
offspring in case of derivative works. Indeed, because of the viral nature of the contracts29 and
of the copyleft Share Alike provision (section 2.3.2) that binds subsequent users, works
released under a CC license continue to carry the licenses’ freedoms and obligations.
Describing the licenses (section 2.1) as well as identifying their various features (section 2.2)
and how they function legally (section 2.3) will allow us to describe the sources of potential
incompatibility (chapter 3).
With the exception of the compatible licenses clause, which is available only in the BY-SA 3.0.
Viral contracts are following their product and have been described by Margaret Jane Radin, “Humans,
Computers, and Binding Commitment,” Indiana Law Journal, vol. 75, 2000, 1125–1161.
2.1 Creative Commons: an organization and a set of licenses
Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that was created in the United States in 2001
and, since 2002, provides free copyright licenses for authors to mark their works with the
degree of freedom they wish to grant to users.
In this section, we will present the licenses infrastructure and tools (section 2.1.1) and how
Creative Commons policy is being defined, oscillating between standardization and diversity
(section 2.1.2). While lacking the flexibility and the personalization of tailored-made items,
standardization has numerous advantages: It lowers information and transaction costs and
fosters interoperability between industrial products. This general statement, related to
technical standardization, is also applicable to Creative Commons’ licenses and organization,
which provides ready-to-use tools. This section will assess if Creative Commons is a standard
on the technical, legal, and policy levels. Indeed, standardization aims at creating
interoperable products; to work properly, the licenses’ framework needs to interoperate
nicely, both internally among the various layers and versions, and externally with the legal
2.1.1 The licensing infrastructure: a technical standard
The licenses were launched in December 2002, and nearly every year since then, a new
product around the licenses or a new version of the licenses is being released, in the same vein
that software has upgrades to correct bugs or address niches. Like a technical standard, the
CC system contains several complementary elements: a user interface or license generator, a
multiplicity of licenses and tools to identify and remix licensed works, machine-readable
code, specifications such as FAQs and educational material explaining how to use the
licenses, and marketing products in the form of short movies and comics explaining why to
use the licenses.
The initial version 1.0 was offering 11 licenses, which have been reduced to six licenses after
the revision leading to version 2.0 that made the Attribution element non-optional and part of
the core grant. Versions 2.5 and current version 3.0. (the only one available from the license
chooser interface) did not modify the number of licenses but only the core clauses. More
licenses outside the core suite of 11, and then 6, licenses have been made available (the
Sampling and the Developing Nations licenses) and then withdrawn because they were not
granting the common freedom to share non-commercially.30 Finally, the Public Domain
Dedication based on US law has not been formally retired but rather has been replaced by the
CC0 waiver, another tool, this time aiming at placing works as close as possible to the public
domain and not based only on US law.
Retired licenses are listed at http://creativecommons.org/retiredlicenses. This page explains that all
licenses “guarantee at least the freedom to share non-commercially.” More detailed explanation on the fact that
these licenses were not granting core freedoms or “minimum standards” of the open access movement:
http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7520 and infra in sections 2.1.2 and 3.5.3.
Unlike tailored copyright licenses written by lawyers for specific and unique needs
comparable to haute couture, Creative Commons provides six prêt-à-porter or ready-to-wear
texts aiming at answering most needs while minimizing the number of available “sizes” or
“colors.” Indeed, the licenses are a patchwork of eight core clauses, with variations among
additional clauses corresponding to available options selected through the generator, which
then produces a license in various formats (section 2.2.1). These options will be described in
the next section (section 2.2.2). Their assembly constitutes the name of each of the licenses.
These options feature a core grant that is not expressed in the title of each of the licenses: the
non-exclusive right to reproduce, perform, and distribute the unmodified work for non-
commercial purposes. The clauses of this core grant will be studied in more detail (section
The Creative Commons model intends to be simple and easy-to-use. However, there are
actually not only six combinations of options, even when addressing only the current core
unported version, disregarding previous versions and licenses outside the core system:
The core licenses are the 11, and then 6, licenses, without including the other tools proposed
by the organization, such as CC0 or the Sampling licenses.
The six core unported licenses have been or are translated and adapted to more than 50
jurisdictions. Previous versions of the licenses continue in use. As explained earlier, the
unported licenses are the standard version based on international conventions’ definitions
before the localization porting process leading to jurisdictions’ versions, which will be studied
in detail (section 3.2) as sources of potential incompatibilities and inconsistencies.
The purpose of having jurisdiction-specific licenses is to provide a linguistic and legal
translation as well as to increase access, acceptability, and understanding by users and judges
who need to interpret licenses in local jurisdictions. The internationalization or porting
process also provides local teams of project leads. Beyond ensuring the translation and legal
porting of the legal code, jurisdictions’ project leads work with local user communities and
governments to explain and promote the licenses. Jurisdictions teams also collaborate with
CC headquarters staff 31 to perform research, provide suggestions to improve the licenses’
clauses and overall infrastructure, report on questions, review cases and issues arising in their
jurisdictions, translate and create educational material, and constitute a network advising on
questions affecting user communities around the world.
Several applications have been developed to support32 the legal tools in the networks (search
services,33 a rights expression language,34 and a remix website35), and the license terms are
CC’s main office is located in San Francisco, and CC’s international office is in Berlin.
This intrication between code and law reflects the scholarship of Creative Commons’ founder. See
Lawrence Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 297.
The goal of machine-readable format of the licenses is to have a proof of concept of the semantic web
and allow users to search for works according to their licensing conditions, so that they can be reused and
integrated: use for commercial purposes or not, modify or not. The initial project ccNutch was a search engine
based on Nutch open source technology and RDF, indexing only results with CC metadata and displaying works
according to their license elements (see press releases http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/4028 and
http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/4388). The technology has been integrated as a plug-in of the Firefox
browser (see a 2004 press release at http://creativecommons.org/press-releases/entry/5064 and more explanation,
http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Firefox_and_CC_Search). Now, ccSearch at http://search.creativecommons.
org/ is a portal that aggregates results provided by CC-enabled search engines provided by Google and Yahoo!
for web results, Flickr and Wikimedia Commons for images, and Jamendo for music, among other databases and
embedded in machine-readable code or metadata. The licenses are declined into four layers or
formats (section 2.2.1):
-A button to be displayed on works’ websites and physical supports, containing a link to the
license human-readable summary, the commons deed.
-Machine-readable code embedded in the HTML specifying the logo and available from the
deed, containing metadata to be processed by search engines to locate works according to
their licensing conditions.
-A human-readable summary of the licenses’ core freedoms and optional restrictions,
accessible from a link inside the logo.
-The legal code, e.g., the full license, accessible from a link at the bottom of the human-
Due to the success of the licenses which are applied to more than 250 million objects on the
Internet as of June 2009,36 the Creative Commons licenses are becoming a de facto standard
of open content licensing37 and, more broadly, for collaboration on the Internet.38 As an
organization, Creative Commons is contributing to the technical standardization of the web.39
The licenses could become de jure standards: Governments releasing public sector
information under one of Creative Commons’ licenses may be mandating or recommending
the use of the licenses for works they create or subsidize.
The Creative Commons organization and licenses intend to cover the public domain and the
“no rights reserved” perspective – along with some of the spectrum of rights between that and
the “all rights reserved” approach – through a set of standard licenses combining various
options and containing fewer restrictions than the full spectrum of copyright protection
applicable by default to every work as soon as it is created, thus: “some rights reserved.”
A Rights Expression Language is an abstract model containing the syntax and the semantic needed to
describe copyright permissions and authorizations and build automatized applications such as the above-
described search engines, or Digital Rights Management systems. RDF is the standard to express semantic
information on the web. ccREL uses RDFa to express semantic information about objects’ licenses. For more
information, see http://wiki.creativecommons.org/RDFa and http://wiki.creativecommons.org/ccrel, the W3C
specification submission http://www.w3.org/Submission/ccREL/, and the article by Hal Abelson, Ben Adida,
Mike Linksvayer, Nathan Yergler, “ccREL: The Creative Commons Rights Expression Language,” Communia
First Workshop, Torino, January 2008. http://www.communia-project.eu/node/79
ccMixter at http://ccmixter.org/ is “a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative
Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music,” providing a useful Derivation
History for each track, a Remix History Chart of samples used, which could be applied to other domains than
music to trace pre-existing contributions and derivative works.
For information about adoption metrics and statistics, see http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Metrics and
For instance, the “recognition of Creative Commons as the standard for sharing” in the Google Book
Settlement: Mike Linksvayer, “CC and the Google Book Settlement,” CC blog, 16-11-2009.
The “TCP/IP of collaboration and content layer” for CC CEO Ito Joi, “Creative Commons: Enabling
the next level of innovation”, What Matters, McKinsey & Co, 30-10-2009.
innovation. Original unedited version: http://joi.ito.com/weblog/2009/10/30/innovation-in-o.html
See infra footnote 30 about RDFa.
2.1.2 Creative Commons policy strategy: not quite a legal standard
We have seen how Creative Commons can be defined as a standardized infrastructure
providing a set of tools to distribute, access, and reuse free works and develop the commons.
Now we will briefly describe political and legal implications of the choices at the origin of the
available options, and critiques resulting from these choices coming from the free software
community. It is interesting to compare the strategic choices of Creative Commons with the
open source and free software communities at various levels. First, CC claims to follow the
model of its predecessors for non-software content. Second, the movement is successful in
federating communities and adopting a single standard of freedom.
The policy message of Creative Commons is to provide an alternative to full copyright. But
because so many licenses are available without defining a core freedom specifically enough,40
Creative Commons has been accused, on one hand, of lacking a core message and, on the
other hand, of not being free enough. Indeed, many scholars of the public domain and actors
of the free and open source software communities have expressed critical views of Creative
Commons’ tools and movement.41 We will use only the subset of these critiques that is
relevant to the diversity/standardization dichotomy and will highlight future developments on
licensing options.42 Indeed, the high number of options, coupled with an absence of a clear
definition of the core freedoms of a CC license, are sources of incompatibilities; ideological
critiques may provide useful hints to improve the system and solve some incompatibilities
issues by making the system a true legal standard.
For Niva Elkin-Koren, “The legal strategy (…) facilitates a far-reaching coalition among
libertarians and anarchists, anti-market activists and free-market advocates. At the same time,
however, Creative Commons lacks of a (…) clear definition of the prerequisites for open
access to creative works. The end result is ideological fuzziness.”43 The diversity of licensing
options still increases information and transaction costs. Since the goal of CC is to minimize
information and transaction costs, the licenses could benefit from more standardization:
“Creative Commons’ strategy presupposes that minimizing external information costs is
critical for enhancing access to creative works. It seeks to reduce these costs by offering a
licensing platform. Yet, the lack of standardization in the licenses supported by this licensing
scheme further increases the cost of determining the duties and privileges related to any
specific work. This could add force to the chilling effect of copyrights.” She regrets the “lack
of a clear definition of the commons.”44
Much energy was involved in reaching consensus and a shared definition of free software to
offer only one option (corresponding to Attribution Share Alike), but the FLOSS movement
includes many different clauses and also permissive licenses, roughly corresponding to
See Mako-Hill, op cit.
For a review of existing criticisms, see Chen, op cit.
See supra section 3.3 on the incompatibilities between options and section 3.5.3 on the definition of
Niva Elkin-Koren, “What Contracts Can’t Do,” op cit, 6.
Niva Elkin-Koren, “A Worthy Pursuit,” op cit, 10.
CC BY, and to the Public Domain. CC choose not to offer only one license. Providing only
one CC license would:
-Perhaps satisfy a clear definition of freedom.
-Avoid at least one of the risks of incompatibility:, the incompatibility among works licensed
under different options.
-Certainly provide guidance to users instead of recreating high information costs or barriers to
entrance when it is the first time to select a license or use a licensed work.
On the contrary, the organization chose to offer various levels of freedoms45 to attract
different audiences to free culture, including authors who are not ready to give away
commercial and derivative rights but are willing to otherwise share their works with the
public. The strategy to satisfy various needs and communities and the related ideological
fuzziness cause incompatibilities because too many options are available. Also, a clearer
definition of what constitutes freedom could reduce information costs and legal uncertainty if
users do not fully realize to what combination of options they are consenting. Indeed, if there
were a strong conceptual definition of what principles constitute freedom, and few variations
from that core, there would be fewer incompatibilities and misunderstandings.
Still, it might be difficult to reach consensus on what constitutes freedom (thus, define a core
message and strategy) among users who have multiple roles and diverse expectations. It took
a long time for CC to decide on a standard, recalls Shun-ling Chen.46 First, CC recognized the
CC standard, the freedom to share works non-commercially,47 by withdrawing the licenses
that were not ensuring this minimum grant.48 Second, CC recognized a higher standard of
freedom by clearly identifying which of its licenses comply to this standard with a new
button, “Approved for Free Cultural Works.”49 For Shun-ling Chen, assessing the differences
among the legal strategies of the Free Software Movement and Creative Commons more
flexible model, Creative Commons is more about freedom of individual authors than it is
freedom of a user community.50 Of course, actors of the movement and members of the public
at large both are creating and consuming content, and the distinction between authors and
audience is not as sharp as in the analogue age. However, a shift from trying to fulfill the
wishes of the authors to giving more importance to the needs of the users might rationalize the
system and reduce the number of options, sources of incompatibilities, and make it more
secure for users.
We will detail the available licenses in section 2.2 and will come back to this notion of
Copyleft Attitude community at the origin of the Free Art License opposes their “choice of freedom”
(only one license offering a core freedom) to Creative Commons’ “freedom of choice” (several licenses offering
several degrees of freedom). See Isabelle Vodjdani, « Le choix du Libre dans le supermarché du libre choix, »
2004, 2007. http://www.transactiv-exe.org/article.php3?id_article=95
Lawrence Lessig, “CC in Review: Lawrence Lessig on Important Freedoms.” Lawrence Lessig, CC
News, December 7, 2005. http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/5719
Lawrence Lessig, “Retiring Standalone DevNations and One Sampling License,” CC News, June 4,
Mike Linksvayer, “Approved for Free Cultural Works,” CC News, February 20, 2008.
Shun-ling Chen, op cit, 121.
standard of freedom in the next chapter, when we will be analyzing options for the
compatibility with other open content licenses (section 3.5.3). Options rationalization and a
more user-oriented approach will be part of the solutions proposed in the final chapter of the
2.2 The different licenses available
This section describes the license system formats as well as its optional and non-optional
clauses. Behind the optional elements, a core set of permissions allows verbatim non-
commercial sharing. This core grant is not recognized as free, as in free software and free
culture, because the freedom to make changes is not granted. Only two out of the six Creative
Commons licenses (CC BY, CC BY SA, and CC0) are recognized as “free culture licenses”51
because they grant the freedom to distribute derivative works with or without permissible
restrictions such as copyleft (Share Alike, in Creative Commons vocabulary), the
transmission of licensing conditions from original works to their derivatives.
The licenses are made available from the license chooser interface in four different layers or
formats (section 2.2.1): a button, HTML code, a summary, and a longer text (the actual
license). After describing these formats, we will present the different options or license
elements (section 2.2.2) that complement the core clauses (section 2.2.3). Thus, we will have
a complete overlook of the various unported licenses, which will allow further comparison
with other instances of the licenses to detect differences and incompatibilities among formats
and options, the visibly different licenses.
2.2.1 The licenses formats
According to the CC website,52 “Creative Commons licenses are expressed in three different
layers or formats: the Commons Deed (human-readable code), the Legal Code (lawyer-
readable code); and the metadata (machine readable code).”
A fourth item can be added to the list: the Notice Button, the first format generated by the
system linking to the other ones. It is often the first instantiation of the license visible to the
public, both the Licensor choosing a license and the potential Licensee seeing the button next
to a work he or she might want to reuse. By answering the questions on the license selection
interface to combine optional elements, prospective Licensors obtain a link to the license of
their choice. They are prompted to attach this license to their works to indicate which rights
they grant to the public and which rights they reserve, by inserting on their website some
HTML code that is delivered by the license selection interface.53 This piece of code represents
a button with the Creative Commons logo and icons corresponding to the options selected.
“Definition of Free Cultural Works,” http://freedomdefined.org/Definition
Creative Commons, “FAQs,” http://wiki.creativecommons.org/FAQ
For instance: <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/"><img alt="Creative
Commons License" style="border-width:0" src="http://i.creativecommons.org/l/by/3.0/88x31.png" /></a><br
/>This work is licensed under a <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/">Creative
Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License</a>
The image contains a link to the license that has been selected, for instance:
Each of the 6 combinations forming a CC license is available in four formats linking to one
-A notice with a button displaying icons of selected optional elements
-The machine-readable code
-The human readable code with icons
-The legal code
The Notice Button can be the only format that is directly visible to the end-user visiting a
website or looking at the printed copy of a work.54 It is a major asset of the organization,
displaying its logo and trademark and acting as a signal that the content can be shared and
reused for free. Specific conditions are just a click away, as the Notice Button contains a link
to the license.
It should be noted that the initial version of the button was the same for all the combinations,
only the CC logo that HTML is embedding a link to the human-readable code. Critiques on
the lack of visibility of a core message, hiding the options, contributed to the redesign of the
button, this time integrating inside the CC logo either one, two, or three icons representing the
options of each license. A source of confusion was and still is – despite the displaying of the
options icons in the button – that many users do not distinguish among the options and simply
consider that a work is available under a (if not “the”) CC license, without indicating which
one. However, the source code delivered by the interface contains not only the logo but also a
sentence indicating, for instance: “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 3.0 Unported License,” the notice text. Specific design efforts should continue to
be led to clarify what license is applied for all users, even less mindful ones.
A source of misinformation and confusion is many websites’ lack of a proper notice next to
the button. We can deduce from this lack that, despite CC tutorials and FAQs, some authors
or web designers either copy the button from other websites without using the interface to
select their option and generate their code, or they delete the sentence. Pallas-Loren55 uses the
term “notice” to refer to the combination of the button and the sentence accompanying it,
stipulating that the work is available under a given license. We use the expression of “ ” to
designate the first format under which the licenses are being made visible to the public, both
as Licensor getting a piece of code from the interface and potential Licensee seeing a logo and
a sentence. This first format comes in addition to the three formats usually identified (human-
readable, machine-readable and lawyer readable). It is very important as it may be the only
format that a Licensee will pay attention to, a button with icons and a sentence generated by
the interface: “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
We will now discuss the importance of one word in the notice sentence – the word work.
Indeed, the license is applied to a specific work. And the text generated by the interface
A text notice may be present only in place of the notice button.
Pallas-Loren, op cit, 12.
containing the notice sentence and the HTML code of the button should be copied next to a
work to indicate its licensing conditions: “Copy the text below to your website to let your
visitors know what license applies to your works,” the CC website states above the text to be
pasted regarding inserting the Notice Button. Thus, the clarification of what exactly is this
work by the Licensor when pasting the code on her website is a considerable and
underestimated matter. Otherwise, it might not be clear what work is licensed. Is the “work”
the website as a whole? Some of the individual works placed on the website – for instance,
only the text but not the images? Most users do not specify what works are covered by the
license they chose, even when they use the sentence in their notice as well as the button. This
lack of specification may impact the validity of the agreement (section 4.2). A convenient and
broad way to specify what is intended to be covered is to use the suggested sentence from the
CC website: “Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution 3.0 License.” This is not the sentence currently generated by the
interface, but this could be changed and offer several HTML options (single work, general
website) to copy/paste.
The name of the license within the notice sentence and the Notice Button itself contain a link
to the human-readable code of the license. For instance, “Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
License” will link to the Commons Deed at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/. This
link to the license human-readable format is the central element of all the formats. When
correctly placed next to an identified work, users will be able to read under which conditions
its Licensor has made the work available to the public.
The Commons Deed or human-readable code contains a summary of the license’s main
provisions; that is, the options and some of the core clauses. CC FAQs describe the Commons
Deed as “a summary of the key terms of the actual license (which is the Legal Code) –
basically, what others can and cannot do with the work. Think of it as the user-friendly
interface to the Legal Code beneath. This Deed itself has no legal value, and its contents do
not appear in the actual license.” It is interesting to note the connotation of the chosen name
of Commons Deed: “A deed is commonly understood to be a permanent conveyance of an
interest in land.”56
The Commons Deed is available in around 50 languages that are prominently listed at the top
of the webpage. Linguistic diversity is being taken seriously by CC, which offers several
Chinese, English, Spanish, and French translations, among others, as these languages are
spoken in different jurisdictions. However, any user accessing a Commons Deed in a foreign
language can easily translate it in his or her mother tongue by clicking the link at the top of
the page: The first version displayed will be the one of the jurisdiction chosen by the
Licensor, and the Licensee may read a translation presenting the differences. As explained
further, for the differences between Legal Codes jurisdictions’ versions (section 3.4), the
scope of rights granted by the Licensor in one jurisdiction may not perfectly match the scope
of rights granted to the Licensee reading another jurisdiction’s version. For instance, the
Canadian English version allows the Licensee “to copy, distribute, and transmit the work”
while the other English versions allow “to copy, distribute, display, and perform the work”
and the Italian version to “comunicare al pubblico, esporre in pubblico, rappresentare,
Pallas-Loren, op cit, 19.
eseguire e recitare.” Of course, it is expected that these notions are equivalents, but it is a
matter of comparative law to assess whether they cover the same activities.
The Commons Deed carries a disclaimer that is not prominent but still indicates that it doesn’t
have any legal value: “The Commons Deed is not a license. It is simply a handy reference for
understanding the Legal Code (the full license) – it is a human-readable expression of some of
its key terms. Think of it as the user-friendly interface to the Legal Code beneath. This Deed
itself has no legal value, and its contents do not appear in the actual license.”
Thus, only the Legal Code, which is a text of four to five pages, has legal value. The legal
status of this three- to four-layer model will be discussed in more detail (see section 4.1.2). As
it will be emphasized later, the core clauses are less visible than the options, which are
prominently advertised in the most accessible and visible formats of the licenses such as the
title and the button. The Legal Code is deeply embedded under the Notice Button, two clicks
away from the surface. First, the summary of the main freedoms and restrictions is accessible
when clicking on the Notice Button. The notice sentence can be missing. The link embedded
in the button/notice HTML is visible only when the user’s mouse clicks on the button;
otherwise, the button appears static. Some users may never click on, or even see, the summary
of the provisions. Even once the user clicks on the link embedded in the Notice Button or
sentence, another link – one to the actual text of the license – is at the bottom of the summary,
requiring the user to scroll down to the last line of the Commons Deed: “This is a human-
readable summary of the Legal Code (the full license) containing a link to the Legal Deed.” A
user seeing a Notice Button must expend some energy to access the license layer that has an
actual legal value. This issue will be studied again to analyze its possible impact on the
contract formation (section 4.1).
The Legal Code is a long text of four or five pages. Its provisions will be described in detail in
the two next sections (options in 2.2.2, the core clauses in 2.2.3).
The machine-readable code is metadata that describes the license in the form of a digital
rights expression. When selecting a license on the interface, it is possible to include additional
information which “will be embedded in the HTML generated for [the chosen] license. This
allows users of [the] work to determine how to attribute it or where to go for more
information about the work.” The fields are the following:
-The format of the work (audio, video, text, image, interactive, other)
-The title of the work
-The name of the author or entity the Licensor wishes the Licensee to attribute
-The URL that users of the work should link; for example, the work’s page on the author’s
-The URL of the source work (if the work is derived from another work)
-A URL for more permission, where a user can obtain information about clearing rights that
are not pre-cleared by the CC license
This additional information can be embedded in the HTML code generated for the license and
will help locate, identify, and later manage the work. The machine-readable format allows
search engines to index the work so users may find works they can reuse. This is especially
useful in supporting the remix culture and help in locating those works that can be copied or
incorporated in larger works. Further applications could be developed to avoid inadequate or
missing attribution and notice and to properly tag automatically derivative works with the
appropriate licensing and attribution information. It is useful to indicate the author or entity to
be credited for attribution purposes, and it would be even better to also identify the Licensor
or rights owner, if different from the author or entity to be attributed.
The license code is attached to the work. As we will see in section 2.2.3, the license requires
the Licensee to keep a link to, or a copy of the license, when making copies or otherwise
distributing or modifying the work. Therefore, the persistence of the license code is both
needed and required by the license text. The machine-readable code, as a rights management
information, is protected by anti-circumvention national legislations implementing WIPO
Internet treaties. Such laws protect not only technical protection measures or DRMs against
unauthorized circumvention but also technical information measures against unauthorized
removal.57 On top of the requirement regarding keeping the licensing information with the
work, it is an additional protection for the licenses that should stay attached to the works
when they are further copied, according to the freedoms expressed in the license. When a
Licensor attaches a CC license and additional copyright-related information to a work, the
public is expected to keep that information intact when they share, modify, and further
distribute that work.
The importance of properly identifying the rights owner and ensuring that the license
information will stay attached to the work will be analyzed in section 4.1, describing the legal
validity of the agreement. After this description of the various layers or formats that constitute
a CC license, we will present the other visible differences among licenses: the optional
elements. They are displayed as icons in the button and as acronyms in the title.
WIPO Copyright Treaty article 12 defines “rights management information” as “information which
identifies the work, the author of the work, the owner of any right in the work, or information about the terms
and conditions of use of the work, and any numbers or codes that represent such information, when any of these
items of information is attached to a copy of a work or appears in connection with the communication of a work
to the public.” This definition covers the machine-readable format of the CC licenses.
2.2.2 The license elements
“Full fat, semi-skimmed, or no milk today?”58 Creative Commons offers a flexible range of
options for authors to distribute their works – at different points between almost no control at
all, or a moderate or mild approach that authorizes the public to copy the work without
modifying it or making profit from it. As we saw previously (section 2.1.2), the author is at
the center of the system and can choose from among many options, offering flexibility of
choice. This large offering succeeds into gathering a scope of authors with different needs and
positions regarding the exercise of their exclusive rights and, thus, more works. However, it
also makes it difficult to assess what constitute the core freedoms of a CC license. It increases
the information costs for both Licensors and Licensees to understand the differences between
available options and realize the tenets’ long-term consequences.
In this section, we will present the license elements and their combinations, as well as the
details and possible effects of the license elements provisions (BY, SA, NC and ND). License
elements, or options, are the most visible component of the licenses. As we saw in section
2.2.1, they are the only elements of the licenses’ conditions that are accessible to the user in
the visible formats of the system. The chosen combination constitutes the title of the license,
appearing in the Notice Button and at the top of the Commons Deed; the initials of the options
are also in the Button, and the icons representing the options illustrate the text of the
Commons Deed. Finally, the icons modulate the core grant expressed in the main clauses that
are less visible, which will be presented in section 2.2.3.
As explained in the introduction, the reference set of this study is constituted by the six
licenses of the core suite in the current (3.0) unported version in the legal code format. We
will start by presenting optional elements of these core licenses and then briefly present other
options or instruments that have been or are still available on the CC website: Sampling suite,
Developing Nations license, Founders’ Copyright, Public Domain Dedication, CC0, and CC+.
After presenting the license elements in this section, followed by the main clauses of the
reference set (section 2.2.3) and the legal functioning of these open content public licenses
(section 2.3), chapter 3 will further identify the sources of incompatibility within this
reference set, with the other formats, versions, jurisdictions’ licenses differences from the CC
system and with other licenses of the open content ecosystem.
The six main licenses combine four different elements that authors can select online by
answering the two following questions on a web interface (“License Chooser”):
Richard Jones, Euan Cameron, “Full Fat, Semi-Skimmed or No Milk Today – Creative Commons
Licences and English Folk Music,” International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, vol. 19 no. 3,
November 2005, 259–275. The authors use the milk metaphor to recall Lawrence Lessig in The Future of Ideas:
The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World , who “argues that intellectual property regimes need not be
‘full on’ (full fat) or ‘full off’ but partial (semi-skimmed). These ideas have found form in a more flexible regime
of copyright through a series of alternative licensing contracts usually referred to as the Creative Commons
License Your Work
With a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your work
provided they give you credit – and only on the conditions you specify here.
Allow commercial uses of your work?
Allow modifications of your work?
Yes, as long as others share alike
License your work: Creative Commons License Chooser interface
Available at http://creativecommons.org/license/?lang=en
As described at http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/, the CC licenses are a
combination of one, two, or three of the following four elements:
The CC Four License Elements
Author lets others use his or her work if they give credit the way author requests.
Share Alike (SA)
The rights holder allows others to make derivatives from author’s original work, but they should distribute these
derivative works only under a license which is similar or recognized compatible to the license that governs your
The right holder let others use her work but for noncommercial purposes only. It does not mean that works can
never be used for commercial purposes, but a separate license should be negotiated for commercial rights.
Non Derivative (ND)
The right holder authorizes others to copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of her work, but
does not grant the permission to make derivative works based upon it. The right to make adaptations can be
licensed under a separate agreement.
The CC Four License Elements
The combination of the above-mentioned license elements produces the following six
This license lets others copy, distribute, display, perform, and adapt the work, even commercially, as long as
they credit the author of the original creation. This is the most permissive and accommodating of licenses
offered, in terms of the broad scope of rights offered to others and minimal restrictions.
Attribution Share Alike (BY SA)
This license lets others copy, distribute, display, perform and adapt the work, even for commercial purposes, as
long as they credit the author and license derivative creations of your work under identical terms. All new works
will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow derivatives and commercial use. This license is
often compared to open source software licenses, it maintains adaptations available under the same conditions.
Attribution Non-Commercial (BY NC)
This license lets others copy, distribute, display, perform and adapt the work for non-commercial purposes.
Although their derivative works must also credit the author and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license
their derivative works on the same terms, meaning that derivatives can also be all rights reserved, unlike to those
of the BY NC SA.
Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike (BY NC SA)
This license lets others copy, distribute, display, perform and adapt the work in a non-commercial way, as long
as they credit the author and license their derivatives under identical terms.
Attribution No Derivatives (BY ND)
This license permits redistribution in both commercial and non-commercial ways, as long the author is credited
and the work copied or performed unmodified and in its integrality.
Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (BY NC ND)
This license is the most restrictive of the six main licenses, allowing sole verbatim redistribution. This license is
often called the “free advertising” license because it allows others to download works and share them with others
as long as they attribute and link back to the author, but they can’t reuse them in any way that would change
them or use them commercially. The combination Attribution Non Commercial No Derivative Works only offers
the possibility to copy and perform the work in limited circumstances59.
The CC Six Core Licenses
Let us have a closer look at the legal code of the four license elements.
i. Attribution (BY)
The most liberal license, Attribution only. The Creative Commons Attribution license is used
by the Open Access and the Open Educational Resources communities.60 which will gain
more if works are reusable without restriction.
Attribution was an optional element in the initial version 1.0 of the licenses, one of the four
optional elements presented in this subsection. It became a non-optional element and is
featured in all the licenses, but it is still handled as an option or a License Element as far as
the format is concerned since it appears in the title of the licenses, in the initials on the button,
and in the Commons Deed on the same level as the optional elements. Further, the legal code
of the current version 3.0 considers it in the same way that it considers the optional
elements.61 Therefore, it is handled in this section at the same level as the other elements –
It once also carried the name of “Music Sharing License” and had a distinctive logo:
The CC BY license complies with the definition of Open Access by the Budapest Open Access
Initiative: “By ‘open access’ to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any
users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for
indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or
technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the Internet itself. The only constraint on
reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control
over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”
In the Definitions section of the two Share Alike licenses: “‘License Elements’ means the following
SA, NC and ND – even if it is no longer optional.
This element answers a general concern of all creative communities: Authors agree to share
their work, but only if they receive proper acknowledgement. What is understood as the legal
norm in countries with moral rights appears to be a social norm in countries where authors are
not always attributed. Beyond fame and pride, it is a common feeling among creators to share
their creation only in exchange of public recognition – and perhaps more visibility on their
other activities. However, the clause sets up a standard of attribution that is higher than the
legal and social norms of which we are aware. It is doubtful that it is exercised to its fullest
extent by Licensors and implemented to its fullest extent by Licensees.
The legal code related to the attribution element is long, detailed, and difficult to access.62 The
text varies between ND and non-ND licenses. The text is as follows, with the provisions
related to derivatives italicized.63
“If You Distribute, or Publicly Perform the Work or any Adaptations or Collections, You must, unless a request has been made pursuant to
Section 4(a), keep intact all copyright notices for the Work and provide, reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing:
(i) the name of the Original Author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied, and/or if the Original Author and/or designate another party or
parties (e.g., a sponsor institute, publishing entity, journal) for attribution ("Attribution Parties") in Licensor's copyright notice, terms of
service or by other reasonable means, the name of such party or parties;
(ii) the title of the Work if supplied;
(iii) to the extent reasonably practicable, the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not
refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work; and
(iv) consistent with Section 3(b), in the case of an Adaptation, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Adaptation (e.g., "French
translation of the Work by Original Author," or "Screenplay based on original Work by Original Author").
(in clause 3 License grant)
to create and Reproduce Adaptations provided that any such Adaptation, including any translation in any medium, takes reasonable steps to
clearly label, demarcate or otherwise identify that changes were made to the original Work. For example, a translation could be marked
"The original work was translated from English to Spanish," or a modification could indicate "The original work has been modified.";
The credit required by this Section 4(c) or 4(d) may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a
Adaptation or Collection, at a minimum such credit will appear, if a credit for all contributing authors of the Adaptation or Collection
appears, then as part of these credits and in a manner at least as prominent as the credits for the other contributing authors.
For the avoidance of doubt, You may only use the credit required by this Section for the purpose of attribution in the manner set out above
and, by exercising Your rights under this License, You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any connection with, sponsorship or
endorsement by the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties, as appropriate, of You or Your use of the Work, without the
separate, express prior written permission of the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties.
If You create a Collection, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collection any credit as
required by Section 4(b), as requested.
high-level license attributes as selected by Licensor and indicated in the title of this License: Attribution, Share
Alike/Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share Alike.”.
It is located in three sub-clauses, one in the clause related to the license grant and two in the clause
related to restrictions:
- In the license grant clause for the licenses authorizing adaptations to condition the exercise of this
right to the identification of the changes made to the original work,
- In the second sub-clause of the restrictions clause as a positive obligation of the Licensee to attribute
the author or Licensor as she requests, including the attribution of adaptations if they are authorized, and the way
to exercise this obligation,
- And at the end of the first sub-clause of the restrictions (4.a.) as a negative obligation to remove upon
request of the Licensor such attribution from collections and adaptations to the extent they are authorized.
We modified the layout of the clause to visually separate the sentences; the language by itself is already
difficult to read. We also modified the order of the three excerpts. It seems easier to present the sub-clauses in
the logical order they are to be exercised rather than in the order they are presented in the license; thus, start with
the requested attribution, including for adaptations, before the non-endorsement and unwanted attribution
If You create an Adaptation, upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Adaptation any credit as
required by Section 4(b), as requested.”
The unported 3.0 Legal Code of the Attribution License Element
To sum up, the license foresees three provisions: “requested attribution,” “unwanted
attribution,” and “non endorsement.”
“Requested attribution” allows the Licensor to require from the Licensee a particular way to
attribute the work by citing:
- The name of the author, Licensor, or any applicable party
- The title of the work
- The source URL of the work64
- For derivatives, a credit identifying the original author, the use of the original work and
changes which have been made65
The Licensor may require these elements to be cited to the extent he or she supplies them,
except for the last one, because it is not possible. It is not quite clear how the Licensee should
fulfill this obligation in case no or insufficient information has been provided by the Licensor
who does not have or does not bother to put into practice the media literacy skills which are
necessary to express this information. The standard of attribution is “a reasonable manner”
except for Adaptations and Collections, where it should follow as a minimum the attribution
standard of the other components.66
The Licensee should not use the credit to imply that the author, Licensor, or party is endorsing
the Licensee or her use of the work. He or she “may only use the credit required by this
Section for the purpose of attribution in the manner set out above,” which is quite demanding.
The Licensee must be ready to remove the credit from Adaptations and Collections upon
request from the Licensor. This requirement raises practical questions. The Licensor may
never notice the work, or notice it too late and make it impossible for the Licensee to remove
credits on works that have already been circulated, shared and reused.
Because this requirement seems related to the reputation of the author, who might not want
his or her name to be associated, we would suggest clustering it – and perhaps also the latter
non-endorsement clause – with the moral rights provisions that comes right after in the license
and will be studied in the section 2.2.3.
But not the source URL of the original work for derivatives, which could be useful, as allowed by the
Dublin Core field on the choser interface; see recommendations infra in chapter 5.
This requirement may be difficult to express by the Licensor and to achieve by the Licensee. See
recommendations of best practices infra in chapter 5, to lower the attribution requirements by turning them into
non-mandated best practices supported by automated applications performing the actual work of attribution
The compliance to this requirement may be difficult to assess.
ii. Share Alike (SA)
The Share Alike option was inspired by the copyleft provision of the free and open source
software licenses, which require derivatives to be licensed under the same terms. It will be
compared with other open content licenses such as the GFDL and the FAL in section 3.5 of
this study. It satisfies the needs of those who think that freedom must be preserved by
requiring modifications to be shared with the same degree of freedom to avoid a re-
proprietarization of the commons. It is widely used for text-based creations and large
ecosystems that need to be preserved from commercial appropriation. Attribution Share Alike
can be mixed only with Attribution Share Alike, and Attribution Non-Commercial Share
Alike can be mixed only with Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike.
The Share Alike text presented below appears in the restriction clause of the license67:
Unported 3.0 Legal Code of the Share Alike License Element
For formatting reasons, we reorganized the text of the clause, removed a substantial portion at the
center of the clause, and added the definitions of CC Compatible License and License Elements that appear in
the Definition section.
“You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of:
(i) this License;
(ii) a later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License;
(iii) a Creative Commons jurisdiction license (either this or a later license version) that contains the same License Elements as this License
(e.g., Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 US);
(iv) a Creative Commons Compatible License.
"Creative Commons Compatible License" means a license that is listed at
http://creativecommons.org/compatiblelicenses that has been approved by Creative Commons as being essentially
equivalent to this License, including, at a minimum, because that license:
(i) contains terms that have the same purpose, meaning and effect as the License Elements of this License; and,
(ii) explicitly permits the relicensing of adaptations of works made available under that license under this License or a Creative Commons
jurisdiction license with the same License Elements as this License.
"License Elements" means the following high-level license attributes as selected by Licensor and indicated in the title of this License:
This Section 4(b) applies to the Adaptation as incorporated in a Collection, but this does not require the Collection apart from the Adaptation
itself to be made subject to the terms of the Applicable License.”
The unported 3.0 Legal Code of the Share Alike License Element
The Share Alike language is relatively clear. It states that adaptations must be licensed under
the same terms as the original work, and it defines what terms are declared compatible: the
same BY SA license, a later version of the BY SA license, a jurisdiction version of the same
or a later version of the BY SA license.
We will further discuss the possible impact of the clause, which declares compatible licenses,
the texts of which are different:
- Subsequent versions may contain different terms (section 3.2)
- Jurisdictions’ versions contain different terms (section 3.4)
- Other open content licenses have different terms (section 3.5)
and seem to bind Licensors and Licensees to obligations of which they are not aware and to
which they could not consent (section 4.1).
iii. Non Commercial (NC)
The Non Commercial option restricts the exercise of the rights granted by the license to non-
commercial situations. In other words, the Licensor reserves commercial rights.
Unported 3.0 Legal Code of the Non-Commercial License Element
“You may not exercise any of the rights granted to You in Section 3 above in any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward
commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. The exchange of the Work for other copyrighted works by means of digital file-
sharing or otherwise shall not be considered to be intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation,
provided there is no payment of any monetary compensation in connection with the exchange of copyrighted works.”
This provision has been widely criticized. It is not an acceptable restriction for the copyleft
and Free/Libre and Open Source Software communities because it prevents the definition of
a clear freedom for the community and may even be counter-productive.68 “The people who
are likely to be hurt by an -NC license are not large corporations but small publications like
weblogs, advertising-funded radio stations, or local newspapers.” The Share Alike clause
could be a better alternative: “While not applicable to monetary benefits, [it] does protect the
content from abusive exploitation without forbidding experiments (…) Any company trying
to exploit your work will have to make their ‘added value’ available for free to everyone. The
company does not, however, need to share the income from the ‘added value.’ Seen like this,
the ‘risk’ of exploitation turns into a potentially powerful benefit depending on the value
added to the content.”69
Further, even if the clause text is less legalese than other provisions, it leads to confusion,70
and doubts relating to its interpretation cause legal uncertainty. The first common
misunderstanding – coming from people who may not have read the clause but only
interpreted the Notice Button or title format – is that it would prevent Licensors from making
any profit. It is not the case; the restriction applies to uses made by Licensee, not the Licensor.
In the same vein, some think that Licensors (or Licensees) have to be non-profit institutions,
also not true. Once it has been clarified that the provision targets uses by the Licensee, the
scope of the definition “primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or
private monetary compensation” remains open to legal interpretation. The line between
commercial and non-commercial uses is thin and leads to categorization difficulties.71 Unlike
the concept of attribution and derivative work, the notion of non-commercial use is not
defined by copyright legislations. In the United States, it is cited by law as a factor to
determine whether a situation can be considered as fair use.72 A strict interpretation reduces
the possibility that a work will be actually reused beyond straightforward cases, such as a
personal website without advertising banners or a class in a public school. However, the
element was chosen by three-quarters of the Licensors in 2004 and more than half of the
Licensors in 2006,73 expressing concern that others may profit from one’s work while one
See Chen and Mako-Hill, op cit; see also reasons for not using NC by Eric Möller, “Creative Commons
– NC Licenses Considered Harmful,” Kuro5hin, September 2005, which evolved into the editable paper “The
Case for Free Use: Reasons Not to Use a Creative Commons – NC License,” 2005–2007.
http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2005/9/11/16331/0655 and http://freedomdefined.org/Licenses/NC.
The reading of the Australian Copyright Council may be incorrect, according an author citing
Australian Copyright Council, Information Sheet G094: Creative Commons Licenses (May 2006): Kimberlee
Weatherall, “Would You Ever Recommend a Creative Commons license?” Unlocking IP 2006 Conference,
“Creating Commons: The Tasks Ahead in Unlocking IP,” UNSW AGSM, Sydney, July 10–11 2006,
Australasian Intellectual Property Law Resources (AIPLRes) vol. 22, 2006.
“For example, a recurrent question in the educational context, and one of the most debated, is whether
the NC restriction allows a user to charge for copying and distributing the licensed material and for associated
overhead expenses including salaries, irrespective of the user’s business status (non-profit, for-profit,
government). Some believe that the for-profit status of the business itself should preclude this; others disagree.”
In Virginia Rutledge, “Fair Comment: Towards a Better Understanding of NC Licenses,” Commonwealth of
Learning, Connections, February 2008. http://www.col.org/news/Connections/2008feb/Pages/fairComment.aspx
“1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for
nonprofit educational purposes,” Copyright Act of 1976, 17 USC § 107.
On choice of options, see Giorgos Cheliotis, “Creative Commons Statistics from the CC-Monitor
Project,” presentation at the iCommons Summit, Dubrovnik, June 14–17, 2007.
was unable or unwilling to do so. Therefore, even if this option is limiting the reuse of works
because it is difficult to assess whether a usage is truly non-commercial, it largely contributed
to the success of the movement in terms of popularity within the general public.
A study on “Defining Non-Commercial” has been carried out by CC, and a report was
published in 2009 based on market research among users.74 One of the most interesting
findings is that, in many cases, Licensees have a stricter interpretation of what use constitutes
a “commercial use” than do Licensors, whose expectations should therefore be met. It will be
“If the better approach might be to adopt a “best practices”75 approach of articulating the
commercial/noncommercial distinction for certain creator or user communities apart from the licenses
themselves. (…) While the costs of license proliferation are already widely appreciated and resisted by
many, the study weighs against any lingering temptation to offer multiple flavors of NC licenses due to
strong agreement on the commerciality of certain use cases that, in the past, may have been considered
by some to be good candidates for splitting off into specialized versions of the NC term, such as online
Despite the legitimate critiques of the NC option, it should be recognized that it intends to
support many business models (online advertising such as banners on a website, selling of
physical support such as a compilation or a book, illustration of a commercial, etc.) and its
potentiality should not be neglected, especially for the music and book industry. It also
clarifies the situation of file-sharing and private remixing by explicitly authorizing these
practices,77 while reserving possible remuneration on commercial uses such as the collection
of royalties from a public performance. We will see later78 that this model has the potential to
be accommodated by collective management societies that may collect royalties on
commercial use. However, the model is not sustained and even jeopardized by
incompatibilities with the current collective management statutes and practices of many
Creative Commons, “Defining ‘Noncommercial.’ A Study of How the Online Population Understands
‘Noncommercial Use,’” September 2009. The study report, data, and excerpts from the executive summary can
be accessed at http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Defining_Noncommercial. See also the blog
announcement available at http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/17127
We will discuss this approach in the final section of this study. Guidelines have already been published
on the CC website: http://www.creativecommons.se/NonCommercialGuidelines.pdf and by MIT:
on the issues raised by guidelines, which interpretation might differ from interpretation by courts; see also
the criticism of the non-commercial clause by the OER Africa.
Creative Commons, “Defining “Noncommercial,” op cit, 77.
File-sharing is a practice that has been criminalized in many countries while its negative impact on sales
is not demonstrated. Thus, the NC clause brings legal certainty and security to a musician’s audience. “The
decision by CC to exclude this specific use case in its noncommercial licenses was driven in part by the Napster
court decision in which the court concluded that the trading of music online was commercial in nature even
though no money exchanged hands. A&M Records, Inc. v. Napster, Inc., 239 F.3d 1004 (9th Cir. 2001),” in
Creative Commons, “Defining ‘Non-Commercial,” ibidem, 17.
See supra sections 3.4 for the differences among jurisdictions, and 4.2 for an analysis of the impact of
the incompatibility of some collecting societies statutes with all the CC licenses.
iv. No Derivative (ND)
The No Derivative license element caters to the needs of those who do not want their
modified. However, it will not prevent its aggregation in a collection, changes of formats, nor
modifications that are authorized by other jurisdictions’ exceptions and limitations; for
example, parody or transformative use, a fair use factor. It answers to fears of being
associated with works of which one would not approve or having one’s ideas mutilated or
distorted. Some authors choose this option without realizing that it will prevent some use
cases they would support, such as the translation of their scientific article in a foreign
language or the illustration of a documentary with their music. Perhaps they have reputation
concerns and do not realize that also the non-ND licenses contain a clause asserting moral
rights, require authors of derivatives to describe their adaptation and prevent Licensees from
claiming any association or endorsement by the author of the original work, as we just saw in
the Attribution clause description. A line must be drawn between integrity and the right to
make derivatives. The ND clause should not be used for the sole purpose of ensuring the
integrity of the work and non-endorsement of the adaptation.
The ND option does not actually correspond to a clause per se in the license. By contrast, the
non-ND licenses have additional clauses in the form of a broader license grant in clause 3.
ND licenses authorize:
“a. to Reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the Work as
incorporated in the Collections; and,
b. to Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work including as incorporated in Collections.”
while non-ND licenses authorize the making of adaptations, and the differences are italicized
“a. to Reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the Work as
incorporated in the Collections;
b. to create and Reproduce Adaptations provided that any such Adaptation, including any translation in any
medium, takes reasonable steps to clearly label, demarcate or otherwise identify that changes were made to the
original Work. For example, a translation could be marked "The original work was translated from English to
Spanish," or a modification could indicate "The original work has been modified.";
c. to Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work including as incorporated in Collections;
d. and, to Distribute and Publicly Perform Adaptations.”
There are finally two other differences between ND and non-ND licenses which will both be
-In the format clause, to explain that the right to make modifications which are technically
necessary does not include the right to make adaptations
-In the moral rights clause, to confirm that adaptations must not be prejudicial to the author’s
See infra section 2.2.3.
honor or reputation.
“The above rights may be exercised in all media and formats whether now known or hereafter devised. The
above rights include the right to make such modifications as are technically necessary to exercise the rights in
other media and formats, but otherwise you have no rights to make Adaptations.” (end of clause 3)
“Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the Licensor or as may be otherwise permitted by applicable law, if
You Reproduce, Distribute, or Publicly Perform the Work either by itself or as part of any Adaptations or
Collections, You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which
would be prejudicial to the Original Author's honor or reputation. Licensor agrees that in those jurisdictions
(e.g., Japan), in which any exercise of the right granted in Section 3(b) of this License (the right to make
Adaptations) would be deemed to be a distortion, mutilation, modification, or other derogatory action
prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor and reputation, the Licensor will waive or not assert, as appropriate,
this Section, to the fullest extent permitted by the applicable national law, to enable You to reasonably exercise
Your right under Section 3(b) of this License (right to make Adaptations) but not otherwise.” (last sub-clause of
Reserving modifications does not encourage creativity and reappropriation. Moreover, it
prohibits translation. Exercising some control on adaptations already can be be achieved
through the BY, the SA, and the NC license elements. The BY clause requires the Licensee
author of an adaptation to identify the modifications from the original work and contains the
non-endorsement provision to protect the original author. The SA clause constraints the terms
under which adaptations may be released. The BY NC and the BY NC SA licenses authorize
modifications, but not if the derivatives are used in a commercial way. As discussed, the BY
NC SA combination – the most popular of all the CC licenses – may satisfy those supporting
the sharing and the remix culture but are reluctant to see others succeeding at making profit of
v. Instruments Outside The Core Suite
In addition to the BY, SA, NC and ND license elements constituting the licensing core suite,
other licenses or tools have been made or are still available on the CC website: Sampling
suite, Developing Nations license, Founders’ Copyright, Public Domain Dedication, CC0, and
CC+. Here is a brief description of these instruments.
Sampling licenses “let artists and authors invite other people to use a part of their work and
make it new.”80 The interface81 to select these licenses is no longer easily accessible from the
CC website. It was not widely used even when the choice was offered next to the standard
interface. Only three jurisdictions – Brazil, Germany, and Taiwan – ported these licenses,
which will not be further studied.
The Sampling 1.0 license82 was retired because it did not allow reproduction of the entire
work even for non-commercial purposes.83 It would allow to use the work only partially or
Creative Commons, “Retired Legal Tools,” http://creativecommons.org/about/sampling
Creative Commons, “License Your Work,” http://creativecommons.org/choose/sampling
Creative Commons, “Legal Code Sampling 1.0,”
Creative Commons, “Retired Licenses,” http://creativecommons.org/retiredlicenses : “It did not permit
non-commercial verbatim sharing.”
non-substantially, or transform it substantially through employing ‘sampling, collage, mash-
up,’ or other comparable artistic technique.”
The three Sampling licenses all prohibit the reuse for “advertising and promotional uses,”
“except for advertisement and promotion” of the new work.
The Sampling + 1.0 license,84 in addition to allowing the making of the partial kind of
derivative works just described in the Sampling license, also allows “noncommercial sharing
of verbatim copies”, thus “+” as the core grant common to all the CC licenses (at minimum
BY NC ND) is being added to the Sampling right.
The NC Sampling + 1.0 license85 grants the same rights than the Sampling+ license, except
that not only the verbatim copies are submitted to the NC provision but also the derivative
work resulting from the sampling activity, which is called “Re-Creativity Right” in all these
licenses and correspond to a portion only of the right to make Derivative works granted in the
non-ND licenses of the core suite.
The rights of the Sampling licenses vary substantially from the usual CC legal texts and are
therefore difficult to understand.
The Developing Nations 2.0 license authorizes commercial use and the making of derivatives
in developing nations and therefore does not contain the text of the clauses SA, NC, or ND.
The exercise of rights, however, are submitted to a specific provision displayed at the end of
the Restriction clause 4, stating that only Developing Nations can access the work:
“c. The Work and any Derivative Works and Collective Works may only be exported to other Developing
Nations but may not be exported to countries classified as ‘high income’ by the World Bank.
d. This License does not authorize making the Work, any Derivative Works, or any Collective Works publicly
available on the Internet unless reasonable measures are undertaken to verify that the recipient is located in a
Developing Nation, such as by requiring recipients to provide name and postal mailing address, or by limiting
the distribution of the Work to Internet IP addresses within a Developing Nation.”
The Developing Nations 2.0 license was also retired because only a restricted audience was
authorized to copy the work, while other users located in developed countries were not
allowed to reproduce the work, even for NC purposes.86
After having reviewed the Sampling and the Developing Nations licenses – which are not
fulfilling requirements of legal standardization and harmonization of a core grant – another
series of tools deserves a short presentation: public domain tools (Founders’ Copyright,
Public Domain Certification, CC0) and the CC+ protocol. They differ from the standard suite
not only substantially but also procedurally: Standard user interfaces all require explicit
consent from the prospective Licensor, who is prompted to provide more information such as
the name of the author.
The Founders’ Copyright87 allows putting a work in the Public Domain 14 years after its
creation, reducing the exercise of copyright to the duration that had originally been foreseen
in 1790. It may be seen as a small-scale experiment of reestablishing formalities. “To recreate
Creative Commons, “Legal Code Sampling 1.0,”
Creative Commons, “Legal Code, Sampling Plus 1.0,” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/nc-
Creative Commons, “Retired Legal Tools,” http://creativecommons.org/retiredlicenses
Creative Commons, “Founders’ Copyright,” http://creativecommons.org/projects/founderscopyright/
the functionality of a 14- or 28-year copyright, the contributor will sell the copyright to
Creative Commons for $1.00, at which point Creative Commons will give the contributor an
exclusive license to the work for 14 (or 28) years.”88 Unlike the other licenses of the CC
system, the Founders’ Copyright targets only US authors, who transfer their rights to CC,
which provides an online registry and requires filling out a form,89 after which CC will
provide an answer. In particular, the applicant is asked to provide the name of the copyright
holder and, to secure that he or she represents the rights that will be exercised by CC, to
answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions:
“Do you have exclusive rights to this work?
Are there parts of your work that are from other sources (quotes, pictures, etc.)?
Is this a derivative work (includes translations)?”
The Copyright-Only Dedication or Public Domain Certification90 is used to certify a work
that is already in the public domain. Unlike standard licenses, obtaining the legal code91
requires the user to explicitly manifest and express his or her consent to a text, which
corresponds to the text of the license92 by clicking a box93:
“I have read and understand the terms and intended legal effect of this tool, and hereby voluntarily elect to apply
it to this work.”
In addition to the main licenses, two additional tools have been recently developed: CC+ and
Creative Commons, “Founders Copyright Inquiry,”
Creative Commons, “Copyright-Only Dedication,”
Confirm Your Public Domain Certification
Copyright-Only Dedication (based on United States law) or Public Domain Certification
The person or persons who have associated work with this document (the "Dedicator" or "Certifier")
hereby either (a) certifies that, to the best of his knowledge, the work of authorship identified is in the public
domain of the country from which the work is published, or (b) hereby dedicates whatever copyright the
dedicators holds in the work of authorship identified below (the “Work”) to the public domain. A certifier,
moreover, dedicates any copyright interest he may have in the associated work, and for these purposes, is
described as a “dedicator” below.
A certifier has taken reasonable steps to verify the copyright status of this work. Certifier recognizes
that his good faith efforts may not shield him from liability if, in fact, the work certified is not in the public
Dedicator makes this dedication for the benefit of the public at large and to the detriment of the
Dedicator's heirs and successors. Dedicator intends this dedication to be an overt act of relinquishment in
perpetuity of all present and future rights under copyright law, whether vested or contingent, in the Work.
Dedicator understands that such relinquishment of all rights includes the relinquishment of all rights to enforce
(by lawsuit or otherwise) those copyrights in the Work.
Dedicator recognizes that, once placed in the public domain, the Work may be freely reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose,
commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or
Creative Commons, “Identify a Public Domain Work,”
CC0 (CC “Zero”) is a waiver of copyright, neighboring, and related rights, and sui generis
rights. CC0 is intended to facilitate access to and reuse of works by placing them as nearly as
possible into the public domain before applicable copyright term expires. CC0 can be used for
all kinds of works, including non-copyrightable scientific data sets or databases of works in
the public domain curated by libraries, museums, or archives. CC0 is a “no rights reserved”
option. CC recommends94 using CC0 instead of the Public Domain Certification for works
that are still protected by copyright. Even if there is no registration process, the user is also
prompted95 to provide name, URL, title, territory, and a manifest of his or her consent:
“I hereby waive all copyright and related or neighboring rights together with all associated claims and causes of
action with respect to this work to the extent possible under the law.”
“I have read and understand the terms and intended legal effect of CC0, and hereby voluntarily elect to apply it
to this work.”
A double-click confirmation is even required:
“Are you certain you wish to waive all rights to your work? Once these rights are waived, you cannot reclaim
Then, a Commons Deed96 and a Legal Code97 are available, as usual, after selecting the
License Elements of the standard interface.
CC+ (CC “Plus”) is not an additional license but a technology to signal the addition of more
rights beyond a CC license grant; for instance to clear commercial rights or to obtain more
warranties, and indicate the link to these additional permissions. It has a strong potential, but
it is not advertised on the license chooser; as such, it is not accessible to the system’s average
Finally, if license options are to be defined as license elements or features that have an icon,
we should mention that non-CC licenses have a CC wrapper (machine-readable metadata and
human-readable Commons Deed), namely the GNU-GPL and GFDL, as well as the BSD,98
which conditions even have ad-hoc icons (notice, source code, no endorsement) that could be
reused in the actual CC licenses human-readable format.
Creative Commons, “Our Public Domain Tools,” http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain
Creative Commons, “CC0 Waiver,” http://creativecommons.org/choose/zero/waiver
Creative Commons, “CC0+ Public Domain Dedication,”
Creative Commons, “CC0+ 1 Universal,” http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode
Creative Commons, “GNU General Public License,” http://creativecommons.org/ licenses/GPL/2.0/;
“GNU Lesser General Public License,” http://creativecommons.org/licenses/LGPL/2.1/;
2.2.3 The main clauses
We presented all the available options of the CC system in the previous section, with a focus
on the license elements that are deployed around the licenses’ main clauses. We will now
analyze the detail of these main clauses. To provide legal certainty and security, it matters to
find out exactly what is covered and whether those tenets are made clear to the user.
The core grant of the CC system is an authorization to copy, display, perform, and distribute
the work without modifying it and for non-commercial purposes only, to which more
freedoms can be granted when playing with the license elements. The user interface in the CC
Lab,99 a section of the CC website dedicated to experimental projects, makes it possible to
play with the license elements in another way than the usual license chooser interface,100
making it cognitively easier to understand that the main clauses express positive rights that
the NC and ND options take away.
The license elements play an important role in the CC system; they appear even before the
rights they alter. It may seem illogical to present conditions pertaining to rights before rights
themselves; however, the license elements are accessible before the main clauses in the
license chooser interface, in the Notice Button, and in the title of the license. The main
clauses appear only in the deeper layer, the Legal Deed, and to a lesser extent in the
Commons Deed a summarized version deprived of legal value.
The license elements, which are very visible in the Notice Button and the Commons Deed,
may be hiding the substance of the license to the user, who must read the main clauses behind
the options. In addition to information costs, the question is whether these main clauses are
not only visible but also substantially clear to the user. Knowing precisely which rights are
granted by whom on which subject matter is essential for the validity and the coherence of the
We will systematically describe the main provisions of the eight clauses of a CC license in its
unported 3.0 version. This presentation will allow us to clarify what is the subject matter, and
to compare the core grant of the 3.0 unported license legal deed101 with the other licenses
versions, jurisdictions, and formats to identify differences and potential sources of
incompatibilities (chapter 3). Most of the core grant is not mentioned in the Commons Deed
and therefore not easily accessible to the average user, who is nevertheless expected to
consent to the legal code (section 4.1.2).
The six main Creative Commons licenses authorize as a minimum to copy, perform, and
The user can play with the bricks of a license on the Freedoms License Generator available in the
ccLab at http://labs.creativecommons.org/demos/freedomslicense/. This license engine is presented as a puzzle
and may have different cognitive results on the understanding by the user than the usual license choser interface:
“Not all combinations are possible, but as you experiment with the selections, you can see the different licenses
Creative Commons, “License Your Work,” http://creativecommons.org/choose
Creative Commons, “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported,”
distribute the unmodified work for free, provided that the original author is properly attributed
and that no direct remuneration is perceived in exchange for the work. The licenses’ optional
elements NC, ND, and SA specify the nature of this core grant and prescribe whether works
can be used for commercial purposes, may be adapted and, if yes, how such adaptations may
be redistributed. All the CC licenses authorize the public to copy and distribute the work,
including in collective works, and to display or perform the work in all media and formats,
including digital file-sharing. As we noticed in the previous section describing the license
elements, the six core licenses are an assembling/assembly of clauses that vary according to
Methodologically, to analyze all the main clauses, we have to examine the skeleton of a
license; that is, the core provisions without the license elements and without the small textual
variations between ND and non-ND licenses – depending on whether adaptations are
authorized (variations that were identified in italics in section 2.2.2.). We cannot simply
analyze the core freedoms expressed in the most restrictive or the most liberal licenses (the
BY NC ND license or the BY license), neither can we use the license used during the porting
process because it contains all the clauses (the BY NC SA license).
We will compare systematically the text of the definitions and the main clauses with
definitions provided in the latest versions of the international conventions that are cited in
article 8f102: “The rights granted under, and the subject matter referenced, in this License were
drafted utilizing the terminology of” the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and
Artistic Works (hereafter “the Berne Convention”), the Rome Convention for the Protection
of Performers (“the Rome Convention”), the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), and the WIPO
Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). Before analyzing the compatibility among
licenses, the compatibility with international law must be checked to detect possible
inconsistencies or confirm that the system is viable. Of course, the licenses do not have to
mention all the notions of the international conventions and can go beyond, but it is important
to check what notions are exactly covered to make sure that no right or party has been left out.
Indeed, the grant appears to be as broad as possible; therefore, it can be expected that all
works and all rights are addressed by the licenses and that they are no hidden restrictions on
the nature of works and rights covered. International conventions have been chosen as a
standard to assess the licenses not because they are a model or because they are inclusive, but
because the unported version has been drafted according to them and because as international
law instruments, they are a minimum to be implemented in national legislations of their
member states. It should be noted that not all countries are members of all conventions:
Indeed the United States is not a contracting party of the Rome Convention; thus, including its
provisions in the license text goes beyond minimum standards.
The license consists of a foreword and eight clauses (as well as a header and a notice with
information about CC as a corporation). These provisions may also be found in other open
-Definitions of items covered (what is a work) and parties involved (Licensor, author…)
-The exact nature of the rights granted
The Universal Copyright Convention is also cited in article 8f; nevertheless, no parallel between the
definitions of the licenses and of this convention has been found.
-The restrictions that may apply to the grant, including the BY, SA, NC, and ND restrictions,
previously described in section 2.2.2
-Some procedural requirements accompanying works copies and performances: A license
notice must be conveyed with the work in which author and original work, in case of
derivatives, must be credited in an appropriate way as seen in section 2.2.2 developments
related to attribution
-The relationship with applicable law: The licenses apply in addition to the law, and in
particular, they claim to not conflict with exceptions to exclusive rights, moral rights, and
compulsory licensing schemes in the jurisdictions where they exist; therefore, they may yield
in front of incompatible legal provisions which may be unknown from the Licensor
-Exclusion of representations and warranties and limitation of liability
-Other standard clauses, such as:
§The termination of the license for those Licensees who do not comply with
the terms of the license, leading to the return to an all-rights-reserved scenario
and possibly copyright infringement if the use does not stop
§The possibility for the Licensor to stop distributing the work under the license
does not lead to withdrawing rights that have been granted to Licensees prior to
this decision, providing legal security to those who have already copied,
distributed, or otherwise incorporated the work in their own creation
The text starts with a foreword, stating that the use of the work is governed by the license as
well as applicable law. We will see in greater detail in section 2.3.1 how an agreement can be
formed between the parties. Let us now analyze the main clauses one by one.
The license starts with definitions of the subject-matter (Work, Adaptation, Collection), the
rights (Reproduce, Distribute, Publicly Perform) and the parties involved (Licensor, Original
Author, You). We will present them in order of their usage rather than in alphabetical order as
is the case in the license. We will use the capital letter further in this study when exactly
referring to these notions as defined by the license.
The CC definition for Work comes from the Berne Convention Article 2.1. “Literary and
artistic works,” with few variations:
“Work” means the literary and/or artistic work offered under the terms of this License including without
limitation any production in the literary, scientific, and artistic domain, whatever may be the mode or form of its
expression including digital form, such as a book, pamphlet, and other writing; a lecture, address, sermon, or
other work of the same nature; a dramatic or dramatico-musical work; a choreographic work or entertainment in
dumb show; a musical composition with or without words; a cinematographic work to which are assimilated
works expressed by a process analogous to cinematography; a work of drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture,
engraving, or lithography; a photographic work to which are assimilated works expressed by a process analogous
to photography; a work of applied art; an illustration, map, plan, sketch, or three-dimensional work relative to
geography, topography, architecture, or science; a performance; a broadcast; a phonogram; a compilation of data
to the extent it is protected as a copyrightable work; or a work performed by a variety or circus performer to the
extent it is not otherwise considered a literary or artistic work.
Berne’s definition refers to the expression “literary and artistic works” and uses the plural,
while CC designates the literary and/or artistic work and provides the examples of the Berne
Convention in the singular and adding “without limitation” and “including digital form” so as
not to exclude other forms not mentioned in the license definition.103 CC also adds “a
performance; a broadcast; a phonogram; a compilation of data to the extent it is protected as a
copyrightable work; or a work performed by a variety or circus performer to the extent it is
not otherwise considered a literary or artistic work.” However, CC does not include the first
fixation of a film or broadcast, while videograms are targeted by Berne article 9.3: “Any
sound or visual recording shall be considered as a reproduction for the purposes of this
Convention” and broadcasts are addressed by Rome article 3f: “sounds or of images and
Performance, broadcast, and phonogram are not defined, but performers, broadcasters, and
producers of phonograms are found in another definition, as in the Rome Convention.
“Variety and circus artists (…) who do not perform literary or artistic works,” thus a slightly
different phrasing, are mentioned under Rome Convention article 9.
As we will see in the definition of Original Author, like in article 2.a. of the WPPT, the CC
indirect definition of performer includes the performance of literary or (and not “and”) artistic
work but also the performance of expressions of folklore, which are not copyrightable works
“A compilation of data to the extent it is protected as a copyrightable work” most likely
targets compilations as defined at article 5 of the WCT: “Compilations of data or other
material, in any form, which by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents
constitute intellectual creations,” but does not formally encounter compilations of other
material; for instance, compilations of copyrightable works as opposed to compilations of
The fixation of a musical composition, the phonogram, is mentioned, but the fixation of a film
and the fixation of a broadcast is not mentioned, while “visual or audio-visual fixation” is
indirectly mentioned in Rome Convention article 19.104
Even if the use of the expression “without limitation” and “including digital form” limits the
risk to leave out forms of expressions, there are several uncertainties in the subject matter;
Such as for instance “official texts of a legislative, administrative and legal nature,” “a matter for
legislation in the countries of the Union to determine the protection to be granted to,” Berne Convention article
And covered by the acquis communautaire (Rental Directive, EUCD).
namely, what is a compilation of data and whether compilations of works, databases, and first
fixations of films and broadcasts are covered, to the extend they are neither “compilations of
data protected as copyrightable works” nor “cinematographic works” or “broadcasts” as
targeted by the definition of Work. It would be preferable to include explicitly first fixations
of films and broadcasts to be sure they are also covered. Indeed, we cannot assume that they
have been intentionally left out of the scope of the licenses. We will come back to the
question of databases in section 4.2.2.; unlike with videograms, CC as an organization
expressed at some point the intention to exclude databases of the licenses’ scope, as they are
not a subject matter of copyright per se in many countries.
Also, in case the item targeted by the license is a complex work that combines several forms
of expression – such as a musical composition, a performance, and a phonogram – they
should all be covered,105 It could be made clearer that the Work can include several types of
Works, such as a work and its performance and its fixation or, in the case of a music title, all
the more as users are not defining specifically enough the Work in their License Notice.
In previous versions of the licenses, Work was defined as “the copyrightable work of
authorship.” Version 3.0 aims at grounding the text of the licenses in international law rather
than in American law. However, the definition of what is a protected work under copyright or
which items are protected by neighboring or sui generis rights is a matter for legislations in
the country. It is also questionable whether related rights are part of the category of
“copyright” (as it is the case for its equivalent of Literary and Artistic Property, for instance,
in France) or if they should be mentioned explicitly and separately. The latter option probably
provides more certainty. Therefore, Work could have been defined as “the copyrightable of
work of authorship and/or the other forms of creation protected by related rights.” Otherwise,
in the case of a CD, for instance, the underlying work – in this case, the musical composition
– could be CC licensed but neither the performance nor the phonogram.
"Adaptation" means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a
translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music ,or other alterations of a literary or artistic work,
or phonogram or performance, and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work
may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that
a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the
avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the
Work in timed-relation with a moving image (“synching”) will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of
The first part of the CC definition for Adaptation comes from the Berne Convention definition
for Derivative works, “Translations, adaptations, arrangements of music and other alterations
of a literary or artistic work,” except that derivative work is not the name of the category but
inserted within the list. It includes the adaptations of works, performances, and phonograms
but not the adaptation of broadcasts. Therefore, there would be a risk of not authorizing the
See Christina Angelopoulos, “Creative Commons and Related Rights in Sound Recordings: Are the
Two Systems Compatible?” Institute for Information Law, December 2009, 44.
adaptation of a broadcast licensed under a non-ND license, while the Licensor who wouldn’t
have read the clause probably would intend to authorize it, and the Licensee would likely not
be aware it is excluded.
It also “includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be
recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original”
and the synchronization of the work when it is music on moving images. The two latter
provisions are not based on international conventions but on US law; the first is an excerpt
from the US Copyright Act section 101’s definition for Derivative work. Qualifying the
synchronization of musical works on moving images as a Derivative work and not as a
Collective work is a common practice. Synchronization on a movie, a TV program, or
advertisement usually involves modifications such as cuts of the original work. Based on
questions and discussions on the CC mailing lists as well as infringement cases, many users
are unaware of the fact that synchronization is considered an adaptation. They do not realize
that the Share Alike provision applicable to a music track should be transmitted to the moving
images that would embed the music. This creates legal insecurity if the provision is
It is possible that in the future, Adaptations may be defined in a broader way to include more
modifications and make Share Alike stronger and applicable to more Works;, for instance,
qualifying the incorporation of an image into a text as an adaptation. This point has been
discussed regarding a statement of intent regarding compatibility with the GFDL license.107
The CC definition for a Collection comes from the definition of a Collection in the Berne
Convention article 2(5). It encompasses not only works but also performances, phonograms,
or broadcasts; however, as noticed above, it does not mention videograms to the extent they
are a different instantiation of a cinematographic work or a broadcast, and this could be
corrected for more certainty:
Indeed, there has been in 2006 a case of infringement of the synchronization clause of a CC BY NC
ND license by French national television; the grant to reproduce and publicly perform the work does not include
the authorization to synchronize it on a documentary and, as we will see further, CC music could not at that time
be part of the catalogue managed by a collecting society, which would have avoided the necessity of any prior
request, televisions being used to declare titles afterwards. Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, “La musique de
l'Onomatopeur reprise dans Envoyé Spécial sans son autorisation,” Creative Commons France blog, April 3,
The case has been settled out of court; the author received 500 Euros, an amount equivalent to the
royalty he would have received had he had the option to be a member of the collecting society. This method is
recommended to calculate damages in the considérant 19 of the Directive 2004/48/EC of the European
Parliament and of the Council of April 29, 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (OJ L 157,
30.4.2004): “As an alternative, for example where it would be difficult to determine the amount of the actual
prejudice suffered, the amount of the damages might be derived from elements such as the royalties or fees
which would have been due if the infringer had requested authorization to use the intellectual property right in
Creative Commons, “Statement of Intent for Attribution-Share Alike Licenses Released,”
“Collection” means a collection of literary or artistic works, such as encyclopedias and anthologies, or
performances, phonograms, or broadcasts, or other works or subject matter other than works listed in
Section 1(f) below, which, by reason of the selection and arrangement of their contents, constitute intellectual
creations, in which the Work is included in its entirety in unmodified form along with one or more other
contributions, each constituting separate and independent works in themselves, which together are assembled
into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation (as defined
above) for the purposes of this License.
The difference between a Collection and an Adaptation is that in the case of a Collection, “the
Work is included in its entirety in unmodified form along with one or more other
contributions, each constituting separate and independent works in themselves, which
together are assembled into a collective whole.” The difference is important because all the
CC licenses authorize Collections, even the ND ones. A Collection was called a Collective
Work in the versions prior to 3.0 by reference to the category of the US Copyright Act. The
national qualification of Collective Work has consequences on the ownership of the work,
which is vested according to many legislations on collective works not in the hands of the
individual person who created the collection but rather in those of the private or moral person
responsible for directing the selection or arrangement or funding the infrastructure (e.g., the
publisher; for instance, the Wikimedia Foundation rather than the Wikipedian?), with respect
to rights in the contributions which are retained by their original authors.
d. Rights: Reproduce, Distribute and Publicly Perform
The rights granted by a CC license, notwithstanding when they apply to Collections and
Adaptations, are expressed in 3 of the Definitions and include the rights to Reproduce,
Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work:
“Distribute” means to make available to the public the original and copies of the Work or Adaptation, as
appropriate, through sale or other transfer of ownership.
“Publicly Perform” means to perform public recitations of the Work and to communicate to the public those
public recitations, by any means or process, including by wire or wireless means, or public digital performances;
to make available to the public Works in such a way that members of the public may access these Works from a
place and at a place individually chosen by them; to perform the Work to the public by any means or process and
the communication to the public of the performances of the Work, including by public digital performance; to
broadcast and rebroadcast the Work by any means including signs, sounds or images.
“Reproduce” means to make copies of the Work by any means including without limitation by sound or visual
recordings and the right of fixation and reproducing fixations of the Work, including storage of a protected
performance or phonogram in digital form or other electronic medium.
These rights’ definitions are similar to some of the definitions of the Berne Convention article
11, the Rome Convention, and the WPPT article 14 – with some small differencessuch as “by
any means of wireless diffusion” in Berne, “by any means” in the CC definition for Public
Perform to broadcast and rebroadcast, which is slightly broader and likely not problematic.
Publicly Perform includes “to make available to the public Works in such a way that members
of the public may access these Works from a place and at a place individually chosen by
them,” but the right to Distribute “means to make available to the public the original and
copies of the Work through sale or other transfer of ownership.” Thus, because rental and
lending are part of the right of making available to the public but are not a transfer of
ownership, it is unclear whether the rights of commercial rental and public lending are
covered by the License Grant. This could be annoying because the grant intends to be as
broad as possible, and it should cover the commercial activity to rent videograms and the
public lending by libraries of physical copies of CC-licensed works. Therefore, it is
recommended to include these two rights in the License Grant. Nonetheless, these rights may
lead to an “unwaivable right to equitable remuneration”108 and be submitted to mandatory
collective management provisions, without possibility for the Licensor to include them in the
WCT article 7, WPPT article 9 (also Rental Directive article 5).
e. The parties: the Licensor, the Original Author and You
The parties involved are the Licensor, the Original Author and You.
“Licensor” means the individual, individuals, entity or entities that offer(s) the Work under the terms of this
“Original Author” means, in the case of a literary or artistic work, the individual, individuals, entity or entities
who created the Work or if no individual or entity can be identified, the publisher; and in addition (i) in the case
of a performance the actors, singers, musicians, dancers, and other persons who act, sing, deliver, declaim, play
in, interpret or otherwise perform literary or artistic works or expressions of folklore; (ii) in the case of a
phonogram the producer being the person or legal entity who first fixes the sounds of a performance or other
sounds; and, (iii) in the case of broadcasts, the organization that transmits the broadcast.
“You” means an individual or entity exercising rights under this License who has not previously violated the
terms of this License with respect to the Work, or who has received express permission from the Licensor to
exercise rights under this License despite a previous violation.
We already noted in the description of the Attribution clause that it is not mandatory to
identify the Licensor, the individual, or entity that offers the Work. Because the Licensor
offers the Work as indicated in the Definition or grants the rights as indicated in the last
sentence of the foreword, it can be assumed that the Licensor is the actual rights holder at the
time the license is being issued, while the Original Author must actually intend to designate
the original rights holders (in case rights have not been transferred, the Licensor and the
Original Author will be the same persons). These definitions could be clarified.
The definition for Original Author indeed encompasses:
-For artistic and literary works: the individual, individuals, entity or entities who created the
Work, usually the author, or another entity (the film producer in the USA is recognized as an
original author) but also the publisher, in case the author cannot be identified, perhaps in the
case of orphan works, entities, or publishers might be recognized as original rights holders in
some jurisdictions, but this is not the case everywhere
-For performances, the performers
-For phonograms, the producer (again, neither the film producer nor the database producers
are mentioned in case they are not recognized as entities who created the Work)
-For broadcasts, the broadcast organization
Authors and other holders of rights related to copyright are to be identified in relation with the
Attribution clause, requiring providing the name of the original author. Indeed, Berne
Convention article 15109 states the principle of presumption of authorship: In the absence of
proof to the contrary, the author is the person whose name appears on the work.
“You” designates the Licensee, the person who has the authorization to exercise the rights
granted by the License. But the Definition adds even more information. It anticipates on the
Termination provision, by stating that a violation will end the License or, and this is not made
explicit elsewhere in the License, that the Licensor may despite a previous violation grant
As well as in the article 5 of the 2004 EC Directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights.
express permission. It is not clear whether this targets violations that would have been
performed or exceptions made to the conditions that other Licensees are deemed to respect. It
is also not clear how this relates to the penultimate sub-clause of clause 8, stating, “This
License constitutes the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the Work licensed
Now that the main notions have been defined, we will review the clauses following their order
of appearance in the Licenses.
ii. Fair Dealing Rights
The Fair Dealing Rights clause states that “nothing in this License is intended to reduce, limit,
or restrict any uses free from copyright or rights arising from limitations or exceptions that are
provided for in connection with the copyright protection under copyright law or other
To be truly international, this clause should be entitled Limitations and Exceptions because
Fair Dealing is a national notion (UK, Canada, Australia). It could be also made clearer that
limitations to related rights – and not only limitations to copyright – are not preempted by the
License’s Restrictions and License Elements (for instance, that a performance can be parodied
even if it is released under an ND license that reserves modifications).
iii. License Grant
The License grant is a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual license to exercise
the rights described previously: Reproduce, Distribute, and Publicly Perform, also in
Collections, but in Adaptations only for licenses without the ND Element.
The royalty-free characteristic is limited by the clause related to collecting societies at the end
of the Restrictions, the connection could be made clearer. This information, as well as the NC
clause, could well fit here for all licenses, while it is currently the case only the non-NC
licenses; the following section could be renamed, for instance, Notices and Credit. The clause
related to technical measures could also be moved. Rights can be exercised in all media and
formats; technically, necessary modifications are not considered to be Adaptations. These
small modifications would improve the consistency of these complex texts whose structure
ends up being illogical.
The license intends to have the largest geographic and temporal scope possible: It lasts for the
entire duration of copyright, but related rights or other applicable rights are not explicitly
The license is non-exclusive, but it is not made explicit in the license that it is incompatible
with exclusive licenses (such as underlined in the FAQs for rights assignments to collecting
societies) or transfer of ownership and all exclusive rights through, for instance, a publication
contract with an exclusivity clause. The information is not hidden, and while is obvious for
the specialist, it is not for the layperson, who is often not aware of notions such as:
-The meaning of exclusivity
-The prerogative of the original right holder to exercise her exclusive rights
-The impossibility to grant exclusive rights to a collecting society or a publisher when using a
Thus, clarification could avoid Licensors the risk of committing to incompatible agreements
and being unable to comply with both at the same time.
Many provisions contained in the section entitled “Restrictions” have already been studied:
BY and NC License Elements will not be analyzed again here.
The License states that the Work (but not the Collection apart from the Work itself), its copies
and performances (videograms are not mentioned) can be made available to others only the
terms of the License, which must be included under the form of a copy of the text or a link. Is
this Notice requirement provision also applicable to the uses arising from limitations to
exclusive rights? On one hand, it should be the case in order to ensure CC-licensed works can
be identified by the public and kept accessible as such; on the other hand, requiring the notice
to be kept intact can be interpreted as a restriction. Indeed, it is listed in the clause entitled
Restriction, while clause 2 states that nothing in this License is intended to restrict uses
arising from limitations. Thus, it would be useful to clarify these two conflicting provisions,
the URI or copy of the license must be included “with every copy of the work you distribute
or publicly perform” and “nothing in the license is intended to restrict any uses free from
Further, the mode of notification for performances is not provided. It often leads to questions
by potential Licensees working in analog or aural environments such as radio and exhibitions.
By extension of the “reasonable manner” to implement the credit, the license can be indicated
in a paper or online program or on the wall of a venue, together with credit information.
No additional term or “effective technological measure” as named in the WCT and the WPPT
(the two provisions could be paired to improve readability), which would restrict the ability to
exercise rights granted can be imposed by the Licensee. Thus, any subsequent user should be
able to access the work and exercise the rights granted by the license.
The collective management clause110 is part of the restrictions for NC licenses and part of the
license grant for non-NC licenses. It could be more closely related to the royalty-free
provision that it amends. The goal was twofold:
First, announce to the Licensee that some uses may not be royalty-free:
-For non-waivable compulsory license scheme
-For commercial uses (from Works which have been NC-licensed)
See further developments supra in sections 3 and 4.2.4.
Second, prepare compatibility with collecting management schemes and authorize Licensors
(the videogram producer being forgotten) to collect royalties:
-From non-waivable compulsory license schemes: for all licenses, even without the NC
-From waivable compulsory license schemes and voluntary license schemes: for commercial
uses of works under NC licenses
The final restriction is the moral rights clause. It has two components, one for all the licenses
and one for licenses which authorize Adaptations such as licenses without the ND element.
This clause informs the Licensee that he or she should respect the moral right to integrity that
the Licensor may enjoy as part of applicable law. Authorized uses “must not distort, mutilate,
modify, or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to
the Original Author's honor or reputation,” corresponding to the language of the article 6 bis
of the Berne Convention stating that the author has the right to object to such actions.
International law only foresees such a limit for authors but not for other individuals or entities
that are part of the CC definition for Original Author (the author, the publisher if the author
cannot be identified, phonogram producers, and broadcasters). One one hand, the provision
may impose more restrictions than the law, as publishers usually do not enjoy moral rights.
One the other hand, the provision may exclude some parties from its scope while they benefit
from such a protection; moral rights may exist for non-authors in some jurisdictions such as
for performers and filmmakers in Australia, the latter being producers, directors, and
screenwriters, the filmmaker/producer being not mentioned in the CC definition for Original
Author (he or she can be included if considered a creator). Therefore, it is recommended to
change the clause accordingly and create distinguished definition (and a contact field to be
filled by the Licensor when selecting his or her License) for Author and for the other Original
rights holders, in addition to Licensor who would be the current rights holder.
The second part of the clause, to waive some of the uncertainty on the possible conflicts
between the right to allow the making of derivatives and the right to integrity, foresees that
the Licensor waives this right to the extend it is waivable (“to the fullest extent permitted by
the applicable national law”). Indeed, in some countries such as Japan, any adaptation could
“be deemed to be a distortion, mutilation, modification, or other derogatory action prejudicial
to the Original Author’s honor and reputation.” However, regarding the situation of the
countries where moral rights are not waivable, this clause has the drawback to imply that it
might be actually impossible to authorize adaptations in advance after all, therefore
suggesting a possible incompatibility of the non-ND licenses with moral rights. If it may
bring certainty for jurisdictions such as Japan, it sheds explicit light on a possible problem for
jurisdictions in the other situations in which “author’s integrity may limit the extent to which
one can freely license modification rights”112 and might invalidate the license.113
Besides this clause’s two elements, other provisions of the licenses are related to the exercise
of moral rights and reputation to a broader extend and could be placed nearer: obviously the
It is to be noted that most societies do not allow their members to use a CC license, and those who
introduced some sort of compatibility allow only the NC licenses. Thus, licensors are not in a position to join
these societies and access the royalties. This clause is preparing the possibility.
In the same sense, Mikko Välimäki and Herkko Hietanen, “The Challenges of Creative Commons
Licensing,” Computer Law Review, June 2004, vol. 5 no., 172–177.
More on moral rights in section 4.2.1.
attribution clause, but also the right not to be attributed upon request of any Licensor on
Collections and Adaptations, and the non-endorsement clause stating that attribution should
not imply a support by the Original Author, the Licensor or the Attribution Parties.
v. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer & vi. Limitation on Liability
We will now have a first look at clause 5 entitled “Representations, Warranties and
Disclaimer” together with related clause 6 containing “Limitation on Liability.”
As it is the case in most open source licenses,114 the Licensor offers the Work “as-is and
makes no representations or warranties” including for product defects such as accuracy or
merchantability, but also for non-infringement of third party rights. The Licensor also
disclaims liability for any damages arising out of the license or the use of the Work.
However, like the moral right waiver clause just discussed, CC licenses state in these two
clauses that, depending on the jurisdictions, these exclusions and limitations may be not
applicable. Indeed, some consumer legislations forbid disclaiming certain warranties and
some tort laws forbid misrepresentations.115 Thus, these provisions will not be enforceable in
all cases. Not all the CC licenses will contain such an exclusion and limitation. We will
explain later in greater detail what are the arguments for both positions116 and how the
exclusion of representations and warranties of non-infringement and the limitation on liability
for any damages relate to the security of the downstream chain and of the whole system in
Clause 7 contains provisions related to the Termination of the license. If the Licensee
breaches any terms of the license, the license and the rights granted will terminate
automatically. This affects only the License Grant (to Reproduce, Distribute, and Publicly
Perform the Work and Adaptations,, if applicable), and the Restrictions (requirements of
copyright notice and Attribution, Non Commercial clause when applicable, waivers related to
collecting societies, and moral rights).
Otherwise, the license is perpetual for the duration of applicable copyright (and related rights
even if they are not mentioned). However, the Licensor may stop distributing the Work or
distribute it under different terms, but these choices should not affect licenses already granted
or to be granted on existing copies of the Work that are available. This provision entitles
Licensors to make side deals. However, the question of the right of withdrawal and the
possibility to change one’s mind is jeopardized by the nature of the Internet, as old copies
may still be available. Therefore, at the same time there might be copies of a work licensed
Rosen Lawrence, op cit.
See supra section 3.4 on the differences between jurisdictions.
See supra section 3.2 on the previous versions of the licenses and the limited warranties clause in
See supra section 4.2.3. on the effects for users of the disclaimer of warranty and liability.
under different conditions – the initial CC license which the Licensor had chosen and the new
terms, which could be another CC license or an all-rights-reserved policy. A Licensor could
not prevent usages based on the first license grant.
The eighth and final clause contains miscellaneous contractual provisions. When the Licensee
exercises the rights granted and distributes the Work or an Adaptation with a link to the
License, the Licensor offers the recipient a license to the Work on the same terms and
conditions. As we will see in the coming section on the nature of the licenses, when
Licensee B redistributes Licensor A’s work to a third party recipient C, C gets a license from
A – not from B – and this is also valid for Adaptations that B created based on A’s original
The license contains a severability clause. As it has already been mentioned for warranties
and liability, some provisions may be unenforceable in certain jurisdictions, and this should
not affect the validity of the remaining provisions of the license.
A waiver of the terms of the license should be consented to in a written, signed contract. This
provision could be located closer to the provision allowing distributing the work under
different conditions. It is slightly contradictory and then redundant with the penultimate sub-
clause mentioning, on one hand, that the license constitutes the entire agreement because
another concluded at a later stage may exist elsewhere and, on the other hand, that the license
may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of the Licensor and the Licensee.
The final sub-clause deals with international private law. It explains that rights and subject
matter were defined utilizing the terminology of the international conventions. Indeed, we
saw at the beginning of this analysis of clauses that the definitions borrow – largely but not
entirely – from the definitions of the Berne Convention, the Rome Convention, the WIPO
Copyright, and Performances and Phonograms Treaties.
The core of the provision explains the rational of the porting by jurisdictions which will be
analyzed in section 3.4: “These rights and subject matter take effect in the relevant
jurisdiction in which the License terms are sought to be enforced according to the
corresponding provisions of the implementation of those treaty provisions in the applicable
The final provision clarifies some doubts that were raised in the definitions section: “If the
standard suite of rights granted under applicable copyright law includes additional rights not
granted under this License, such additional rights are deemed to be included in the License;
this License is not intended to restrict the license of any rights under applicable law.” This
means that commercial rental and public lending rights, which are not mentioned in the scope
of the rights granted, would be included. But this provision does not solve the question of
subject matter covered; namely, whether first fixations of films and broadcasts and databases
2.3 The legal nature of the licenses
After having scrutinized the licenses’ optional elements and main clauses and detected a few
formal inconsistencies that would be possible to fix, we will now study the licenses as a
whole and analyze their legal nature. We examined how the license clauses are compatible
with copyright law; now we will examine whether the licenses as tools are compatible with
other area of private law such as provisions governing contractual agreements or obligations,
as well as more specifically provisions on unfair terms and consumer law regarding electronic
and standard form contracts.
The licenses can be considered as licenses or as contracts depending on jurisdictions.118
Beyond legal scholarship interest, it matters that we identify the nature of the agreement in the
scope of this study to identify possible incompatibilities with applicable law, assess risks, and
propose solutions to limit consequences if they arise. Also, the legal qualification of the tools
has an impact on the enforcement and the remedies options. It is important to know what the
possibilities are in case of breach; otherwise, the licenses would be worthless. It matters to
find out first whether open licenses are licenses or contracts, because requirements for validity
are different and are much stronger for contracts; enforcement is also different, so applicable
law (contract law or copyright law) and possible remedies for infringement (damages or
injunction to enforce) will also vary, as will be examined in section 4.1.
It also matters that we verify the agreement is valid and that consent among parties can be
reached through such tools. These licenses intend to facilitate the use and the reuse of creative
works, because permission is already granted and no additional transaction is required every
time someone wants to use the work. Unlike traditional copyright agreements – from licenses
of use to rights transfer contracts – neither the Licensor nor the Licensee sign any document
to manifest their approval of the terms of an agreement allowing Licensees to perform acts
that would have otherwise infringed copyright. If the agreement is deemed invalid and
consent has not been reached after all, permission will not be deemed to have been granted.
Licensors may not be able to request the enforcement of non-copyright infringement-related
conditions even if they apply to acts triggered by the exercise of a copyright-related right, and
Licensees might not be able to claim the exercise of rights beyond copyright law, which is
fully applicable by default,,and thus reproduce the work freely.
Andres Guadamuz, “The License/Contract Dichotomy in Open Licenses: A Comparative Analysis,”
University of La Verne Law Review vol. 30 no. 2, 2009, 103.
Finally, it matters that we identify a third specificity of the licenses: the Share Alike
reciprocal effects and the transmission of obligations. Therefore, it should be analyzed if and
how third parties may be bound by the conditions; otherwise, the system would not be
sustainable if the agreement enforceability stopped after the first round. Usually, obligations
bind only the parties who consented to them, and they cannot be transmitted to third parties.
But it is expected that the effect of the CC license will not stop after the first Licensee and
that the Licensor will be able to enforce his or her conditions to subsequent users along the
distribution and reuse chain to be built around the work to be redistributed, reused, and
In this section, therefore, we will describe the legal nature of the CC licenses and interpret the
possible consequences of the qualification of the Creative Commons texts, as well as their
binding nature among parties and towards third parties. Their legal status will be studied
according to validity, enforceability, and termination arguments applied to the following
parameters: the nature of these agreements (2.3.1), the formation of tacit consent based on
behavior (2.3.2), and the specificity of the transmission of rights and obligations (2.3.3). We
first will explain the law applicable to contracts, licenses, or obligations in some jurisdictions
and then apply the theory to the CC licenses to analyze the nature of the legal deed and assess
the licenses’ validity, effect, and enforceability across jurisdictions.
Are there substantial differences between a license and a contract in terms of formation and
enforcement? Are the necessary steps towards contract formation reached between the
Licensor and the Licensee? What is the status and what are the consequences of non-
agreements? Such questions not only are academic discussions, but they are also particularly
relevant to assess the validity of the licenses, their binding nature, and other legal effects and
consequences for the compatibility of the system’s expectations with the legal environment;
for instance, if there is a risk of breach of contract in addition to copyright infringement.
2.3.1 Unilateral permissions or contractual agreements?
What is a license? What is an open source or open content license? What is the nature of a CC
license? Several legal qualifications have been proposed for open source and CC licenses, and
possible interpretations of the licenses will be discussed in this section. We already noticed
that the machine-readable layer corresponds to a rights management measure and will
concentrate here on the legal deed. Some scholars119 studied the nature of open source, open
Including Séverine Dusollier, “Sharing Access to Intellectual Property through Private Ordering,”
Chicago-Kent Law Review, 2007, 1391–1435; Guadamuz, “The License/Contract Dichotomy in Open Licenses,”
University of La Verne Law Review 30:2, 2009, 101–116; and “Viral Contracts or Unenforceable Documents?
Contractual Validity Of Copyleft Licenses,” European Intellectual Property Review, vol. 26 no. 8, 2004, 331–
339; Herkko Hietanen, “A License or a Contract, Analyzing the Nature of Creative Commons Licenses,” NIR
Nordiskt Immateriellt Rättsskydd (Nordic Intellectual Property Law Review), June 2007, vol. 76, 516–535;
Lucie Guibault and Ot van Daalen, “Unravelling the Myth Around Open Source Licences: An Analysis from a
Dutch and European Law Perspective,” Information Technology & Law Series 8, The Hague: T.M.C. Asser
Press 2006; Lydia Pallas-Loren, “Building a Reliable Semicommons of Creative Works: Enforcement of
Creative Commons Licenses and Limited Abandonment of Copyright,” George Mason Law Review, vol. 14,
2007, 271; Lawrence Rosen, Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law (New
content, and CC licenses, and several argumentations contemplate different solutions and
teach diverging final conclusions: unilateral or standard contract, one-sided permission, non-
contractual license, partial dedication to the public domain, limited abandonment, waiver,
servitude, gift, promise…
Instead of detailing all the possible interpretations of the law and the literature, we will review
only selected options to determine if the licenses are compatible with the law, if they fulfill
validity requirements, if and how they can be enforced among parties. We will focus on the
main dichotomy between common law and civil law systems and possible qualifications of
license or contract to ensure that CC authorizations are valid permissions for the Licensees
and can be enforced by the Licensor. The qualification has an impact on the different nature
of claims remedies and damages available in case of breach of contract/license and/or
We do not find a definite answer on the qualification of the CC licenses from the
organization. On the one hand, the text of the licenses which foreword states, “By exercising
any rights to the Work provided here, You accept and agree to be bound by the terms of this
license. To the extent this license may be considered to be a contract, the Licensor grants You
the rights contained herein in consideration of your acceptance of such terms and conditions.”
We only find certain hints, saying that the license might be interpreted as a contract,120 and
the use of the words “acceptance” and “consideration” that are prerequisite to building a
contract. On the other hand, it has been argued that the licenses are intended to be licenses,
not contracts, as their name logically infers.121
To understand the controversy, it is important to explain what is a license and what is a
contract in both common and civil law, as they have different definitions and consequences in
different legal systems.
A license is a unilateral act, a permission to do something that would otherwise not be
permitted by law.122 A driver’s license is an example of unilateral permission granted by the
state to an individual where there is no agreement or contract. A copyright license is a grant of
a right that would otherwise belong to the exclusive rights of the right owner: Without a
license, exercising this right would be a copyright infringement.
A contract is a binding agreement among parties to do something creating obligations for both
sides. It requires an offer and an acceptance in both civil and common law, which will be
examined in section 2.3.2 about consent. In addition, common law foresees a third factor to
qualify as contract: the consideration, or “mutual obligation that is created by the
agreement.”123 In a unilateral contract, only the Licensor makes a promise, while in a bilateral
York: Prentice Hall, 2004), 432; Andrew St. Laurent, Understanding Open Source and Free Software Licensing
(Sevastobol, CA: O’Reilly, 2004), 207; Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, “Cultural Environmentalism and the
Constructed Commons,” Law and Contemporary Problems vol. 70, Spring 2007, 23–50; Mikko Välimäki and
Herkko Hietanen, “The Challenges of Creative Commons Licensing,” Computer Law Review, June 2004, vol. 5
no. 6, 172–177.
It is interesting to note that this mention only appeared at the version 3.0, maybe implying that the
qualification was before that out of question for the headquarters.
One example of lively discussion between Lawrence Lessig and CC affiliates from many jurisdictions
on the qualification of license or contract is reported in Guadamuz “The License/Contract Dichotomy in Open
Andrew St, Laurent, Understanding Open Source, 4.
Guibault and Van Daalen, 34.
contract, both parties have obligations.124
The main difference between a license and a contract is that a contract must meet material
requirements to be formed: the offer and the acceptance, as well as the consideration in
common law countries. In a license, the Licensee does not have to be named.125 If validity
conditions were not met and CC texts could not qualify as contracts, they could still achieve
something as non-contractual licenses and be enforced according to copyright law. This
argument could satisfy American lawyers who may be afraid of the fragile, loose structure of
an open license (it does not identify the parties, there is no signature, no meeting between the
parties) and that a judge wouldn’t accept it as a valid contract based on the lack of valuable
consideration126 as the Licensor does not get remuneration.127 Other reasons provided to
support the qualification that a license would not be a contract are inherent to the US legal
system: the difficulty of contractual disputes and the fact that contract law vary from state to
state. But these statements are not convincing arguments; they reflect mere preferences, and
qualification is not a matter of personal choice or convenience. Further, they were apparently
limited to one country (United States) and/or one school of thought (Free Software
Foundation), around which case law is evolving: The Jacobsen dispute recognized the
restrictions of the Artistic license to be of contractual nature. Even if the drafters of the GNU-
GPL and the CC licenses intended them to be licenses and not contracts, the qualification
does not depend on their strategy. Anyway, in civil law countries and also according to many
interpretations in common law jurisdictions, a contract is created by open licenses and
therefore, an open license is a contract.128
Finally, even if a license does not require consideration – which might be a convenient
qualification if the requirement was not fulfilled in the US129 – there are arguments in the best
interest of the CC system to avoid the qualification of mere license and seek the protection of
the legal status of contract law.
First, a license is revocable130 and can be terminated after 35 years, according to the US
Copyright Act, and revocation raises uncertainty issues for the public if they are unsure the
material will be permanently reusable. The text of the licenses itself says that the CC licenses
cannot be revoked by the Licensor but terminated only in case of breach of the provisions.
Thus, if a Licensor revokes the license, it will not invalidate past usages; what happens to
Licensees who finds copies and want to reuse them after the revocation without being aware
of that fact?
Second, indeed without accepting a license, copying the work would be an infringement. But
Hietanen, “A Licence or a Contract?” 10.
We disagree with this fear that distributing a work under an open license would lack of consideration:
The counterpart is free distribution, therefore promotion and fame; see argumentation on the absence of
remuneration in the 2nd FAQ of CC France website at http://fr.creativecommons.org/FAQjuridiques.htm
“The GPL is a License, Not a Contract, Which is Why the Sky Isn't Falling.” Groklaw, 2003.
St Laurent, 148; Rosen, 57; Guibault and Van Daalen, 34; Guadamuz (2009).
Interestingly, a “Deed,” the term chosen by the organization to name the summary even if CC claims it
has no legal value, is enforceable without consideration and allows third-party beneficiary to enforce it,
overcoming the privity issue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deed (last accessed February 5, 2010). The CC license
does not fulfill the requirement of signature to be considered as a deed, but previously the requirement was a
seal, so evolution is possible.
Pallas-Loren, 4, 20.
without contract law, it could be that some provisions of the CC licenses could not be
enforced by the Licensor.131 Claims based on the rights granted (article 3) may be copyright
infringement and protected as such, but the non-respect of provisions of the license
restrictions (article 4) that are not related to copyright law would be left without protection
through breach of contract or copyright infringement. If they were to be unenforceable, they
would be worthless. However, this distinction between conditions within the scope of
copyright and conditions outside the scope of copyright is fragile and the Jacobsen case
decided the contrary. The conditions outside the scope of copyright suspected to need to rely
on contract law apply to a work being reproduced, performed, distributed, or modified, and
these acts are copyright related.132
As a last remark, neither Licensors nor Licensees have an interest to deny the existence of a
contract and start a lawsuit based on that ground: They usually need only that their conditions
be enforced and their licensed rights be granted.133
2.3.2 Consent to online non-negotiated texts
Now that we explained the substantial irrelevance of the debate to qualify the licenses as
licenses or as contracts for the purpose of this study to ensure enforceability, we still must
demonstrate whether the licenses fulfill validity requirements. We will examine them
according to laws that govern the validity of agreements.
We already approached the question of the formation of contract, requiring the manifestation
of consent, the acceptance of an offer, as well as consideration in common law jurisdictions.
Therefore, we will study how licenses may build consent between the Licensor and the
Licensee around the license grant and obligations.
We will consider the law governing general obligations, online, and non-negotiable
agreements, such as click-wrap, shrink-wrap, browse-wrap, and standard forms and apply it to
the CC licenses.
It is important to verify the compatibility of the licenses with both contract and consumer law
to confirm their validity and their enforceability.
In civil law countries, contractual validity relies on formal elements such as manifestation of
consent, the clarity of the notice and the information, the capacity of the parties, the legality
and determination of the object of the contract.
Manifestation of consent – a condition of validity of contractual obligations – can be
traditionally obtained when two parties shake hands, sign a document, or click on a form as
the law has extended the notion of consent, and it recognizes the validity of electronic
contracts when the Licensee is aware of the terms.
In Dutch law, like in any civil law country, contracts are formed by an offer and an
acceptance; they require an intention to produce legal effect, the intention being manifested
by a declaration, or “the impression created by someone’s apparent intention to produce
Dusollier, “Sharing Access to Intellectual Property,” op cit, 1422.
Molly Shaffer Van Houweling, “The New Servitudes,” Georgetown Law Journal vol. 96, 2008, 885,
draft available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1028947, 52, n. 282.
juridical effects” (…), it may also be inferred from conduct.134
In French law, it can also be inferred from the fact that the recipient of the offer starts to
execute the contract that it reveals her acceptation.135 An offer in French law is the
manifestation of will by which a person expresses to one or more defined or undefined
persons, the conclusion of a contract under certain conditions.136
According to the Principles of European Private Law (an harmonization, codification and
interpretation initiative by a group of scholars commissioned by the European Union),
contractual enforceability is also granted to unilateral acts, to “any statement of agreement,
whether express or implied from conduct, which is intended to have legal effect as such,”
which would be “binding on the person giving it if it is intended to be legally binding without
These definitions of acceptance can be transposed to the CC licenses: The making available of
the work by the Licensor constitutes an offer, and the use of the work by the Licensee
(corresponding to actions granted by the license which would have otherwise constituted
copyright infringement) is the manifestation of intention or the acceptance. Therefore, consent
is expressed by behavior, even if the agreement is not simultaneous for both parties who will
not meet – the Licensor may never even be aware that his or her licensed work found a
Licensee, someone exercising one or more of the rights offered by the license grant.
In American contract law, contracts require offer, acceptance, and also consideration.138 We
already saw that according to some lawyers, consideration is not necessarily perfected by
open licenses because no price is paid. But the free distribution and promotion of the work by
others – otherwise a costly activity139 – as well as the Share Alike clause140 are real and not
Copyright contracts have strict formal requirements under French law, and if they are not met,
the contract is deemed invalid and the rights not granted. Therefore, it should be checked if
CC licenses would satisfy this formalism.141 As they define precisely the extent (the rights
granted at article 3), the duration (the duration of copyright), the location (worldwide) and the
destination of the contract (the intention to contribute one’s work to some sort of commons by
authorizing some uses for free), we can conclude that the licenses meet the necessary
formalism, which originally aimed at protecting authors against too broad transfers to
Article 33 of Title 2 of Book 3 of the Dutch Civil Code, articles 3:35 and 3:37 (1), Guibault and Van
Article 1985 of the French Civil Code, Dir. Michel Vivant, Lamy Droit de l’Informatique et des
réseaux, par. 875.
Dir. Gérard Cornu, Vocabulaire Juridique Association Henri Capitant, PUF Quadrige 4ème éd, 2003.
§I:101(2) and 103(2) in Study Group on a European Civil Code/Research Group on EC Private Law,
von Bar Christian, Eric Clive (ed.), Principles, Definitions and Model Rules of European Private Law - Draft
Common Frame of Reference (DCFR); Sellier, 2008, 183 cited by Guadamuz, “The License/Contract
See our argumentation on the absence of remuneration in the 2nd FAQ of CC France website at
Guadamuz, “The license/contract dichotomy”, p. 108.
More details on the application of article L. 131-3 of the French Intellectual Property Code to the CC
licenses in the 2nd FAQ of CC France website at http://fr.creativecommons.org/FAQjuridiques.htm
Other principles of private law intend to protect the Licensee as a consumer in online and
electronic distant or standard non-negotiable agreements against unfair terms and also impose
requirements to the conclusion of the agreement, the acceptance step. We will now address
the law governing agreements such as click-wrap, shrink-wrap, browse-wrap, and standard
forms also in common law and civil law in selected jurisdictions to ensure that the tacit
acceptance deduced by the use of the work is valid and binding or how the formal information
process could be improved for more clarity and security.
In the United States,142 online contract formation requires giving adequate notice of terms
with three criteria: prominence, placement, and clarity; thereby, a customer will find and
understand it easily and express unambiguous assent. We will consider the situation of
clickwrap, shrinkwrap, and browsewrap agreements.
A clickwrap scenario provides strong evidence that the customer, by clicking on a button
asserting “I agree,” has read the proposed contract. Some CC public domain tools require
clicking on a button to express agreement, but the standard licensing suite does not offer this
Shrinkwrap contracts must also comply with these requirements on effective notices. The use
of the product is binding if the user had the opportunity to review the notice, according to
ProCD v. Zeidenberg case143 or he could have returned the product. Inconsistency in naming
the terms and confusing documentation should be avoided: It must be clear that the terms are
a binding contract.144 Therefore, there is a small concern due to the non-binding nature of the
Human Deed and the risk of confusion with the Legal Code.
In browsewrap contracts, however, the user does not exercise such an assertive action
expressing his or her assent. The Specht v. Netscape Communications145 case reveals that “the
mild request ‘please review’,… reads as a mere invitation, not as a condition. The language
does not indicate that a user must agree to the license terms before downloading and using the
software… A reference to the license terms on a submerged screen is not sufficient to place
consumers on inquiry or constructive notice of those terms.” A “Download” rather than an “I
agree” button was deemed insufficient. But the software was monitoring online activities,
while a CC license does not have such negative hidden terms as it allows using a work which
would otherwise be submitted to exclusive rights. However, the disclaimer of representation
is an inconvenient of the product and clear notice that the work may be infringing others’
rights requires reading the Legal Deed.
We should also note that the language indicating the terms corresponding to the Notice of the
CC license must be placed by the Licensor on his or her website. Therefore, the burden on
explaining precisely with a clear sentence in the License Notice that the logo corresponds to
the licensing terms relies on the Licensor who downloads a license from the user interface.
The opportunity to review the terms is also facilitated by a clear graphical presentation and
language. We will come back to these arguments in section 5 to support the use of plain
language instead of legalese jargon, and to advocate for the development of more tutorials to
The following analysis borrows from Charles H. Kennedy, Making Enforceable Online Contracts,
Computer Law Review International, no. 2, 2009, 38–44.
ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447 (7th Cir., 1996).
Kaufman v. American Express Travel Related Services, Inc., United States District Court, No. 07 C
1707, 2008 WL 687224 (March 7, 2008).
Specht v. Netscape Communications, 150 F. Supp. 2d 585 (SDNY 2001).
help Licensors to accompany the making available of their works under a CC license by a
well-designed interface and clear Notice language to indicate the hyperlink to the license.
Even in the case of the qualification as a license and not as a contract – and therefore no
obligation to respect these validity requirements – more clarity could only benefit the system.
In both US and European systems, the recipient must also be able to store and reproduce the
terms, which is the case with the CC licenses which are easily and permanently accessible
online. But European case law has been less strict: A German Court recognized that terms of
the GPL were part of the contract because a reference was made on a webpage,146 and a Dutch
Court147 decided held the acceptance of the CC terms valid because the infringer, as a
professional, should have checked the terms. The conditions apply even if the other party
hasn’t read them. In case of doubt, the magazine should have contacted the author, as in a
regular transaction in a classic all-rights-reserved copyright environment.
But this last decision did not involve a consumer. Indeed, Dutch law makes a distinction
between professionals and consumers who may download a work only because it is accessible
for free, “without realizing that a license governs its use.”148
Also, these decisions were related to simple cases of infringement of rights of the author by
the first user, not involving non-copyright-related conditions or a chain of derivatives and
For Séverine Dussolier, “The mere fact of using the licensed object, modifying it, or
distributing it does not mean that the user is aware of all the terms and conditions and has
accepted them.”149 For Lucie Guibault, “A user would be bound to the license terms as a
result of his actions only if he actually accepted the legal consequences of his actions, and
accomplished these actions with the specific intention to be bound by the license.” The use of
a hyperlink to indicate conditions can be compliant to Dutch contract law if the link is in a
visible place, thus probably not by posting such a link at the bottom of the homepage.150
Clickwrap methods indeed offer safer legal evidence of consent, but in practice, nothing
proves that the user read the terms even if she had the opportunity to do so as she may click
on “I accept” without having read them. Even if the CC licenses were visible enough to be
binding could it be useful to further develop the acceptation interface, which is constituted by
the download interface for the Licensor and the notice text for the Licensee.
The European Directive on Electronic Commerce151 and its Dutch implementation152 require
München I. Landgerichts, 19/05/2004 No 21 O 6123/04.
District Court of Amsterdam, Adam Curry v. Audax Publishing BV, Case 334492/KG 06-176 SR,
9/03/2006; European Copyright and Design Reports, Sweet and Maxwell, Westlaw, September 2006, Curry v.
Audax Publishing BV, 2006 WL 2584400,  E.C.D.R. 22 (RB (Amsterdam), Mar 09, 2006) (NO.
Guibault and Van Daalen, 43.
Dusollier, Sharing, 1424.
Guibault and Van Daalen, 43, 47.
Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of June 8, 2000 on certain legal
aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market, 17/07/2000,
OJCE L. 178/1.
Aanpassingswet richtlijn inzake elektronische handel, Stb. 2004, No. 210 and Dutch Civil Code article
6:227b(1). The following developments are borrowed from Guibault and Van Daalen, 41–51.
providing clear, comprehensible, and unambiguous information153 as well as the technical
steps to follow to conclude a contract.
These requirements do not fit the architecture of the CC project, which does not keep track of
generated licenses or licensed works, unlike to the expectations of many Licensors as shown
by the large amount of questions inquiring whether CC will store information related to the
licenses applied to works.
The French transposition of the European Directive on Electronic Commerce, the law on
“confidence for digital economy,”154 requests a double signature155 to translate the consent of
a consumer and the constitution of a contract with binding obligations, to ensure the consumer
is aware of his or her agreement. Without this formality around the acceptance of the
condition of use, online contracts are not valid – even if nothing is being sold – and it also
applies to the provision of information through download and browsing. Therefore, it is
questionable whether the method to become a CC Licensor should implement a double-click
mechanism. However, mere access to the work or use of the work following a limitation to
exclusive rights, do not require either a CC license permission as these acts are outside
copyright law regulation.
It could be that neither CC providing legal documents nor the Licensor offering a Work under
a CC license are in the scope of this law, because there is no order or individual request
between CC offering licenses and the potential user, the Licensor who can use at will the
“choose license” interface without pasting the code next to his or her work, and because
unlike to a downloaded software, it is not because a user browses or downloads a CC work
Loi n° 2004-575 du 21 juin 2004 pour la confiance dans l’économie numérique, JORF du 22 juin 2004,
The “double-click” process ensures that people who buy or download a product learn the use condition
AND accept them through clicking on a button “I read the conditions and accept them” and a new window must
appear “you are downloading this under these conditions, you recognize having read and accepted it” which
must be followed by a button “I accept.” This procedure is compulsory for persons acting professionally as
licensors even if nothing is sold. An implementation procedure is to allow the download only after the user has
displayed the license (not the Notice Button) and expressed his or her agreement through a separated mouse
click. The beneficiary of the “offer” must have the possibility to verify the “order” details and price and correct
any mistakes before confirming the offer to express his or her acceptance. The issuer of the offer must
acknowledge receipt of the order. Professional offers must describe the steps to conclude the electronic contract
and technical means to allow the beneficiary, before the conclusion of the contract, to identify possible mistakes
made in the data typing, correct them if relevant, and confirm to express his or her acceptation. This procedure
has been enforced by a free software license, CECILL, developed by three institutions of French Public
Research, informing on the license website that offering software under a CECILL license is conditioned by the
reading of the license and its approval to avoid possible liability and respect consumer legislation. The website
provides guidelines for licensors to implement on their websites to distribute software under a CECILL license
and respect the formalism of the electronic commerce legislation:
The free software should not be downloaded before all these steps are fulfilled by the Licensee who
accepts the offer:
- The license must be readable on the website proposing the software download
- The person who wants to download the software must before this click on a button “I accept the terms of
the CECILL license that I read”
- After this click and before effective download, the user must see a new window with a warning “you are
about to download a software under a CECILL license that you have read and accepted”
- Last window must be validated by a click “I accept” which closes the contractualisation process and
valids Licensee consent. (Source: our translation from http://www.cecill.info/mode-
that he or she will exercise one of the additional freedoms and make more than a personal or
fair use that does not deserve a licensing agreement. If the “offeror” who should respect this
double-click provision should be one of the two CC license parties, it should be first identified
whether it is the Licensor or the Licensee who performs the “characteristic service provision,”
criteria to identify who is the weak party, usually the consumer, to be protected: The Licensor
who offers his or her work for free, or the Licensee who will be able to exercise certain acts
on the work only if he or she fulfills certain conditions.
Because it does not seem a good idea to burden CC interface with additional text before
download a license or browsing a licensed work, it could be a solution to explain in the FAQ
that Licensors may want to insert additional information or an interface in their websites
proposing CC works.
The Directive on Electronic Commerce and already the Directive on Distance Contracts156
require the service to provide identification information such as a name and a physical or
electronic mail address. This requirement may be implemented by informed parties, but it is
not enabled by the CC interface, and it has already been suggested in the previous section to
provide a contact for the Licensor. This could also be added in the FAQs.
The last step in European law to pass to be valid is consumer legislation against unfair
contractual terms.157 The exoneration of liability clause158 and detailed attribution
requirements could be declared invalid.
Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of May 20, 1997, on the protection of
consumers in respect of distance contracts, OJCE L 144, 04/06/1997, 19–27, article 4.
Council Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993 on unfair terms in consumer contracts, OJCE L 095,
This point will be further analyzed in section 4.
2.3.3 Transmission of obligations to third parties
After discussing the formal requirements to ensure the offer by the Licensor and the
acceptance by the Licensee are valid regarding contract and consumer law, we will now
consider the effects of a CC license on subsequent derivative works and on third parties
reusing these works, and the enforceability of the Share Alike clause.
First, we will explain how the CC licenses intend to bind subsequent users after an initial
Licensor/Licensee direct relationship, and how the system builds a distribution and licensing
chain of generations of unmodified and/or modified works. We will analyze the relation
among parties in a scenario involving more than two initial parties. Does the user at the end of
a chain of derivatives get a license from each of the successive contributors, and also from the
Licensor of the Original Work, or only from the immediate predecessor?
It matters that the CC license not only is enforceable against the immediate Licensee but also
against third-party subsequent users. Otherwise, if Author A releases a work under a BY-NC-
SA license and Author B modifies it, Author C could, for instance, make a commercial use of
the derivative because he or she has no contractual relationship with Author A.
We will study how the Share Alike clause might bind subsequent users according to the
concept of passing obligations to third parties, which is called privity in English and
American contract law. It is a general principle in civil contract law that only parties to an
agreement are bound by it, to protect parties from being subjected to burdens of which they
would not be aware. Therefore, the transmission of obligation to third parties must be further
studied in common and civil law jurisdictions to understand if and how terms can follow the
work and bind subsequent users.
We will finally consider the sublicensing option, which has not been chosen by CC as a
Licensee is not allowed to sublicense the Work.
Contract-as-products accompany software products and works available online. The
specificity of open licenses is that obligations will follow the product when reused by third
parties. Open licenses are qualified as “viral contracts,”159 “contracts whose obligations
purport to ‘run’ to successor of immediate parties” because they bind subsequent users, and
the Share Alike provision requiring derivatives to be licensed under the same terms. Also,
each Licensee must include a copy of the license or a link when distributing the Work.
CC licensing facilitates the redistribution of works in an unmodified or modified version.
Therefore, a cascade of rights, obligations, and responsibilities circulates together with the
work all along its lifecycle. A long chain of parties who do not have a direct link with the
original Licensor can thus be constituted. The licenses are expected to bind downstream
parties; otherwise, Licensors may be reluctant to offer their works if their conditions are not
respected after the first copy or modification into a derivative work.
Margaret Jane Radin, “Humans, Computers, and Binding Commitment,” Indiana Law Journal vol. 75,
The definition of the legal relationship between the Licensor and the subsequent Licensees
will impact on the possibility for the initial Licensor A to sue a second-range Licensee C, or
the second-range Licensee C to sue the first Licensee and second Licensor B if C committed
an infringement of Licensor A’s rights without knowing it because Licensee B did not
properly respect the terms of the license granted by Licensor A.
A cascade of infringement may be transmitted to subsequent authors of derivatives who
would ignore that the first derivative, for instance, did not properly acknowledge the original
author.160 The disclaimer of warranties gives little legal security to Licensees and does not
incentivize users to rely on the usability of CC-licensed works. Each new action performed on
the work implies the formation of a new relation between the parties – A and B and then B
and C as well as A and C. “There must be an unbroken chain of privity of contract between
each successive user of the content.”161
Let us now examine how the CC licenses foresee to implement the principle of privity to pass
obligation from Licensor A to a subsequent Licensee C.
We already discussed the confusion between Original Author, original rights holders and
Licensor in the Definitions section. Let us assume, for the purpose of distinguishing problems,
that the Licensor A is the only original author and sole initial rights holder.
Licensee B is the person who will reproduce the Work, distribute it in a Collection, or create
and distribute an Adaptation
According to article 4.a., Licensee B may not sublicense the Work, and according to 8.a. and
8.b, when the Licensee B distributes the Work or a Collection or an Adaptation, the third
recipient Licensor C enters into a relation with the Licensor A.
In the case of article 8.b, Licensee B made an Adaptation Y of the Original Work X licensed
under a Share Alike license. Licensee C wants to make another adaptation, Adaptation Z.
Therefore, Licensee C will be the Licensee of B for Work Y and the Licensee A for Work X.
Will Licensee C be aware when he or she reuses Work Y that he or she has entered in a
relationship not only with Licensee B but also with Licensor A? It can get complicated if
Licensee B did not properly acknowledge Licensor A, or if Licensor A asked that his or her
name be removed, or if Licensee B did not explain properly the modifications between
Work X and Work Y.
Let us now take the case of Work X offered by Licensor A. Licensee B incorporates Work X
without making an Adaptation of it into a Collection XYZ. Collection XYZ, on one hand,
does not have to be distributed under a Share Alike clause, but on the other hand, when
Licensee B distributes the Collection XYZ, it seems that:
-Licensee B cannot sublicense Work X to Licensee C, so Licensee C will not have a relation
with Licensor A through Licensee B but directly with Licensor A
-By the virtue of clause 8.a, Licensor A offers to recipient C the Work X and the Collection
Robert Merges, “A New Dynamism in the Public Domain,” The University of Chicago Law Review
vol. 71, 2004, 199.
XYZ under a Share Alike license.
-There is no relation between Licensee B and Licensor C, and B did not have to release the
Collection XYZ apart from Work X under a Share Alike license.
It becomes complicated, especially after more than three parties, collections and adaptations –
and all the more if the identification and contact for all the parties are unavailable.
Now that we examined how the CC licenses foresee to implement the principle of privity to
pass obligation from Licensor A to a subsequent Licensee C, let us see if and how a contract
may be automatically concluded every time the work is distributed, e.g., between Licensor A
and Licensee C, and if therefore Licensor A can sue Licensee C if C does not respect the
Share Alike clause.
In English common law, the principle of privity prevents to pass burdens to third parties but
makes it less difficult to pass benefits.162 In civil law, the Share Alike clause is questioned by
the general principle of the relative effect of contracts and of the difficulty to bind third
parties. Solutions might be found in clauses related to the relative effect of contracts in the
case of positive rights created to the benefit of the third person.163 But there is some doubt that
the Share Alike clause succeeds into creating contractual privity between the Licensor and
each of the Licensees,164 which brings back to the question whether Licensor A could sue
Licensee C for copyright infringement or for breach of contract in case of non-respect of the
Share Alike clause.
Despite doctrinal difficulties to justify the validity of relative effect of the contract,
enforcement cases revealed the validity of several licenses copyleft clauses and not only in
simple case with only one direct relationship between two parties.
In Jacobsen v. Katzer,165 the Court decided that the attribution conditions of the Artistic
License on the use of the modifications are contractual obligations. A French Court decided in
2009 that the Licensor was bound by the GNU-GPL to deliver the source code to the Licensee
and to include a notice to the license.166 It is remarkable, in this case, that Licensee C won
over Licensee B who had removed notice and attribution of Licensor A without Licensor A
being involved in the lawsuit.
Two options are available to guarantee enforceability of the licenses terms along the
distribution and modification chain: the Share Alike clause and sublicensing. Sublicensing is
Guadamuz, Viral Contracts, 336–337.
Article 6:253 of the Dutch Civil Code: “A contract creates the right in favour of a third person to claim
a prestation from one of the parties or to invoke the contract in another manner against one of them, if the
contract contains a stipulation to that effect and if the third person accepts it.”
Article 1121 of French Civil Code permits to waive the consent requirement: “One may likewise
stipulate for the benefit of a third party, where it is the condition of a stipulation which one makes for oneself or
of a gift which one makes to another. He who made that stipulation may no longer revoke it, where the third
party declares that he wishes to take advantage of it.”
Guibault and Van Daalen, 53–56.
United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, No. 2008-1001, Robert Jacobsen v. Matthew
Cour d’Appel de Paris, No 04/24298, Edu4 v. AFPA, 16-09-2009. Summary in English available at
actually excluded by the licenses, which makes it impossible to have a direct relationship
between each successive parties and then have Licensee B endorse some responsibility
towards Licensee C, allowing C to sue B if Licensor A sues C although B committed the
infringement. Maybe the question of sublicensing should be reconsidered167 so that
Licensee B could license Licensor A’s work – but it is a tricky issue because rights are not
transferred or exclusively assigned though the license. Currently, the only way for a Licensee
to become a Licensor is to create a Derivative Work.
Guibault considers that option for the GNU-GPL; see Guibault and Van Daalen, 54–55.
3. Sources of potential incompatibility
Now that the license clauses have been studied, along with their possible incompatibilities
with copyright and contract law, this chapter will examine possible incompatibilities within
the system. Internal incompatibilities will be identified among the licenses’ different versions,
options, jurisdictions, and with compatible licenses. Some are visible incompatibilities – for
instance, it is well known that not all option combinations are compatible, and it is not
possible to remix works licensed under incompatible options. Some incompatibilities or
inconsistencies, however, are not easily ascertainable.
Trying to cover the spectrum of rights, ranging from full copyright to the public domain,
raises another issue; paradoxically, not all licenses support the remix culture, based on
combination, collage, and reuse. The option reserving the right to make derivative works, for
example, makes it impossible to adapt works. The multiplicity of options threatens
interoperability, since works licensed under different Creative Commons cannot always be
mixed to create a third work. The benefits of the system are therefore limited; despite the
apparent ease of use, internal incompatibility often reduces the possibilities of sharing
verbatim work for non-commercial purposes, without allowing any opportunity to adapt it or
to distribute it in commercial situations without further negotiation – just like in the traditional
copyright system. The pool of works under a Creative Commons license is thus partly sterile,
because most of the works cannot be recombined together to create derivative works without
obtaining additional permission.
This chapter will describe the license differences that may cause incompatibilities and hinder
the use of the works, including the ability to remix them together. Two sources of differences
are clearly visible to the license chooser (i.e., formats and options), but five sources may
actually raise incompatibilities issues:
-License formats, machine-readable codes, human-readable common deeds, and the legal
code (formats: section 3.1);
-The licenses’ different options and combinations: BY, BY-SA, BY-NC, BY-ND, BY-NC-
SA, or BY-NC-ND (options: section 3.2);
-The licenses’ successive versions: 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, or 3.0 (incremental versions: section 3.3);
-The differences between the licenses’ adaptations to various jurisdictions, since the porting
process has been engaged for six combinations and there is at least one version for each of
over 50 countries or jurisdictions (jurisdiction versions: section 3.4); and
-The differences between other, similar licenses that have the same purpose but use different
languages and may become compatible with the BY-SA (other open content licenses: section
These five sources of identified and unidentified incompatibilities will be presented by order
of their level of visibility and the difficulty they may raise.
The differences between the formats (section 3.1) and the incremental versions (section 3.3),
as well as the differences between the options and the resulting incompatibilities between the
combinations (3.2), will be described systematically. Differences between formats and option
combinations are generally visible to the user. They are not hidden in the texts of the
jurisdictions’ legal deeds or previous incremental versions, which require the user both to be
aware of their existence and to look for them on the website by generating another license or
modifying the license’s URL. These differences are accessible in plain English on the
Creative Commons website, and the resulting incompatibilities are easily identifiable.
However, the differences justified by adaptation to local legislations (section 3.4) are less
visible and may raise more complex issues. Some incompatibilities are hidden because
licenses carrying the same license elements may cover slightly different rights and subject-
matters, after such rights have been defined according to different national laws.
Creative Commons’ jurisdiction licenses are deemed equivalent by virtue of the Share Alike
compatibility clause,168 but their substance may diverge widely. Some international licenses
provide a re-translation into English on the Creative Commons website, but it is difficult to
assess the impact of these differences without deep comparative legal knowledge. It is
questionable whether jurisdictions’ licenses that have been adapted to national law are fully
compatible among each other; for instance, some but not all include related rights or database
rights. This chapter will study neither all the clauses nor all the jurisdictions and international
versions; rather, it will address a select number of representative points and countries.
The fifth source of potential incompatibility also involves licenses that are intended to be
declared compatible (section 3.5), in the same vein as the international texts among each
other. The Share Alike clause provides not only that international licenses are compatible but
also that licenses outside the Creative Commons system may be declared compatible, thus
also allowing a relicensing of derivatives under these licenses. This process has not been
finalized, and none of the licenses that might be seen as natural candidates, given the
similarity of their goals, have been declared compatible yet. Nevertheless, it is only a matter
of time and political decision before some licenses are declared compatible; therefore, the
related issues need to be analyzed. Since the birth of the licenses, it has been emphasized that
paths must be found to facilitate the reuse of works licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution Share Alike license, a Free Art License, and a GNU Free Documentation (GFDL)
license among other licenses. Until they are declared compatible, it will be impossible to
synchronize, for example, a CC BY-SA music track on a GFDL text-to-speech version of a
text without asking permission from the initial authors.
Despite the youth of this movement, there have already been three revisions of the licenses;
thus, four incremental versions have been released in less than five years. The high number of
available licenses’ incremental versions responds to the need to fix the initial influence of
U.S. law and to solve some other individual problems. The first two versions of the licenses
were written in reference to U.S. copyright law definitions. Only with the fourth version, 3.0,
did the legal code generated by CC headquarters become truly “generic” or “unported,” by
referring to international copyright law. Nevertheless, the internationalization of the licenses
started from the initial version, 1.0, and over 50 jurisdictions had already translated the texts
The Share Alike clause provides that the derivative of a work licensed under a Share Alike license may
be licensed under the same license, an international license with the same optional elements, or a license that is
recognized as compatible.
and/or adapted the texts’ provisions to their national legislations. If all the countries had
adapted all the versions – which is far from being the case – then there would be about 50
countries per 4 versions, and thus 200 sets of 11 option combinations, and then 6 option
combinations, equaling up to 1,200 licenses, in theory. (Probably about half that number exist
in reality, since most jurisdictions have not ported all the versions).
Proliferation is endangering the sustainability of a movement that intends to facilitate reuse,
not to prevent it or to hide related problems. As introduced in the previous chapter, two main
critiques arise from the licenses’ diversity for both licensees and licensors:
- There is a risk of missing one of the most preeminent opportunities and objectives of the
organization, and a risk of impairing the movement’s generativity, if free culture cannot
even be applied within the system because most resources cannot be recombined and
- There is a risk of ideological vagueness, in connection with the high information costs of
choosing a suitable license among available optional elements.
Unforeseen legal consequences can be added to this list of risks, in the case that international
and external licenses are recognized as compatible but contain substantial differences.
3.1 Incompatibility between different formats
The licenses exist in three formats: readable by machines, readable by humans, and readable
by lawyers. The average user will only browse the logo, which displays the options and a link
to the license’s incremental version. More experienced users will click on the logo and
actually read the Common Deed – and that is the objective of the layers.
What are the differences among the versions of information provided in the different formats?
Not all users will click on the link at the bottom of the Common Deed to access the Legal
Code. Section 4 returns to the impact of the three layers and their differences in contract
formation and consent, since the Commons Deed declares that it is not binding. The
Commons Deed is more accessible than other licensing schemes, which only have long, hard-
to-read legal codes, and it is more likely that people will read at least some of its summarized
clauses. Nevertheless, this handy feature is irrelevant to the legal requirement to appreciate
consent. It does not contain all the information, and that jeopardizes the licensee’s informed
assent. It contains only a summary of selected clauses, and many provisions are not
mentioned. Only the legal code is binding, so there is no legal incompatibility per se between
the Legal Code and the Commons Deed; however, reading the Commons Deed can mislead
the users who will overlook the legal code’s more detailed clauses and hence underestimate
the full range of permissions and conditions.
The core grant in the human-readable deed states:
You are free:
to Share: to copy, distribute and transmit the work (in all the licenses)
to Remix: to adapt the work (in the non-ND licenses)
These two logos illustrate the right to reproduce, perform, and distribute, including
adaptations. The logos could be used in other portions of the interface to express the positive
grant of the license.
The conditions are summarized next to the license elements’ usual logos:
Attribution – You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way
that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work).
Share Alike – If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under
the same, similar or a compatible license.
Noncommercial – You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
No Derivative Works – You may not alter, transform, or build upon this work.
Not all main clauses are summarized, only the following are included:
Waiver – Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
Public Domain – Where the work or any of its elements is in the public domain under applicable law, that
status is in no way affected by the license.
Other Rights – In no way are any of the following rights affected by the license:
Your fair dealing or fair use rights, or other applicable copyright exceptions and limitations;
The author's moral rights;
Rights other persons may have either in the work itself or in how the work is used, such as
publicity or privacy rights.
Notice – For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. The best
way to do this is with a link to this web page.
The waiver can be misleading. For instance Attribution is listed as a Condition, but it cannot
be waived in many countries with strong moral rights. Many of the main clauses are not
summarized here – for instance, the definition of “work” or “collection,” the collecting
societies clause, the disclaimer of warranties and representation, the limitation of liability, and
the termination clause. Therefore, a Licensee could be unaware of important limitations such
as the absence of representation or the fact that uses will not necessarily be free, as royalties
might be collected by collective societies. It is contractually more important to pay attention
to the possible approximations and omissions in the Commons Deed, which does not fairly
and accurately represent the binding information contained in the Legal Code.
The main clauses are summarized, as follows, on a webpage entitled “baseline rights.” This
page is not prominently displayed, but it seems highly relevant for the purpose of clearly
identifying both parties’ rights and conditions without hiding too much information because
one format is shorter than another169:
Creative Commons, “Baseline Rights,” http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Baseline_Rights
“All Creative Commons licenses have many important features in common.
Every license will help you
-retain your copyright
-announce that other people’s fair use, first sale, and free expression rights are not affected by the license.
Every license requires licensees
-to get your permission to do any of the things you choose to restrict – e.g., make a commercial use, create a
-to keep any copyright notice intact on all copies of your work;
-to link to your license from copies of the work;
-not to alter the terms of the license
-not to use technology to restrict other licensees’ lawful uses of the work
Every license allows licensees, provided they live up to your conditions,
-to copy the work
-to distribute it
-to display or perform it publicly
-to make digital public performances of it (e.g., webcasting)
-to shift the work into another format as a verbatim copy
-lasts for the duration of the work’s copyright
-is not revocable”
This summary differs substantially from the language in the Commons Deed – partly because
it is addressed to the Licensor, whereas the Commons Deed targets the Licensee, but also
because it focuses on the core clauses, whereas the Commons Deed focuses on the License
Elements. The Commons Deed also makes a few more references to other clauses that were
added, under the title “With the understanding that,” after revisions170 were discussed with the
users’ and international affiliates’ communities (i.e., mostly that fair use, moral rights, and
other rights – such as publicity rights – are not affected).
The previous versions of the Commons Deed are no longer available from the CC interface.
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine,171 however, provides interesting results when
searched for previous versions. For instance, on February 1st 2004,
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/ mentioned that the grant included the right “to
make commercial use of the work”. It is cognitively useful to display the contrary of NC and
the contrary of ND (i.e., commercial uses and derivatives allowed). Even if it seems tricky to
change the licenses titles, a more coherent naming policy could be helpful, since the non-ND
feature is currently unnoticeable. As emphasized earlier, the License Elements are more
visible than the core clauses. We recommend displaying both the non-NC and the non-ND
rights in the relevant licenses’ combinations, for more clarity, thus indicating which rights are
not License elements, instead of featuring only License Elements that restrict the positive
The revisions of the Commons Deed are not precisely synchronized with the versioning of the Legal
Wayback Machine, http://www.archive.org/web/web.php
3.2 Incompatibility among different versions
This section focuses on selected legal discrepancies that reflect the debates and modifications
between the licenses’ successive versions. Policy debates and legal discussions took place
among users and international affiliate communities when each version was created, both on
mailing lists and during meetings that involved the international community.
Only the last version is available from the “choose your license” interface, and only that
version can be obtained from the Creative Commons website. However, previous versions are
used on the Web and are available on numerous websites. Indeed, not all licensors use the
interface to generate a license; it is possible to copy the logo from another website and thus
not to use the latest available version. Nevertheless, common deeds from previous versions
contain links to the newest version, with the following statement to inform licensors:
A new version of this license is available. You should use it for new works, and you may want to relicense
existing works under it. No works are automatically put under the new license, however.
As seen in the subsequent section (section 3.3, presenting the potential incompatibilities
between the licenses of different jurisdictions), not all jurisdictions are at the same porting
stage, and not all jurisdictions have ported all the licenses. For instance, all four versions are
available in the Netherlands jurisdiction, whereas only version 2.0 has been ported in other
The following sections will analyze whether the differences between the successive versions
create incompatibilities between licenses carrying the same optional elements, based on the
list of differences intended to be improvements in each versioning, as presented on the
Creative Commons blog.
3.2.1 From 1.0 to 2.0, in May 2004172
a) Attribution becomes standard
Attribution was an optional element in version 1.0, leading to 11 different licenses, in
combination with the other optional elements (Non-Commercial, Non-Derivative, and Share
Alike): the 6 current licenses, and 5 additional licenses that did not contain the Attribution
element. Because up to 97% to 98% of the users were selecting the Attribution element on the
license chooser interface, Creative Commons decided that Attribution would no longer be
optional. This helped drastically condense the available licenses, reducing them from 11 to 6.
Additionally, users now have one less question to answer on the license selection interface.
This option is standard in many copyright legislations, excluding US copyright law, and it
applies to visual artists in only a very limited manner.
Creative Commons, “Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses,” http://creativecommons.org/
b) Share Alike compatibility with future and international versions
Version 1.0 licenses required derivatives to be published under the exact same license.
Version 2.0, on the other hand, stated that derivatives may be relicensed under one of three
types of licenses: (1) the exact same license as the original work, (2) a later version of the
same license as the original work, (3) or an iCommons173 license with the same license
elements as the original work.
An “iCommons” license is now addressed as “a Creative Commons jurisdiction license with
the same License Elements.” Thus, a work under BY SA 2.0 may be relicensed under a BY
SA 5.0 Chili, and a work under BY NC SA 2.0 can be relicensed under a BY NC SA 2.5
This change allows much better compatibility across versions and jurisdiction licenses. The
consequences of this compatibility among jurisdictions’ versions (3) will be studied in section
3.3. The current section will now analyze how these two changes – Attribution
standardization and Share Alike compatibility with later versions – interact, and it will
consider what incompatibilities, if any, may result from the versioning.
Licenses version 1.0 required derivatives to be licensed only under the terms of that license
(1.0), and licenses versions 2.0 and up (2.5, 3.0, etc.) accept derivatives to be relicensed under
current and later versions, but not under previous versions. Thus, there is no risk that the
derivative of a work licensed under a license with the Attribution element could be licensed
under a license without the Attribution element.
This change is thus safe, in terms of potential sources of incompatibility in the situation where
only one work is involved; works under (Non-Attribution) Share Alike licenses may only
breed derivatives under similar (Non-Attribution) Share Alike licenses. However, a (Non-
Attribution) Share Alike 1.0 work cannot be remixed with an Attribution Share Alike 2.0
work, because the 4.b. provisions of the two licenses are incompatible: 1.0 can be derived and
relicensed only under 1.0, and 2.0 cannot be derived and relicensed under a 1.0. Works
licensed under a 1.0 license without the Attribution element cannot be remixed with works
licensed under any other terms. Thus, the pool of works under an SA 1.0 license is not part of
the broader commons, which can be reused and remixed with works licensed under more
recent versions. To conclude, works under version 1.0 are not compatible with works licensed
under any other versions. In that sense, the Share Alike flexibility introduced for version 2.0
was a positive and useful change that sought to avoid this problem in the future and to allow
works licensed under different versions to be remixed. However, this compatibility is limited
to licenses carrying the same elements. Some users have asked to extend the compatibility to
make BY-NC-SA and BY-SA licenses compatible, but the organization has not yet made that
Meanwhile, iCommons has been renamed CCi.
c) Link-back attribution requirement
The Licensee must attribute the author on each copy, performance, or adaptation by
conveying the name of the author (if supplied) and the title of the work (if provided); by
identifying the use of the work in the derivative; and – as an upgrade in version 2.0 – by
specifying the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) that the Licensor provided with the work (if
it is practically possible to do so and if it refers to the work’s copyright notice or licensing
This additional requirement does not seem to create incompatibilities.
d) Synchronization and music rights
The definition for derivative works is expanded; if a work is a musical composition or a sound
recording, the definition now includes the work’s synchronization with moving images.
Music published under a license with the Non-Derivative element cannot be mixed with a
film, because this would be considered a Derivative and not a Collective work. Only music
published under BY, BY SA, BY NC, and BY NC SA can be reused to illustrate films and
This specification creates remix incompatibility in the sense that music under ND cannot be
reused to illustrate an audiovisual work. Users who do not read the legal code, however, may
be unaware of this detail, especially if the music track is used entirely without modification.
Synchronization rights are considered derivative in U.S. law, but this may not necessarily be
the case in all countries. Thus, licensors may be unaware that choosing an ND option will
prevent their music from illustrating documentaries. Licensees may be unaware that they
cannot reuse ND music to illustrate their documentaries, even without modifying the tracks.
An author licensing her music under a BY ND will have her music excluded from the pool of
synchronizable music. Besides, if synchronization rights were not considered by some
jurisdictions to create derivative works in the absence of more substantial transformations,
then this specification would create incompatibilities between international versions.
e) Limited warranties: the hidden risk of infringement
The most important change between versions 1.0 and 2.0 is that warranties were removed
from the core of the licenses. Version 1.0, clause 5, entitled “Representations, Warranties and
Disclaimer,” specifies that the Licensor owns the rights to secure a quiet use by the licensee;
the Licensor warrants that the work does not infringe any rights and that it can be used
without paying royalties:
“By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of
Licensor's knowledge after reasonable inquiry:
- Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the
lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties,
compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments
- The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right
of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party”
This provision was favorable to the licensee, and it fostered reusing and remixing. Its removal
does not directly create incompatibility between works, but at an upper level, it poses a
significant hindrance to the legal security of sharing and remixing. It prevents the peaceful
enjoyment of CC works because CC works might not be permitted to be used as offered in the
In relation to the cascade of responsibility described in section 2.3.3, infringement procedures
and contract law will decide whether a Licensor who distributed a work for which she did not
own all the rights (either because it contains someone else’s work or because she is a member
of a collecting society and cannot offer a work free of charge for all the uses of the grant) can
be held responsible if the grant is invalid and the rights holder or the collecting society sues
the licensee, who was expecting to use a “clean” work.
The rationale for the deletion of the warranty, as presented on CC’s blog, is that warranties
can be sold as commodities. The sustainability of the ecosystem is transformed into an
optional business model: “licensors could sell warranties to risk-averse, high-exposure
licensees interested in the due diligence paper trial, thereby creating [a] nice CC business
This issue is also discussed in sections 4.2.3 and 3.3. In France, 2.0 licenses kept the warranty
provision of version 1.0, and the Share Alike international compatibility clause will have the
effect to remove these warranties after relicensing a derivative under a subsequent
incremental version or a different jurisdiction’s version. Neither the GNU-GPL nor the GFDL
includes a clause on representation or the express absence of representation, meaning that
authorship is a question of proof that remains to be decided through applicable law.
3.2.2 From 2.0 to 2.5, in June 2005174
a) Attribution to authors or other parties
Version 2.5 only contains a minor revision; the attribution can be requested to credit the
author or any other party (e.g., a licensor, a sponsor, a journal, a publisher, or an institution).
This modification provides more flexibility and freedom, in order to support more complex
and personalized methods and social or scientific norms of requesting attribution.
For instance, in the case of work-for-hire, a staff member will be credited for her article, but
so will the funder, the university, and the journal of first publication. It may also help to
distinguish the author from the right holder and to credit both.
Creative Commons, “Comments Period Drawing to a close for Draft License Version 2.5,”
This modification is not expected to create incompatibility, but it increases and expands the
protection of the licensor’s or author’s attribution rights and creates more burdens for the
licensee, in order to properly attribute all the necessary parties in the expected manner. After
version 2.0’s standardization of the Attribution element and the possibility of requesting that a
link accompany the credit, this change marks an additional step toward the recognition of
civil law and toward a romantic version of strong authorship, in which the author has greater
strength to exercise her moral right of attribution. Notwithstanding the licenses’ pending
qualification of contractual obligation, in the countries where attribution is weak or does not
exist, this may cause licensees who do not respect the attribution requirement to face a breach
of contract, even if the lack of complete and proper attribution would not have been
considered a copyright infringement in their jurisdiction.
3.2.3 From 2.5 to 3.0, in February 2007175
Versioning to 3.0 formed the biggest revision in the history of CC licenses. This process
involved the consultation of many partners and stakeholders, including the community of
This mention was added in the foreword: “To the extent this license may be considered to be
a) Attribution and the no-endorsement clause
The version’s attribution language has been clarified again so that a Licensor would not imply
support or endorsement of the derivative work. This provision is a “No-Endorsement” clause,
answering a request from users such as MIT “to ensure that when people translate and locally
adapt MIT content under the terms of the BY-NC-SA license, they make it clear that they are
doing so under the terms of the license and not as a result of a special relationship between
MIT and that person”.
This additional specification of the proper way to express attribution does not create
additional incompatibilities between licenses or works.
b) Compatibility structure between BY-SA and other licenses: to be determined
The CC BY-SA 3.0 licenses now include a compatibility structure with licenses to be
approved or certified as compatible by CC. Once this process hosts other licenses, “licensees
of both the BY-SA 3.0 and the certified CC compatible license will be able to relicense
derivatives under either license (e.g., under either the BY-SA or the certified CC compatible
Creative Commons, “http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Version_3,” http://wiki.creativecommons.org/
Version_3 and “Version 3.0 Launched,” http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7249
This is an extension of the Share Alike interoperability clause. It aims to foster compatibility
through a political decision rather than an adaptation process, such as with the CCi versions of
the licenses. It is a progressive move in the sense that more open content can now be mixed
with CC BY SA works. However, since the license texts are different, section 3.5 will
examine the possible difficulties raised by compatibility with external licenses, starting with
the licenses whose institutions started discussions with CC about compatibility: the Free Art
License and the GNU Free Documentation (GFDL) license. The process, in order to reach full
compatibility effects, should be reciprocal; if CC BY SA recognizes the FAL as compatible,
then the FAL should recognize the CC BY SA as compatible.
c) Internationalization of the generic/unported licenses
The major innovation of the 3.0 versioning is the internationalization of licenses that formally
correspond to U.S. law, even if they are called “generic.” License definitions are now based
on international texts, and they have been renamed “unported.” The licenses do not refer to
any specific jurisdiction, and they are to be ported into the various jurisdictions of the CCi
system. They are drafted with the terminology of the Berne Convention for the Protection of
Literary and Artistic Works, the Rome Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, the WIPO
Performances and Phonograms Treaty, and the Universal Copyright Convention. Rights and
subject-matter definitions should “be enforced according to the corresponding provisions of
the implementation of those treaty provisions in the applicable national law.”
This change brings much clarity and internal coherence to the system, and it does not create
incompatibilities per se, although incompatibilities may already exist between jurisdictions’
legislations, as will be further discussed.
d) Moral rights clause, for international harmonization
Because the licensor’s right of integrity may be seen as conflicting with the licensee’s right to
make derivatives, the CC organization and several jurisdictions felt the need to include moral
rights in the license’s wording. This may have been unnecessary, because it was already
included by some jurisdictions that added this provision during the porting process, and it was
already understood that moral rights would be applicable by default in the courts because the
licenses apply in addition to applicable law. Nevertheless, for more clarification, the provision
now appears in both legal code and human-readable code. With version 3.0, the unported
structure states that moral rights are retained, waived, or not asserted in jurisdictions where
this is possible.
This point will be further discussed in sections 3.3 and 4.2.1. This change is likely to create
incompatibilities between licenses because the scope and enforcement of moral rights vary
widely from country to country. This incompatibility is not caused by the CC licenses
themselves, but rather by the differences between national laws that are not harmonized.
e) Collecting society clause, for international harmonization
As for moral rights, the language on collecting societies clarifies information which could
already have already been ported in jurisdictions’ versions. It describes the situation and the
law, which has been observed by the jurisdictions, and it confirms that the Licensor can waive
or not waive her right to collect royalties, under non-waivable and waivable compulsory
licensing schemes and voluntary licensing schemes.
Sections 3.3 and 4.2.4 will further address this question. This issue is likely to create
incompatibilities between licenses, or to prevent the licenses from working properly, because
the scope and management of compulsory licensing vary widely from country to country, and
they affect the ability of licensors to authorize the use of their work for free. This
incompatibility is not caused by the wording of the CC licenses themselves, but rather by
differences between the two systems. Collective management societies’ practices are
embedded within the law and within statutory agreements, which are contracts that rights-
holders accept to become members of those societies.
f) TPM language clarification
Debian, a prominent organization in the free software community, was concerned about the
CC licenses anti-TPM (Technical Protection Measure) clause, which prevents licensees from
using works with technological protection measures, which control the access to or use of the
work in a manner inconsistent with the freedom granted in the licenses. The Debian project
noticed that the wording would preclude licensees from including CC content on Sony
Playstation platforms. They suggested introducing a parallel distribution clause allowing a
Licensee to distribute the work in any format, even a protected one, provided that the work
would also be available in an unprotected format. This possible change was discussed during
the versioning process, but it was not included in the 3.0 version because of the CCi affiliate
community’s opposition to restricting freedom.
g) Database sui generis rights in CCi versions
Databases were not explicitly included in previous versions of the generic/unported licenses.
They are now indirectly covered because the definition of “work” includes compilations of
data, to the extent that they are protected by copyright law, which varies among jurisdictions.
Compilations were already included in the definition of “works” and thus covered by the
licenses, and the difference between a compilation of works and a database of works is not
The exclusion of database sui generis rights is not an actual change within generic version
3.0, but its mention can be found in the CCi 3.0 porting documentation. Database rights
should be waived, and the license elements (Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives,
and Share-Alike) should not be applied to database rights. These rights had previously been
included in several CCi versions (in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and France, among
other countries), which added extraction and reuse of substantial parts of a database in version
2.0’s rights grant, as an equivalent to the right of reproduction, performance, and distribution
for works covered by copyright and neighboring rights.
The goal of this change is to clarify the status of databases in the licenses and the
interoperability among licenses in different CCi jurisdictions. However, this change has
already provided a source of incompatibility between licenses because some licenses
recognize databases as a subject matter of the licenses, and many databases have been
released under CC licenses, with SA or NC licence elements. This topic will be discussed
again in sections 3.4 and 4.2.2. Databases of works can be distinguished from databases of
data or of uncopyrightable facts and information, which are now particularly addressed by the
CC0 protocol, aiming to place works and other elements as near as possible to the public
3.3 Incompatibility between different options
Offering many options raises information costs and defeats the purpose of the remix culture if
different options cannot be remixed together because of the Share Alike effect.
This section details all the concrete impossibilities between options that prevent the remixing
of works under different licenses. SA is incompatible with ND in the sense that no license
contains both elements, because SA applies to derivatives. Besides that obvious caveat, it is
not easy to list all the incompatibilities, and it should be noted that the NC clause affects both
Derivatives and Collections.
The table below, created by the CC Taiwan team, helps define under which license a work
and its adaptations can be relicensed.
Creative Commons Licenses Compatibility Wizard176
1. This wizard (chart) above should give you some assistance in figuring out which Creative Commons license
you can use to relicense a work.
2. To check out some compatible licenses (i.e., licenses you can use to relicense a work) from licenses of works
you are using:
According to those Creative Commons-licensed works you used, check the corresponding Creative Commons
license in the left side (vertical-axis) of the chart above.
You can see license names by hovering your mouse (or other point devices) cursor on those deed icons.
Repeat first two steps until all CC-licensed work you used are checked properly.
Alone with your checking process, some smiley faces ☻ may appear in the chart to mark those compatible
licenses for each license of works you are used.
For the intersection of compatible licenses, a light-blue background color will appear in the chart above.
You can see the names of intersection of compatible licenses by hovering your mouse (or other point devices)
cursor on those deed icons.
This intersection of compatible licenses indicates Creative Commons licenses you can relicense your work
If there is no light-blue backgrounded cell in the end of your operation, maybe you are using incompatible
However, you can still look into smiley faces to figure out which work you have to drop out to ensure license
Then, you can check license compatibility again by using this wizard.
Or maybe you can contact the author of particular work to gain extra permissions or rights to use that work.
This application is modified from Licenses Wizard V3.0, of Open Source Software Foundry,
and it is licensed under the MIT license. The source code of this application can be downloaded here.
3. To check out up-stream licenses (i.e., licenses of works you'd like to use in your work) from license you'd like
to relicense your work under:
According to the Creative Commons license you'd like to relicense your work under, check the corresponding
license in the upper side (horizontal-axis) of the chart above.
You can see license names by hovering your mouse (or other point devices) cursor on those deed icons.
Alone with your checking, some licenses will be highlighted with blue background in the left side (vertical-axis)
of the chart above.
Those highlighted licenses are usable up-stream licenses compatible with one you'd like to relicense your work
You can see those licenses names by hovering your mouse (or other point devices) cursor on those deed icons.
4. By pressing the "Reset" button in the upper-left corner of the chart above, you can clear all selection and re-
The two following charts hereafter are part of the CC’s FAQs section, and they help define
under which licenses Derivatives and Collections can be licensed.
Compatibility Chart for Derivative Works
If I use a Creative Commons-licensed work to create a new work (i.e., a derivative work or adaptation), which
Creative Commons license can I use for my new work?
The chart below should give you some assistance in figuring out which Creative Commons license you can use
on your new work. Some of our licenses just do not, as practical matter, work together.
The green boxes indicate license compatibility. That is, you may use the license indicated in the top row for your
derivative work or adaptation, or for a collective work. The blank rows for the by-nc-nd and by-nd licenses
indicate that derivative works or adaptations are not permitted by the license of the original work, therefore you
are never allowed to re-license them.
Compatibility Chart for Collections
I’m collecting a number of different works together into one resource. Can I include Creative Commons-licensed
All the Creative Commons licenses allow the original work to be included in collections such as anthologies,
encyclopedias and broadcasts. However, you still have to follow the license the original material is under. For
example, material under any of the Creative Commons Noncommercial licenses cannot be included in a
collection that is going to be used commercially. The table below will help you work out whether you can
include the Creative Commons-licensed material in your collection.
Note that when you include a Creative Commons licensed work in a collection, you must keep the work under
the same license. This doesn’t mean the whole collection has to be put under the Creative Commons license –
just the original work.
Creative Commons chose to offer several options. This creates internal incompatibilities
because not all content licensed under a Creative Commons license is ready to be remixed
with other works licensed under another or even the same Creative Commons license.
Open content licenses endeavor to facilitate the reuse and remix of copyrighted material by
granting clear permissions, and different options are available to suit the needs of a
multiplicity of user expectations. What are the transaction and information costs of remixing
open content material licensed under different, possibly incompatible licenses? What is the
impact on users in terms of incentive to reuse works and make derivatives?
This section lists the possibilities between the various combinations, and it analyzes some
unintended and uncertain situations. The diversity of options leads to obvious
incompatibilities, unlike some incompatibilities between international versions or between
licenses that may be declared compatible, which are less visible or even hidden.
Works’ Verbatim Reproduction, Performance, And Distribution (Without Modification)
A work can be copied, performed, and distributed only under its license of origin, which must
accompany each copy or performance.
The difference between collective works and derivative works is sometimes unclear, and it is
the source of many questions on various mailing lists.
All CC licenses authorize the inclusion of a work into collective works or collections, to the
extent that the work is licensed under the same license, which does not “require the Collection
apart from the Work itself to be made subject to the terms of this License”. In that case, there
is no problem of incompatibility; any CC work may be included in any collection. Even SA
works do not require the collection to be licensed under SA terms.
Expectations of virality may be disappointed. But there is one major limitation; works
licensed under a BY NC, BY NC SA, or BY NC ND cannot be included in a collection that is
going to be used for commercial purposes.
BY NC ND and BY ND works cannot be modified. Therefore, they are incompatible with any
other works because they cannot lead to derivative works. Thus the question of relicensing the
derivative is avoided.
Only works under a BY license may be remixed with works licensed under any other license
and relicensed under any condition, including all rights reserved. BY SA and BY NC SA
works can only be remixed and relicensed under the same license.
BY SA and BY NC SA content cannot be combined, because of the NC provision; this may
be the system’s biggest limitation.
BY NC works can be modified and relicensed under BY NC, BY NC ND, and BY NC SA.
According to Katz,177 “incompatibilities between certain Creative Commons licenses may
limit the future production and distribution of creative works in ways that today’s creators
may not intend.” Katz studied the effects of transforming a first-generation derivative work on
the second generation of derivative works, and he considered how a license’s dynamic can
shape the production of derivatives. In his evolutionary model, SA licenses will take more
importance, because of their viral effect; however, because of the incompatibility between BY
SA and BY NC SA, more derivative works will be released under a BY NC SA license, and
BY SA works will become isolated and less likely to be reused.
3.4 Incompatibility among different jurisdictions
Creative Commons decided to work with international teams of affiliates. Acting as a network
to advise on the project at the international level and to work with national communities, the
initial teams worked to translate the material and to adapt the licenses to local legislations. For
instance, the definitions drafted in reference to international conventions are expected to be
replaced by the definitions of national copyright laws. The previous section noted that the
Share Alike clause admits the relicensing of an Adaptation under a license from another
jurisdiction; the licenses are declared compatible. Are they really compatible? Do they cover
the same subject-matter, offer the same scope of rights, and contain the same limitations?
The goal is to foster implementation in order to avoid interpretation problems and to improve
compatibility with copyright law. However, implementation actually leads to incompatibility
with contract law and create a consent problem, because a Licensor is expected to consent to
the Adaptation of her work being licensed under different, future, unidentified terms.
This paper will first present Creative Commons’ rationale for its porting project, before
comparing jurisdictions’ licenses. The paper will not analyze and systematically compare all
the provisions of all the ported versions of the licenses. On the contrary, it will discuss a few
clauses that vary among jurisdictions and that are sources of inconsistencies. We selected
these clauses either because they raise important issues and/or because their jurisdictions
illustrate remarkable differences between legal systems. Examining the clauses should allow
us to assess whether these inconsistencies are a source of incompatibility and a jeopardy to
legal certainty for the first or second generation of users (because of CC choices), or whether
these differences between licenses that are declared compatible actually do not generate more
issues than those raised by the differences already existing in the law (because legislations are
not harmonized). In other words, is CC creating additional problems in an already difficult
situation, or is CC simply failing to solve the cross-national lack of copyright harmonization?
For instance, what is allowed under exceptions and limitations to exclusive rights (and
therefore what is possible even with an ND or an NC license) will vary from country to
country – depending, for instance, on the scope of the license’s exceptions.
Zachary Katz, “Pitfalls of Open Licensing: An Analysis of Creative Commons Licensing,” IDEA – The
Intellectual Property Law Review, vol. 46 no. 3, 2006, 391–413.
3.4.1 Legal porting
The Creative Commons International (CCi) team coordinates jurisdictions’ affiliates during
the porting process and afterwards, in order to make sure international licenses remain as
close to the original versions as possible and, thus, to maintain as much compatibility as
possible. International affiliates are expected to provide re-translations into English of first
drafts and to share the rationale of their proposed legal modifications, which should be kept as
minimal as possible.
More than 50 teams around the world translated and adapted the licenses to the languages and
legislations of their jurisdictions. With the Share Alike interoperability clause, works licensed
under a Share Alike license can be remixed with works licensed under a Share Alike license
from another jurisdiction, and the resulting derivative work may be relicensed under the Share
Alike license of a third jurisdiction. In addition to its compatibility with international
versions, the Share Alike clause also foresees compatibility with a later version of the same
license. To add even more complexity, not all the jurisdictions are at the same stage, and not
all of them have translated all the versions. For instance, versions 2.0, 2.5, and 3.0 are
available in the Netherlands, while the French jurisdiction still uses the 2.0 version.
International legal diversity has not been the choice of other free or open-licenses systems.
Instead, those systems prefer unique options and jurisdictions instead of offering choices
regarding the offered level of freedom and local translations, which cannot be absolutely
controlled by a central organization. Creative Commons is the first organization in the open-
licensing sphere to provide local translations by jurisdiction; these translations are
coordinated, but the central organization cannot control them completely. This lack of
absolute control is one of the Free Software Foundation’s arguments against porting the
GNU-GPL and GFDL licenses; although linguistic translations are available for information,
they are not given any legal status because the organization cannot be certain about the impact
of their possible legal differences, notwithstanding errors that may affect localized
There are numerous reasons for porting the licenses to local laws. The main advantage of
jurisdiction-specific licenses is the ability to provide linguistic translations for users, thus
respecting consumer law and fostering acceptability among non-English-speaking local
communities. Legal adaptations also make local judges’ interpretations easier. Localized texts
are more likely to be valid in local jurisdictions than global texts.
The teams in charge of linguistic translations and legal adaptations are forming a political
army of project leads, a form of “political franchising.”178 These experts answer questions
from their communities and contribute to the success of their country’s licenses. They also
advise the central organization about the best ways to improve unported licenses and to
On the structuration of the international community and the relationship between the organization and
its international affiliates, see http://governancexborders.wordpress.com/tag/wikimania-preview/
and Leonhard Dobusch, Sigrid Quack, “Epistemic Communities and Social Movements: Transnational
Dynamics in the Case of Creative Commons,” MPIFG Discussion Paper 08/8, 2008.
facilitate their compatibility with as many legal systems as possible.
3.4.2 Internal validity vs. unexpected inconsistencies
The drafters seek to maintain the validity, enforceability, or effectiveness of the licenses,
despite possible legal differences among countries, as expressed in the severity clause: “If any
provision of this License is invalid or unenforceable under applicable law, it shall not affect
the validity or enforceability of the remainder of the terms of this License, and without further
action by the parties to this agreement, such provision shall be reformed to the minimum
extent necessary to make such provision valid and enforceable.” The effect of this clause is
not absolute; in the case where a jurisdiction’s contract law would invalidate an entire
agreement if one clause were invalid.
The desire to ensure internal validity in as many jurisdictions as possible, and thus to accept
differences between national translations, is justified by the differences between national
laws. The differences, which are necessary in order to be enforceable in the various
jurisdictions, may have side effects or undesired consequences. Indeed, different countries’
laws and thus licenses do not have the same definitions for rights and subject matters, and
they do not address the same concepts. Elements that may be covered by licenses in one
country may not be protected in another; rights may be broader or more limited in one
jurisdiction than in another. Despite CC’s and its affiliates’ best efforts to maintain coherence
within the system, a judge could decide to interpret a concept in yet another way (e.g., as non-
commercial). In that sense, the licenses add complexity to pre-existing multinational licensing
Nevertheless, the Share Alike provision aims to make all licenses compatible, and it allows a
Licensee to license her derivative work under the license of another jurisdiction. A third party
(C) may thus ignore some requirements of the jurisdiction’s license chosen by Licensor (A).
There is also a risk that specific provisions chosen by the Licensor (A) will lose their effects
because they will disappear after her work, originally licensed under an SA license, is derived
and relicensed under an SA license from another jurisdiction. Therefore, the validity of the
contract is jeopardized because the requirements for informed notice may not be fulfilled,
despite efforts to keep the licenses as compatible as possible by minimizing their differences.
These incompatibilities are hidden in the sense that neither licensees nor licensors will read
the legal code from other jurisdictions. A systematic analysis of differences between clauses
should reveal inconsistencies. Thereby, it should also reveal potential risks for licensors’ and
licensees’ expectations and for the validity of the agreement, since the second jurisdiction’s
licenses’ definitions for author, work, rights, restrictions, and other conditions will not have
exactly the same contractual scope.
This study does not analyze and compare all the 50 versions; rather, it provides some selected
examples to demonstrate the contamination risk that may occur from the first generation of
derivative works and then grow exponentially after several generations. Examples include
limited warranties and representation, moral rights, the inclusion of related and database
rights in the definition of “work,” and the scope of applicable rights (e.g., what constitutes an
Adaptation or what is non-commercial).
3.4.3 Representation of non-infringement
The author’s limited representation is included in several ported versions, but not in the
generic 3.0 version. As previously noted, this representation was removed between versions
1.0 and 2.0, but the French 2.0 version retained it for compliance with local law. Thus, any
potential French Licensee reading the French version, and assuming that the other
jurisdictions’ licenses are equivalent and hence that they also contain this provision, may
expect all CC works to be safe for reuse and free of copyright infringement or other troubles.
In the chain of responsibility, it is difficult to know whether that Licensee could sue the
original licensor, who actually disclaimed any representation, if the French happened to
transmit an infringing work. If work X, licensed by A under a U.S. license, is transformed by
B into a derivative work X, which is re-licensed under the French version of the license, then
potential licensees C may expect B to carry new obligations that A did not carry.
Similarly, a contractual limitation of liability, arising out of willful or grossly negligent
behavior, is void according to Section 1229 of the Italian Civil Code.179 The disclaimer of
liability is thus non-applicable in the 2.5 Italian version of the licenses. The New Zealand
version, on the contrary, contains an exact opposite clause: “the Licensor shall not be liable
on any legal basis (including without limitation negligence).”
Databases are a subject matter of the licenses in Dutch, German, French, and Belgium
versions 2.0 and 2.5. They have been removed from 3.0 (only by the Dutch, in practice, since
the other jurisdictions have not yet ported 3.0), and the effects of the optional license elements
will lose their effects and not be applied to databases. Thus, the Licensor of a database
licensed under a BY SA Netherlands 2.0 license will expect derivatives to carry the Share
Alike element and to remain in the Commons. However, the Share Alike interoperability
clause allows any derivative of the database to be relicensed under a license specifying that
the licensing restrictions, including Share Alike, cannot be applied to a database. Therefore,
the second derivative will not be shared with the Share Alike element. The original licensor’s
expectations will be disappointed as far as BY, NC, and SA are concerned, because these
restrictions will not be applied. It seems difficult to designate a responsible person because
the terms of the agreement changed, and database rights must be waived according to the
Netherlands 3.0 licenses.
3.4.4 Scope of rights
The scope of applicable rights also varies from one jurisdiction to another. For instance,
German law (§31 UrhG)180 excluded the right to use the work in formats that are currently
Creative Commons, “Legal Changes,” http://mirrors.creativecommons.org/international/it/it-
Creative Commons, “English Changes,” http://mirrors.creativecommons.org/international/de/english-
unknown. Thus, the CCi teams cannot translate the last sentence of section 3, stating that
rights may be exercised in all media and formats, whether now known or hereafter devised,
because such a clause would be invalid in German law. Rights would still belong to the
Licensor; thus, this sentence was omitted from Germany’s 2.0 version, but later re-introduced
in version 3.0. Italian, Romanian, Greek, and probably other copyright laws also forbid any
transfer of future rights or rights for unknown types of use. Thus, a Licensee reading another
version of the license, or intending to reuse the derivative version, may well think that she is
free to transform the work in another new format, without knowing that this prerogative is
reserved by the initial licensor.
The non-commercial definition was not translated verbatim by all jurisdictions; for instance,
“commercial purpose” may be defined by a Greek judge otherwise than specified in the
unported license. Therefore, if the Greek case law adopts a broader understanding, then
derivatives of BY NC SA may be used in a manner that the original licensor’s jurisdiction
considers a commercial use.
The Canadian version, which is based on Canadian law, considers that converting a dramatic
work into a non-dramatic work, or adapting it as a cinematographic film, constitutes a mere
“Use” and not a “Derivative work”. Thus, these usages are authorized even in licenses
carrying the ND element. Additionally, the moral right of integrity is waivable in Canada, and
the licenses have included this prerogative in order to ensure that the Licensor may permit
derivative works. Thus, licensors from jurisdictions with more restrictive moral rights will see
the level of protection decrease if a derivative of their original work is relicensed under a
Canadian version that explicitly waives moral rights for subsequent derivatives.
Adaptations are defined quite strictly in Australian copyright law. CC Australia 2.1 ND
licenses therefore authorize a number of uses for that which would be considered derivatives
in other jurisdictions (e.g., making a film from a script).181
To conclude, the country with the more permissive regime may export risks in more
protective or civil law jurisdictions; hence, nationals may find their expectations disappointed.
This adds complexity to international law differences if contracts read by nationals contain
different provisions, and it makes responsibility even more difficult to locate if the infringer
was following the least-protective legislation and license.
License differences that jeopardize contractual certainty are caused by differences between
national laws. It seems that the ambitious project to make licenses compatible is a lost cause.
No matter how diligently CC tries to coordinate the porting in a way that makes jurisdictions’
versions compatible among each other, it can never eradicate all international differences.
Externalizing the interpretation task to the judge, who would have to interpret what
constitutes a derivative work or a commercial use anyway, does not threaten the validity of
the Share Alike clause or of the entire contractual chain.
Catherine Bond, “Simplification and Consistency in Australian Public Rights Licenses,” SCRIPTed,
vol. 4 no.1, 2007, 38: “Many of the difficulties in achieving consistency between public rights licenses on a
global level are a result of the differences in terminology in national copyright laws. (…) The translation of the
United States CC licenses into Australian law provides a good illustration of the question as to whether national
issues must be sacrificed for the sake of international consistency and vice versa.”
3.5 Incompatibility with other open content licenses
Since version 3.0, the Share Alike clause has declared a compatibility with CC Compatible
Licenses. This clause targets open content licenses, which are outside the CC system but have
equivalent terms, and introduces the possibility of relicensing derivatives under the terms of
“You may Distribute or Publicly Perform an Adaptation only under the terms of: (i) this
License; (ii) a later version of this License with the same License Elements as this License;
(iii) a Creative Commons jurisdiction license (either this or a later license version) that
contains the same License Elements as this License (e.g., Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US));
(iv) a Creative Commons Compatible License.”
No license has been recognized as “Compatible” yet, but discussions have started, at least
with the organizations curating two licenses – the GNU Free Documentation License
(GFDL), managed by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in the United States, and the Free
Art License, created by Copyleft Attitude in France. Potentially, all open content licenses182
could join that compatibility process.
Past and present efforts seek to reach compatibility by inserting a clause in the licenses
accepting that derivatives may be licensed not only under the same license but also under
licenses that have been recognized as compatible. However, related discussions are often
passionate, and their results uncertain, because communities are ideologically attached to the
particularisms of their licensing schemes and not necessarily supportive of the specificities of
other licensing schemes.
As demonstrated for declared compatibility between different jurisdictions’ licenses, the
Share Alike compatibility is merely a political statement that must be validated by facts.
Because different licenses have different phrasings, it should be checked whether those
differences may also change the content of the grant and its substantial conditions and,
therefore, whether it might affect users’ expectations and threaten the validity of the consent
along the modification chain.
In order to inform the decision of institutions to recognize political compatibility, differences
must be scrutinized to see if the licenses intend to have an equivalent effect. Besides the
uncertainty for licensors, the process requires trust, and it is all the more controversial that
compatibility may also be approved for subsequent versions.
There are four possible methods for improving compatibility between different open licenses
and open-licensed works:
- Cross-licensing and reciprocal compatibility per se between licenses;
- A combination of works licensed under different licenses and partial compatibility
IFROSS lists 30 open content licenses at http://www.ifross.org/; click on the “open content” tab
and scroll down.
- Dual-licensing and relicensing, reaching de facto compatibility between contents by
removing one license; and
- A definition of common freedoms between licenses, taking one step backwards to get
back to the basics.
Each method will be presented, using the case of one license or an ongoing effort to minimize
incompatibility between open licenses and works. The following sections will examine:
- The compatibility cross-licensing clause in the Share Alike clause of the licenses, with the
example of the Free Art license (3.5.1).
- The provision allowing a combination of works licensed under a Digital Peer Publishing
License (DPPL, 3.5.2) with content licensed under a CC BY license (which is not compatible,
because both licenses cover different scopes of rights).
- Dual-licensing and relicensing, an option that has been chosen for Wikipedia, with the
migration from the GNU-GFDL to the CC BY SA 3.0 unported (3.5.3).
- The definition of a common ground of core freedoms; this is the standardization path
initiated by the Free Culture Definition (3.5.4) to help recognize “free culture licenses.”
The following sections will assess the validity and effects of these different methods for
achieving and defining compatibility between licenses and works.
3.5.1 Cross-licensing: the example of the Free Art License
Several other open content licenses have terms that are similar to the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution Share Alike license. However, because of the copyleft provision, works
licensed under one license cannot be mixed with works licensed under another, closely similar
but slightly different license. Even if the intention of the licensors (and, to a lesser extent, of
the drafters) may be similar, works licensed under different open content licenses remain
Once external licenses are recognized compatible, it will be possible, for instance, to re-
license a BY SA work under GFDL, and Free Art License (FAL) works derivatives may be
re-licensed under any of the BY SA license CCi versions. Therefore, unintended effects may
be increased, as since differences between different licenses will add up to differences
between jurisdictions’ licenses.
In addition to the obvious differences caused by explaining similar notions with different
words, there are four main differences between the two systems. They will be presented
hereafter, and their consequences for potential express compatibility will be analyzed.
First, a practical difference between the CC BY SA 3.0 unported legal code and the Free Art
License 1.3183 (FAL) is that the freedom to distribute a work, whether modified or not, is
granted, provided that the Licensee specifies “to the recipient where to access the originals”
The English translation of the FAL is available at http://artlibre.org/licence/lal/en
(article 2.2). This notion is missing in the CC licenses, and it could be a useful addition in the
Second, the main conceptual difference is the distinction between original copy and
subsequent works in the FAL. Including the notion of a physical, original copy and the
concern of its integrity, while authorizing modifications of subsequent works and copies of
the original, accommodates plastic arts such as paintings, sculptures, and installations.
Unlike the FAL, the CC licenses directly authorize modifications. However, there is no risk
that the cross-licensing clause would lead a reader of the CC license to modify directly the
original of a work licensed under the FAL, since the distribution under a compatible license
applies to the subsequent work; thus, modifications would have been performed on copies of
The FAL 1.3, clause 2.3, foresees that copies of originals, called subsequent works, can be
modified provided that the licensee:
- “indicate(s) that the work has been modified and, if it is possible, what kind of modifications have been
- “distribute(s) the subsequent work under the same license or any compatible license.”
The first sentence, requiring a description of the modifications, has its equivalent in the CC
licenses. The last sentence, the cross-licensing clause, is comparable to the CC SA
compatibility language. However, the recognition of a “compatible license” differs between
the two license providers. This is the third substantial difference.
On one hand, CC prepared a page to host licenses that will be recognized as compatible.
However, it does not indicate what process or precise criteria should be followed. Rather, it
provides a broad, high-level declaration of intent to recognize compatible licenses that have
“the same purpose, meaning and effect”:
“‘Creative Commons Compatible License’ means a license that is listed at
http://creativecommons.org/compatiblelicenses that has been approved by Creative Commons as being
essentially equivalent to this License, including, at a minimum, because that license:
(i) contains terms that have the same purpose, meaning and effect as the License Elements of this License; and,
(ii) explicitly permits the relicensing of adaptations of works made available under that license under this
License or a Creative Commons jurisdiction license with the same License Elements as this License.”
On the other hand, Copyleft Attitude, the organization in charge of the FAL, included
compatibility criteria in the text of the license. However, it did not indicate where compatible
licenses would be listed or approved, nor did it specify whether their inclusion should be
deduced by the reader’s interpretation of any license (which is unlikely but possible). The
following criteria are listed under clause 5, “Compatibility”:
“A license is compatible with the Free Art License provided:
it gives the right to copy, distribute, and modify copies of the work including for commercial purposes and
without any other restrictions than those required by the respect of the other compatibility criteria;
it ensures proper attribution of the work to its authors and access to previous versions of the work when possible;
it recognizes the Free Art License as compatible (reciprocity);
it requires that changes made to the work be subject to the same license or to a license which also meets these
It is unclear whether all CC BY SA restrictions under clause 4, and elsewhere in the core
grant, can and will be interpreted as “those required by the respect of the other compatibility
criteria”. It can be assumed that both decision processes still need to be refined, both
internally and within outer communities.
Will both communities vote, just as Wikimedia Foundation consulted Wikipedians about the
Wikimedia migration (see section 3.5.3)? How will the communities be defined? Unlike the
Wikipedians’ activities, which can be registered (thus allowing the foundation to set a
minimum limit of 25 edits before a certain date in order to qualify individuals to participate in
the vote), there is no registration for individuals or institutions using a CC BY SA or a FAL to
distribute their works or those using CC BY SA or FAL licensed works.
Will there be a public discussion within a defined timeline, or until a consensus is reached
(consensus being defined as the lack of “sustainable technical argument” or “formal
objection”), as for technical standardization such as ISO or the W3C?
The express compatibility process raises uncertainties and challenges;184 it is very ambitious
because it intends to reduce incompatibilities between licenses that have the same objective
and therefore to reduce Commons fragmentation. Some decisions will affect the process:
-The scope of Adaptation (e.g., will photos and videogame materials be considered
Adaptations and not Collections, like synchronized music on moving images?), and
-The possible extension of the cross-compatibility clause to BY and BY NC SA licenses.
These two questions have been taken into consideration by the drafters of the Digital Peer
Publishing Licenses, which are analyzed in section 18.104.22.168
Finally, the fourth difference between the CC BY-SA and the FAL involves related and
database rights. The enforcement of these rights should be limited and should not lead to
limiting the effects of the granted rights; as article 3 states, “Activities giving rise to author’s
rights and related rights shall not challenge the rights granted by this license. For example,
this is the reason why performances must be subject to the same license or a compatible
license. Similarly, integrating the work in a database, a compilation or an anthology shall not
prevent anyone from using the work under the same conditions as those defined in this
If related rights are included in the CC licenses, then database rights are waived and are not
submitted to the BY SA provisions or to the other restrictions. Thus, the scopes of the licenses
Therefore, these differences should be harmonized before a cross-compatibility clause is
Jessica Coates, “Playing Well With Others: Increasing Compatibility between Commons Licenses,”
Workshop on Asia and Commons in the Information Age, Taipei, January 2008.
Digital Peer Publishing, “Digital Peer Publishing Licence,” http://www.dipp.nrw.de/lizenzen/dppl/
3.5.2 Combination of works licensed under non-compatible terms: the Digital
Peer Publishing Licenses
Digital Peer Publishing Licenses (DPPL) are a set of three licenses (the DPPL, the modular
DPPL, and the free DPPL) “designed for scholarly content because it covers aspects of
authenticity, citation, bibliographic data and metadata, permanent access and open
The basic module of this license, the DPPL, provides rights for use only in a digital format,
and it reserves the right to distribute the work in printed form. Thus, because of this rights
fragmentation, the DPPL cannot be considered equivalent and hence a candidate for
compatibility with a CC license, which allows reproduction of the work in any format.
However, it contains a clause entitled “Combination with other content”:
DPPL version 3.0, November 2008187
§ 8: Combination with other content
(1) The Licensor may combine the Work with other content that may be used under the terms of the Creative
Commons license "Attribution" and use the combination, as long as the Work and the other content may still be
used separately (e.g. combination of text and photography).
(2) If the Licensor has combined the Work with other content according to paragraph 1, You may not remove or
alter any notice stating that the Creative Commons license applies to the other content and you may not use the
Work without the other content. You have to comply with the terms of the Creative Commons license for Your
use of the other content.
(3) You may not use any combination of the Work with other content.
Therefore, a DPPL article may be illustrated by a CC BY photo. This kind of use could have
been considered an Altered Version of the Work (i.e., any version of the work with changes
beyond what the law authorizes). However, the combination cannot be further modified or
recombined; only one generation of collection is accepted. Although this does not facilitate
the remix culture – which is not the goal of this open-access academic licensing scheme – it
will avoid any risk of confusion involved in deciphering further derivatives’ licensing
This provision does not require a similar reciprocal clause from CC authorizing CC works to
be combined with DPPL works. Indeed, the use of a work in a Collection – an action
explicitly authorized by the DPPL – is outside the scope of a CC license. For the purpose of
clarification, the text of the DPPL should specify which version of the CC BY license is
Digital Peer Publishing, “License”; see also Ellen Euler, “Licenses for Open Access to Scientific
Publications – A German Perspective,” INDICARE Monitor vol. 2 no. 4 (2005).
Digital Peer Publishing, “Digital Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL),”
In addition to the rights granted in the first license of the suite (the DPPL), the second license
of the suite (the modular Digital Peer Publishing License, m-DPPL) allows authors to decide
which parts of their works can be modified. These parts are marked (e.g., by a color,
highlighting, or a designation, or in the history) as Alterable Parts. An Altered Version should
be released under an m-DPPL license, and if the modification consists of the addition of a
new work, then this new work may be licensed under a different license. The §10 provision
regarding combinations with other content has a final clause, stating that if alterable parts
cannot be used separately, then the entire Altered Version should be released under the m-
DPPL while also respecting the CC terms:
m-DPPL License Version 3.0, November 2008188
(4) If You combine Alterable Parts of the Work with other content, which may be used under the Creative
Commons License “Attribution,” in such a way that the Work and the other content cannot be used separately
(e.g. insertion of text into other text), You are obliged to grant the right of Use for the entire altered version of
the Work under this Modular DDPL License to anyone exempt from charges and in addition You have to
comply with the terms of the Creative Commons License.
Again, this provision does not require a reciprocical clause from CC, since Collections do not
need to be CC-licensed. Collections are not submitted to the Share Alike effect, which
“applies to the Adaptation as incorporated in a Collection,” but this does not require the
Collection – apart from the Adaptation itself – to be subject to the terms of the Applicable
However, difficulties may occur if changes towards an Altered Version lead to an Adaptation
rather than a Collection, which might happen if both parts cannot be used separately, as
defined in §10 clause (3) of the m-DPPL. In that case, the Share Alike CC provision would
require the Adaptation to be released under a “compatible” license, whereas the m-DPPL
would require the Altered Version to be distributed under the m-DPPL. This scenario clearly
involves an unsolvable incompatibility.
Further, §8 (3) of the m-DPPL states that a work can be combined with content provided
under the CC license or the GNU GFDL (again, versions are unspecified) under the
conditions mentioned above, but the GNU GFDL is not further mentioned in §10.
The third license of the project, the Free Digital Peer Publishing License (f-DPPL),190 is
closer to the Copyleft spirit than the two other licenses. It allows the document to be
published not only in digital format but also in any other media, and it requires distribution of
the modified document under the same conditions. Thus, despite some additional provisions
regarding integrity and citation, the f-DPPL is more nearly a potential Compatible License
Digital Peer Publishing, “Digital Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL).”
Article 4b of the CC BY SA 3.0 unported license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-
Digital Peer Publishing, “Digital Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL).”
with the CC BY SA 3.0 than the DPPL and the m-DPPL.
The f-DPPL §10 provision regarding combinations with other content is similar to the
aforementioned clauses of the DPPL and the m-DPPL, and it contains a fifth final clause
stating that if the work is combined with a work licensed under the CC BY SA license or the
GNU GFDL, then the new work (e.g., the collection, in CC terminology) should be licensed
under a CC BY SA or GNU GFDL (versions are still missing):
f-DPPL License Version 3.0, November 2008191
(5) If You combine the Work with other content, which is provided under the Creative Commons License “Share
Alike” or the GNU Free Documentation License, for combined Use, the new Work may only be Used under the
terms of the Creative Commons License or the GNU Free Documentation License.
This unilateral compatibility clause makes it possible to have Collections of DPPL and CC
works. It is not necessary to incorporate such a clause in the CC licenses, as since the Share
Alike clause does not apply to a collection incorporating the work. However, there is no such
compatibility clause for Altered Versions (the equivalent of Adaptations in CC terminology).
The f-DPPL only avoids incompatibility with CC BY-SA (and GNU GFDL) works or (f-
DPPL licensed) works incorporated in Collections and resulting Collections, but it does not
handle works modified as Adaptations (if collections and adaptations, in CC terminology, are
equivalent to combinations and altered versions, in DPPL definitions – which is uncertain).
3.5.3 Dual licensing and relicensing: Wikipedia and the GNU-GFDL
Dual licensing means licensing a work under two different licenses. Multi-licensing involves
more than one, and potentially more than two, licenses. For the sake of simplicity, this section
will address only dual licensing. As explained in the CC FAQs, dual licensing does not mean
that the provisions of both licenses will apply simultaneously; rather, it means that the
Licensor gives the public the choice to apply one or the other. The purpose of dual licensing is
twofold. First, it helps avoid or minimize license incompatibility issues by providing users
more ways to reuse and incorporate a work. Second, it segments market categories to allow
multiple business models – for instance, by giving more rights to non-commercial users;
initially, as this practice comes from the software industry, it might offer rights for free under
the GNU-GPL, or for a fee under conditions that are compatible with proprietary software.
Digital Peer Publishing, “Digital Peer Publishing Licence (DPPL).”
However, dual licensing risks postponing compatibility issues and adding further complexity.
Indeed, a user might eventually stop dual licensing and choose one or the other to distribute
her derivative, which will then cease to be compatible with its original work; it is impossible
to merge derivatives back into the originals. Additionally, dual-licensing introduces
complexity; it may be difficult to assess what part of a composite work belongs under which
license (e.g., heavily edited Wikipedia articles).192
Nevertheless, an ad-hoc dual-licensing solution has been defined to accompany the migration
of the Wikipedia project from one licensing scheme (the GFDL) to a CC BY-SA 3.0 unported
license. The objectives of moving to a CC license are twofold:
-To avoid some of the inconvenient requirements of the GFDL (primarily attribution and
-To allow compatibility with other large projects that use CC
When Wikipedia started, it used the GFDL. Eventually, it wanted to switch to the CC BY SA,
which had not been available when the collaborative encyclopedia project started. The method
that has been applied differs substantially from the SA cross-licensing clause. The GFDL v.3
actually allowed projects to change their licensing terms, and a majority of Wikipedians (but
not all authors) voted in favor of the change. The procedure was questionable regarding the
consent of the licensors.193 It introduced new incompatibility issues, due to incompatibilities
between different CC jurisdictions’ versions.
The GFDL was originally drafted for software documentation. Its requirements, in terms of
attribution and invariant sections, are very demanding. It differs from the GFDL and CC BY
SA licenses by making it easier to attribute in the CC system, and it seeks to foster
compatibility with other projects using a BY SA. This justified the need to change and the
CC’s choice. The migration process led to numerous discussions that sought to ensure a
consensus within the Wikipedia community, including regarding the definition of “free
cultural works” and a statement of intent by CC.194
3.5.4 Free Culture core freedoms: defining open license
Instead of considering all the legal and policy differences that make it difficult to cross-
license, dual-license, or re-license works, their derivatives, and their collections – thus
weakening the commons – another intellectual possibility is comparing licenses to extract
common points, or most relevant clauses, in order to define the substance of an Open License
See “Why Not Dual License?” at http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Guide_to_the_dual-license, and “The
Case Against Multiple Licenses,” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Multi-licensing (last accessed
February 5, 2010).
Molly Shaffer van Houweling, “The New Servitudes,” Georgetown Law Journal, vol. 96 (2008), 885.
Wikitravel also sought community consensus for compatibility with other projects using a CC 3.0 license, but it
needed to upgrade from CC BY SA 1.0, which did not even contain a mechanism for compatibility with
subsequent versions in the SA clause.
Approved for free culture works: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/8051
; Statement of intent for BY-SA: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/8213
by a series of shared principles.
The work (led by the FSF195 and the OSI196) to define Free, Libre, and Open Source Software,
as well as the definitions of Free Cultural Works197 and Open Knowledge,198 are a source of
inspiration toward the definition of such principles.
Defining core freedoms or principles helps reach a consensus between communities of
licenses that seek to become compatible though a cross-licensing clause; this process helps to
compare the licenses and to maintain the core principles when versioning after promising that
compatibility would be continued.
On a more theoretical level, defining freedoms allows people to understand exactly what is at
stake, to know the needs dictated by copyright, and to comprehend usage limits to open up a
On a practical level, it could help reduce the number of options and the complexity of
licenses’ wordings. It could even constitute a human-readable version or a short, readable
There are several core notions across the various licenses and available definitions: the level
of attribution and notice requirements, the admissible but unnecessary restrictions (such as the
Share Alike effect), and the non-admissible restrictions (which should be excluded, for
instance, from reserving or preventing specific usage purposes such as commercial use,
derivative works, or technical restrictions199).
Open Licenses’ Core Freedoms and Restrictions: A Synthesis
Freedoms: Rights to Use
An open license grants all the necessary rights to access, copy, perform, distribute and modify a work, including
in a database, a collection or a modified version and all types of usage.
The work and its source should be legally and practically accessible and modifiable.
Admissible conditions: Credits, Notice and Metadata
The author may require the work to be accompanied in an unmodified way by:
- the name, URL or a link to the text of the license,
- the title of the work, attribution information (author, performer, other right holder, sponsor…) as well as
modification history of the work to the extend they are provided in a reasonable way according to standards of
The Free Software Definition contains “four essential freedoms” and provides interpretations of what
they include and do not include: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html; see also “Why Open Source
Misses the Point of Free Software,” at http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html
The Open Source Definition criteria: http://www.opensource.org/docs/osd; a commentated version
provides the rationale for the definition here: http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php
The definition of Free Cultural Works is available at http://freedomdefined.org/Definition
The Open Knowledge Definition, addressing not only works but also data and government information,
is available at http://opendefinition.org/1.0/
On technical restrictions, see Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, “From Free Culture to Open Data: Technical
Requirements for Access and Authorship,” in Danièle Bourcier, Pompeu Casanovas, Mélanie Dulong de
Rosnay, Catharina Maracke (eds.),“Intelligent Multimedia: Sharing Creative Works in a Digital World, ” series
in Legal Information and Communication Technologies, Vol. 8 (Florence: European Press Academic Publishing,
- digital signature, original source or location and other metadata.
Non acceptable restrictions: Legal, Technical and Economic Usage Restrictions
An open license should not accept or impose:
- legal restrictions on the exercise rights to limit the users who may exercise the freedoms or the territory, scope,
domain or field of usage,
- technical restrictions to access, download and edit a digital copy of work (technical protection measure,
compulsory registration, distribution in a non-copiable or non-editable format…),
- economic restrictions to access and copy a digital copy of the work (distribution for a fee, in a format which is
not free of charge…)
This subjective synthesis of the provisions comprising an Open License tries to provide a
standard of freedom and to suggest what rights and conditions are necessary to open up a
work. In the process of seeking compatibility, it may help to compare the licenses among each
other. Shorter than the Free Culture and Open Knowledge Definitions, and building upon
them, this synthesis can also provide a starting point for a Social Contract or Guidelines à la
Debian,200 a “set of commitment”201 at the basis of a definition for open licensing.
Debian Social Contract, version 1.1, April 26, 2004, http://www.debian.org/social_contract
4. Impact of the differences between licenses
The validity of a contract may be jeopardized by two elements affecting the consent of the
parties: who and what? The definition of the parties (section 4.1) and the scope of rights
(section 4.2) are essential pieces of information needed to build an agreement that allows
informed consent, which is an important condition in contract law. They are also needed to
authorize the creation of derivative works; without the license, those works would have
constituted an infringement, which is an important feature of open licensing. Exactly what
rights and subject matters are covered? Are all the legal codes clear, and do they license the
same rights and subject matters? Is the human-readable deed misleading on those points?
Rights other than copyright, such as publicity rights or privacy rights, are not explicitly
covered. Do users know whether the license covers the entire subject matter, which may be
subjected not only to copyright (defined strictly) but also to neighboring and sui generis
rights? Or is the license’s scope uncertain?
After detailing both external and internal incompatibilities and inconsistencies, this paper will
now evaluate their actual impact on contract formation and on the ability to make derivative
works. Some consequences may be theoretical, minor, or harmless, but others may seriously
endanger the validity and enforceability of the system (in some jurisdictions, at least),
including the ability to make derivative works. Before considering possible solutions for
improving the system, it should be determined whether correctives are really necessary.
Indeed, if there is a severe incompatibility and substantial case in which the licenses cannot be
held valid and enforced, then they could be dangerous or worthless. As a result, licensors may
be unable to require their conditions to be enforced, and licensees may not be able to claim
the benefits from grants that are more generous than copyright law. This could spread
involuntary infringement and create obstacles to the mash-up culture.
This section will focus on the hidden risks of external and internal inconsistencies, rather than
focusing on visible incompatibilities, and it will assess actual consequences for users of the
Thus, the impact of different options will not be analyzed further. On the contrary, this
section will focus on the consequences of the differences and incompatibilities, which may
jeopardize the validity and the enforceability of the agreement.
The differences between licenses may cause confusion. They may also endanger the validity
of the agreement, if the rights granted are not the same for all parties, and they may lead to
involuntary copyright infringement.
This section will assess what rights exist at the entrance of the licensing process (i.e., when a
Licensor licenses a Work) and at the exit (i.e., when a Licensee obtains that Work and wants
to redistribute it or to make a derivative and become a Licensor). A logical principle states
that it is not possible for a Licensor to license more rights than she owns. Similarly, licensees
cannot enjoy (and then further distribute or license) more rights than they were actually
granted. Thus, if rights are not the same for all parties, because of differences hidden in the
licenses’ different versions, then a problem exists.
First, because parties do not agree on the same subject matter, the agreement itself may be
invalid, if the contract cannot be formed because the object is not clear.
Second, if a condition is deemed stated by one party but hidden to the other party, then
involuntary infringement occurs and endangers the ability to share and remix. The impact will
be de-multiplied along the chain of derivatives because the Share Alike clause allows the use
of yet another license that is recognized as compatible but is, in reality, different.
This section considers practical and theoretical issues related to the ability to use and modify
works licensed under conditions that present differences. This affects not only licensors and
licensees who create, distribute under Share Alike terms, and modify works but also service
providers and intermediary licensees that simply broadcast or synchronize musical works.
4.1 Identification of the parties and enforcement
Who are the parties? Are they clearly defined by the legal code? Are they identified? Do they
exist? Are they capable parties?
Does the license allow the possibility of identifying the rights’ owner? Following the analysis
of the licenses’ main clauses in section 2.2.3, which law or international convention defines
the rights? The unported text is not directly enforceable because it uses the vocabulary of
international conventions, which take effect and are implemented in jurisdictions.
Nevertheless, the unported version is used more often than jurisdictions’ versions ported by
the international project leads, largely because it is available earlier and possibly also because
it gives an impression of worldwide enforceability for international projects. Is this unported
text thus relevant and appropriate for public use, or should it be reserved for internal porting
purposes, perhaps as a matrix for international project leads?
Are they legally entitled to license the work? Section 2.2.3 already noted that the Licensor is
not identified and that there is some confusion between the rights holder and the Licensor.
Therefore, enforcement may be difficult if the parties are unknown and if no further
information is available on the website or accompanying the attribution elements. Similarly,
enforcement is threatened if the Licensor is not an authorized party or if she does not own
sufficient rights (see further in section 4.3.4, on the absence of representations of non-
A Licensor could be a minor. Can minors be parties to a copyright-related agreement and
contract? Is there a need for parental authorization? If not, is the license still binding? In
principle, minors are incapable, and the contract would be void; however, children frequently
enter into standard agreements – for instance, when buying train tickets.
A licensor commits for the entire duration of the copyright; thus, the agreement lasts even
after the licensor’s death. Can a Licensor commit heirs? Can the heirs change the licensor’s
mind and revoke the license, thus affecting the licensees? The question of inheritance should
not threaten the balance of the system, even if the heir inherits if the author did not previously
dispose of the rights in favor of a third party;202 however, the existence of such a principle
should be checked in other legal systems. Similarly, bankruptcy opens up the possibility of
revocation if the Licensor is a company and its assets are sold.
The enforceability of the license is a crucial point. If the license is not valid, then it cannot be
enforced. Even if it is valid, if it is not enforceable, then it is legally worthless, since neither
licensors nor licensees can seek injunctions and/or remedies if provisions are not applied by
another party. Licensors could not require their works to be reused under the same conditions,
and licensees could not benefit from grants that are more generous than copyright law.
Refraining from identifying the Licensor and the rights holder does not help start an action if
the infringer is unknown or incapable. Nevertheless, until now, all case law examples have
demonstrated that the licenses were held enforceable by both licensors203 and licensees204 and
in both civil and common law jurisdictions. This is a good sign. Additional case law may help
determine more accurately who can claim what, based on what grounds and which applicable
laws. However, case law alone is not a sufficient sign of enforceability, since many cases of
infringement never reach the court precisely because the parties cannot be identified. An
example of a clause that is frequently violated is the Non-Commercial restrictions; practically,
licensors cannot contact all the blogs that reuse their works with commercial banners, because
they are not reachable parties.
4.2 Scope of rights granted
The differences between scopes of rights have consequences for the formation of the contract
if there is no agreement on the object and the ability to make derivatives. This may occur if
hidden differences conceal that an action will constitute an infringement in one of the
license’s versions but not in the other.
The differences between the licenses’ scopes of rights may result from the fact that the
Commons Deed does not include all the rights mentioned in the Legal Code (e.g., the
difference between an Adaptation and a Collection; see 4.2.1). Additionally, the differences
may be hidden in the jurisdictions’ versions (4.2.2). This is more dangerous because different
jurisdictions’ Legal Codes are declared equally binding and valid. Differences in the scope of
rights actually granted (according to Licensors and Licensees who consent to different
jurisdictions’ licenses) primarily involve the following clauses (or absence thereof):
(a) database rights, (b) moral rights, (c) representations of non-infringement, and
(d) collecting societies.
Principle §4 (2) (b) in Study Group on a European Civil Code/Research Group on EC Private Law, von
Bar Christian, Clive Eric (ed), Principles, Definitions and Model Rules of European Private Law - Draft
Common Frame of Reference (DCFR), op cit.
E.g. Case Jacobsen in the United States, op cit.
E.g. Case EDU 4 in France, op cit.
4.2.1 A difference among formats: Collections and Adaptations
As noted in section 2.2.1, the notion of a “work” should be properly defined in the notice
sentence in order to determine what item is affected by the license. One notion that is not
reflected in the Commons Deed, but that has consequences explained only in the Legal Deed,
is the difference between a Collection and an Adaptation. This difference is a legal matter and
is not transparent to laymen. Nevertheless, the Share Alike clause applies to Adaptations, but
not to Collections:
“This Section 4(b) applies to the Adaptation as incorporated in a Collection, but this does not require the Collection apart from the
Adaptation itself to be made subject to the terms of the Applicable License.”
However, the Commons Deed sentence could imply that the clause applies to both
transformative items, because it does not define and exclude Collections as obviously as legal
“If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.”
Therefore, a Licensor could expect the Licensee reusing her work in a Collection to be bound
by the Share Alike clause. Similarly, a Licensor could expect the synchronization of his music
to moving images to be considered a Collection if the song is unmodified and used in its
entirety, without any cuts. However, the Legal Deed explicitly considers this use an
Adaptation. Therefore, a Licensor might in good faith reuse a music track under a ND license,
depending on her understanding of the action “building upon”.
The lack of certain elements in the human-readable Commons Deed can have two
interpretations: either the Deed hides some information and may invalidate consent, or it is
not a binding document, and only the legal deed will be interpreted and applied.205 In
principle, only the Legal Deed is binding; thus, there is no legal incompatibility per se.
However, how binding is the Legal Deed, in practice, if people read only the Commons
Deed? This problem affects general browse, click-wrap, and standard-form contracts that are
The Commons Deed, even if it does not contain all the information provided in the Legal
Deed, provides at least some essential information. However, differences hidden in a
jurisdiction’s version have a greater impact on informed consent and, thus, on the validity of
Mia Garlick, "Creative Humbug? Bah the Humbug, Let's Get Creative!" INDICARE Monitor 2, no. 5
http://www.indicare.org/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=124: “Much of what is in the Legal
Code is not in the Commons Deed (or the metadata) and no doubt, all legally untrained people who use the
Creative Commons licenses and/or works licensed under a Creative Commons license are thankful for this. For
example, neither the "Warranties, Representations & Disclaimer" clause, nor the "Limitation on Liability"
clause, nor the "Severability" clause nor the "No Waiver" clause are included in the Commons Deed or the
metadata. These clauses – whilst necessary to construct a legal document – do & arguably should (for the sanity
of the general public) remain the preserve of lawyers and the courts to argue about and interpret.”
4.2.2 Differences among jurisdictions
If a Licensor’s work is later adapted and licensed under a different jurisdiction’s license, by
virtue of the Share Alike 2.0 and 3.0 compatibility clause, was her consent truly informed? If
a Licensee wants to adapt a work that has been licensed under a license of Japanese
jurisdiction, how can she understand to what she commits? Even if a re-translation into
English and an English explanation of substantive legal changes are provided on a section of
the CC website,206 the prospective Licensor and Licensee will never be able to access all
jurisdictions’ licenses in their languages. Variations contained in future versions (3.2),
jurisdictions’ versions (3.4), and future versions of future compatible licenses (3.5.1) cause
legal insecurity. How can a person be bound by something without having the opportunity to
agree to it?
A party consents to one legal code, but she cannot consent to all the other legal codes under
which her modified work may be relicensed after the Share Alike compatibility clause,
because those other codes are not accessible pieces of information. The proliferation of
licenses and related information costs jeopardize informed consent. Too many licenses and
the attendant increasing complexity make it impossible to be notified of and to understand all
the possible future terms of agreement for both licensors and licensees. If there is no meeting
of minds, then no valid agreement will be formed, and it would be pointless to attach a license
to a work if it is not a valid contract.
This caveat on the validity of the Share Alike compatibility clause endangers the system’s
sustainability. The initiative to establish localized versions of licenses, in order to foster their
enforceability, may actually be counterproductive. Cross-licensing and relicensing efforts
may also be useless if they invalidate agreements because Licensors cannot consent to the
derivatives of their works being relicensed under conditions they did not know. Even if the
agreement is held valid, Licensees may infringe upon Licensors’ rights because the scopes of
rights granted are not the same.
This section will analyze the following rights that differ among versions: database rights,
moral rights, absence of representations of non-infringement, and provisions for collective
societies. These four examples illustrate the differences between jurisdictions and between
subsequent incremental versions.
a. Database rights
The scope of rights may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as noted in section 2.2.3. One
specific right even varies among versions of the licenses. Databases are a subject matter of sui
generis rights in European jurisdictions, which grant specific rights regarding databases,
Click on each projects’ flags at http://creativecommons.org/international/. For instance, as seen at
http://creativecommons.org/international/ar/, Argentina leads a comparison between the unported and ported
versions, based on the local legislation: http://mirrors.creativecommons.org/international/ar/english-changes.pdf
including both the copyrightable elements that constitute the database and the database itself,
if its selection and arrangement are original.207
Sui generis database rights were integrated in the scope of rights during the initial porting by
several European jurisdictions in 2004208 because they are part of the applicable legal
framework surrounding the use of copyrighted works and licenses’ subject matters.
Copyrighted works can be gathered within databases, and several international projects have
found it useful to allow rights holders to distribute databases with more freedom and to allow
the public to “extract and reuse” beyond legal exceptions and limitations.
However, database rights have been explicitly removed from the scope of the licence
elements in version 3.0, as mentioned in section 3.2.3, in order to fulfill the needs of the
scientific community regarding databases of data. Science Commons, an initiative of Creative
Commons dedicated to science, recommended against applying license elements (BY, NC,
ND, SA) to databases rights because the flow of information should be unrestricted and
because it is difficult, even for specialized lawyers, to distinguish what part constitutes a
database or a modification and to assess what is a commercial use.209 The database sui generis
right is part of the subject matter (i.e., the definition of “work” includes databases) and of the
license grant, but it is waived and not subjected to the restrictions included in clause 4 (before
the collecting societies and moral rights language). As a side effect, however, database rights
are not submitted to the clause preventing distribution of the work with a technical protection
measure. Thus, it is unclear whether the producer’s waiver of database rights and the
restriction to apply a TPM on individual works would prevent the use of a TPM on a
database. If this was the case, it might be impossible for works licensed under a CC 3.0
license, but contained in a database that is not licensed under a CC license, to be downloaded
conveniently as a whole; even if the right to extract substantially has been waived, the use of a
TPM is not excluded.
Further, the exclusion of database rights makes it impossible to share alike or reserve
commercial rights on the use of a database, which can mislead and disappoint thus introduce
legal uncertainty for both potential licensees and licensors. An argument for excluding
database rights from the scope of the CC licenses notes the risk of exporting this protection
into jurisdictions, such as the United States, that do not recognize a legal protection for
databases. Does the Share Alike international compatibility clause have such an effect? If it
does, then does the effect really disappear after version 3.0, or is it too late to fix the problem?
Can database owners still use a 2.0 license from the French jurisdiction, if it is the only
version available in that jurisdiction, before the release of version 3.0 and even afterward? If
from version 3.0 onward, databases are not subjected to CC conditions, then what is the status
Directive 96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 March 1996, on the legal
protection of databases, ECOJ L 077, 27/03/1996, 20-28.
It is also part of the grant of the f-DPPL, based on German law: “This license agreement shall further
entitle You to incorporate the Work in electronic databases or other collections. Should You attain Your own
rights to databases or collective works, You may not use these to restrict or prevent further Use of the Work," f-
DPPL clause 2 §2 (2), http://www.dipp.nrw.de/lizenzen/dppl/fdppl/f-DPPL_v3_en_11-2008.html
Comments on the Open Database License Proposed by Open Data Commons, by Thinh Nguyen,
Science Commons Reading Room. See also http://sciencecommons.org/resources/readingroom/comments-on-
odbl; Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data, http://sciencecommons.org/projects/publishing/open-access-
data-protocol/; FAQ about the Database Protocol, http://sciencecommons.org/resources/faq/database-protocol/
of databases that have already been licensed? What is the status of subject matters that have
already been licensed under a CC 3.0 license and that happen to be databases – even if their
licensors were not aware of the distinction between legal categories and were expecting the
restrictions to apply to their creations as wholes? Is the license invalid because the intended
subject matter does not match the targeted subject matter?
It seems that the removal of database sui generis rights went beyond fulfilling its initial goal.
It also left many questions unanswered, particularly regarding the impact on databases of
works in jurisdictions where these rights exist and where licensors might want to waive them
in order to fully open up their creations but reserve some rights and apply the Share Alike
b. Moral rights
This section considers the moral rights of attribution and integrity, to the extent that they may
create incompatibilities by affecting the creation of derivative works. In addition to
threatening the production of adaptations and creating involuntary infringement, these
incompatibilities may hinder consent. Moral rights standards vary, and some of them are
embedded inside the license – sometimes to waive them explicitly, as with the 2.0 Canada
licenses waiving the right of integrity, but sometimes to incorporate them into the agreement.
Indeed, moral rights are deemed unaffected by the license from the Commons Deed level.
Technically, this means that the freedom to make derivatives, even from ND-licensed works,
will be broader in jurisdictions that have weaker moral rights than in jurisdictions that have
stronger moral rights.
An example of international differences in moral rights can illustrate that jurisdictions’
versions may have different expectations, thereby jeopardizing the validity of the agreement
and the ability to make a derivative work if it is considered an infringement of moral rights in
one jurisdiction but not in the other.
In common-law countries and especially in the United States, moral rights are often
considered a threat to the civil law tradition, jeopardizing the normal exploitation of works,
fair use, and the remix culture. However, it can also be argued that the CC license expresses
the will of the author and embodies her rights to control the use of her work by dedicating it
to the commons.210
French law sets a demanding standard for moral rights, and it illustrates possible problems
that may arise from the Share Alike compatibility between jurisdictions’ differing versions.
French law211 grants four categories of moral rights to an author, who cannot license, transfer,
or abandon these rights, because they are “perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible”: the
right of paternity or attribution, the right to the integrity and respect of the work, the right of
disclosure, and the right of withdrawal. In a nutshell, the CC non-revocability provision
CC France FAQ on the compatibility of the licenses with French moral rights provisions:
Article L.121 of the French Intellectual Property Code.
triggers the right of withdrawal.212 The right of disclosure, the right of integrity, or the right of
respect is questioned by the CC licenses authorizing modifications in advance without
reviewing them, while CC attribution provisions can be interpreted as fulfilling the moral
right of attribution.
The moral right of attribution seems fulfilled by CC provisions that require giving specific
credit to the author as well as indicating the title of the work and its modifications.213 Authors
are expected to properly indicate on their works, or on their websites, their licenses, names,
and any additional information they wish to be credited. They should also specify what is
being licensed: for example, only the text or the only images of a website, both text and
graphics, or the lyrics but not the music of a song. Then, when users redistribute or adapt their
works, they can understand what is licensed and hence can fulfill the requirements requested
by the licenses:
-Continue to indicate the license when distributing or performing the work, in order to inform
others of the conditions under which the work has been made available by its original author;
-Attribute the original author in the way she wishes and explain, for instance, that the new
work is a translation.
Incorrect attribution jeopardizes the reusability of works, the creation of derivatives, the
consent of the licensors, and the legal certainty of the licensees. It can lead to both breach of
contract and copyright infringement. Licensors and licensees should follow the best
practices214 for marking and crediting works in different formats.
The enforcement of the moral right of integrity seems less problematic because distortion,
misrepresentation, and modification of context are – in theory – handled by the attribution
clause, which specifies that modifications must be identified:
“Adaptation, including any translation in any medium, takes reasonable steps to clearly label, demarcate or
otherwise identify that changes were made to the original Work.”
in the case of an Adaptation, a credit identifying the use of the Work in the Adaptation
upon notice from any Licensor You must, to the extent practicable, remove from the Collection/Adaptation any
You may only use the credit required by this Section for the purpose of attribution in the manner set out above
and, by exercising Your rights under this License, You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any
connection with, sponsorship or endorsement”.
However, attribution information often is incomplete or fails to follow the work and its
subsequent derivatives. When credit is removed at the demand of the original author, how can
that information be displayed again at a later stage, if the author wishes to be attributed again?
This scenario is not a legal fiction, but rather a requirement in countries where attribution
cannot be abandoned perpetually and in the cases where the derivative of the derivative
This requires the indemnification of the other contracting party, and it is (almost) not exercised;
therefore, the risk is more theoretical.
CC provisions also require an indication of what requirements are reasonable in order to avoid a misuse
of moral rights by overreaching clauses. In relation to the requirement that license notice must be conveyed with
each copy of the work, the credit removal clause and anonymity addresses the case in which an author wants to
be credited again after derivatives have been created and distributed without crediting her.
honors the reputation of the author, even though the author did not appreciate the first
derivative and did not wish to be associated with it.
The rights granted must be exercised in accordance with the moral right of respect to the
author (or performer), who may oppose distortion or mutilation that could be prejudicial to
her reputation. This cannot be regulated further by the license; instead, it is a matter of
national legislation enforced by judges. An author could exercise her moral right against a
certain use of her work, its reproduction in a particular context, or a specific modification, and
she could then seek injunction or damages against third parties who incorporated the
incriminated work. However, it should be noted that this right is not absolute. The court might
well weigh the interests at hand, which limits the risk of moral rights being applied for
patrimonial reasons because one party seeks to limit the other party’s freedom of expression.
Additionally, a judge could argue that claiming moral rights after authorizing modifications is
bad faith, and he could disregard the complaint as abusive. Finally, damages for such cases
are often symbolic, which provides another argument for demystifying the risk of the moral
right of integrity. Nevertheless, injunctions preventing the further distribution and
commercialization of works are rather common, and the impact of the moral right of respect
jeopardizes the use and reuse of CC works in jurisdictions where it may be applied.
c. Representation of non-infringement
An author must consider various questions before deciding to apply a Creative Commons
license. The licenses are based on copyright and thus are applicable on copyrightable works
only. According to the FAQs, despite the absence of warranties, potential licensors must make
sure that they own the rights they intend to license to others; otherwise, they might transmit a
junk work, which will jeopardize the legal certainty of those who reuse it. Potential licensors
may need to ask the permission of possible co-authors, authors of pre-existing works,
employers, or previous assignees (such as collecting societies) before applying a CC license.
Moreover, not all the rights contained in a work are licensed in the grant; for instance, the
license may not grant the privacy or publicity rights of the subjects represented in a
photograph, who may object to the use of their images. The CC license will cover the
copyright of the photographer, but a separate agreement should be negotiated to cover
Two points may invalidate, or at least reduce, the interest and value of the license grant in its
substantial effect of authorizing the peaceful enjoyment of the right to copy and perform the
work. This occurs because the Licensor does not actually own the rights she pretends to
license. These points are the absence of representation by the Licensor that the work does not
contain a copyright infringement, and the incompatibility of the system with collective
management, in case the Licensor is a member of a collecting society that prevents her from
exercising her rights individually (see sub-section d.).
A representation is a statement, an assurance to the other party, and a declaration of facts.
Representations pronounce that the work does not constitute an infringement of third parties’
rights, namely a copyright infringement but potentially an infringement of other rights (such
as trademark, privacy, publicity, etc.). Representations should be distinguished from warranty
and liability, which address issues such as the quality of the work seen as product available
for sale and the fact that an educational or informational work does not contain factual
The clause in Version 3.0 mixes these different notions. This section addresses only the
absence of representations or warranties concerning non-infringement:
5. Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer
UNLESS OTHERWISE MUTUALLY AGREED TO BY THE PARTIES IN WRITING, LICENSOR OFFERS
THE WORK AS-IS AND MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND
CONCERNING THE WORK, EXPRESS, IMPLIED, STATUTORY OR OTHERWISE, INCLUDING,
WITHOUT LIMITATION, WARRANTIES OF TITLE, MERCHANTIBILITY, FITNESS FOR A
PARTICULAR PURPOSE, NONINFRINGEMENT, OR THE ABSENCE OF LATENT OR OTHER
DEFECTS, ACCURACY, OR THE PRESENCE OF ABSENCE OF ERRORS, WHETHER OR NOT
DISCOVERABLE. SOME JURISDICTIONS DO NOT ALLOW THE EXCLUSION OF IMPLIED
WARRANTIES, SO SUCH EXCLUSION MAY NOT APPLY TO YOU.
What is the purpose of using a CC work if it cannot be legally reused because the Licensee
will not receive all the rights needed to use the work, because the Licensor does not own
them? This section will discuss the pros and cons of providing representations, examine the
various clauses or absence thereof, and analyze which options are viable for the legal validity
of the system and for the sustainability and certainty of the downstream chain. Some
consumer legislations forbid disclaiming certain warranties, and some tort laws forbid
The licensor’s representation that she holds the necessary rights to license the work to the
public, between versions 1.0 and 2.0, may be removed because it would not be fair to place
the burden of due diligence and rights clearance on the licensor, who already offers her work
for free. An argument against representation by the Licensor is the high damages that she
might incur, at least in the United States, where authors may be discouraged or prevented
from distributing works if they are responsible for checking the status of every element of
their work, without remuneration.
The Creative Commons board members specifically considered the case of documentaries.
Unless they occur in an empty room with only family members, documentaries have a high
risk of embedding copyrighted or otherwise protected elements. However, the 1.0 version
warranty was not absolute; rather, it was limited to the best of the knowledge of the licensor.
This is now one of the most dangerous caveats for the adoption of the system by
professionals. Another reason for removing the representations from the license grant is that
the warranty offered by an unidentified person who has only two Euros in her bank account
would not be enforceable practically, whereas the work offered by a renowned institution
would be enforceable. This observation relates to the identification of the parties; if the name
of the Licensor is made available, then it might provide a hint about the value of the grant.
The GNU-GPL and GFDL licenses, CC0, and Science Commons Protocol for Implementing
Open Access Data do not provide any representation or warranty by the Licensor that she has
secured all the rights to permit the lawful and peaceful enjoyment of the rights granted by the
license. Nor do they contain a clause on representations, nor do they expressly disclaim
representation. This means that rights ownership is a question of evidence that remains
outside the contract, which is a reasonable middle ground between the two choices available
in the CC licenses (limited representations or an express disclaimer of representations).
CC licenses’ initial version (1.0), some jurisdictions’ versions, and the Free Art License215
contain a limited representation and warranty by the author that the content does not infringe
upon the rights of third parties. The Public Domain Dedication also includes some
Version 1.0, clause 5 – entitled “Representations, Warranties and Disclaimer” – specifies that
the Licensor owns the rights to secure a quiet use by the licensee. The Licensor warrants that
the work does not infringe any rights and that it can be used without paying royalties:
“By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor's knowledge after
- Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights
granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;
- The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute
defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.”
This provision was favorable to the licensee, and it fostered reuse and remix. Its removal does
not directly create incompatibility between works, but at an upper level, it poses a hindrance
to the sharing and remix culture. It prevents the peaceful enjoyment of CC works because
those works might not available for use as offered in the license. This could occur if the
Licensor did not own all the rights to the work, either because it contained someone else’s
work or because she was a member of a collecting society and could not offer a work free of
charge for all the uses of the grant. In relation to the cascade of responsibility described in
section 2.3.3, it is up to infringement procedures and contract law to decide whether a
Licensor who distributed a work for which she did not own all the rights can be held
responsible if the grant is invalid and if the rightholder or the collecting society sues the
licensee, who was expecting to use a “clean” work.
The rationale presented on the CC blog explains that warranties can be sold and that the
sustainability of the ecosystem is turned into an optional business model: “licensors could sell
warranties to risk-averse, high-exposure licensees interested in the due diligence paper trial,
thereby creating nice CC business model.”217
The absence of representation by the Licensor transfers to the Licensee the burden of risk
assessment and rightholders’ identification. The latter task is difficult if the Licensor did not
indicate her contact, and it may even be impossible to pursue in the absence of an attribution
notice, as allowed by the protocol CC0. Further, disclaiming responsibility for obtaining
permission and waiving subsequent liability (if works happen to infringe on third parties’
copyright) may not be legal in some jurisdictions. Offering content with an uncertain legal
status may be misleading for licensees who might be held liable for reusing content in what
they thought was an authorized manner. It should be clarified whether the Licensor or the
licensee would be held liable in case of infringement and what role is played by community
The freedom to use the work, as defined by the Free Art License (the right to copy, distribute, and
modify), implies that each person is responsible for her own actions.
A certifier has taken reasonable steps to verify the copyright status of the work. The certifier recognizes
that his good faith efforts may not shield him from liability if, in fact, the work certified is not in the public
regulation and good faith, compared to contractual and non-contractual liability (tort law).
This policy choice to stop offering a representation is, at least, irrelevant; at most, it may lead
to the invalidity of the contract, since warranties are mandatory in some jurisdictions and will
apply regardless of a contradictory waiver. Here are a few examples based on general
principles or extracted from specific pieces of legislation.
Good faith is an implicit principle of contract law, and bad faith invalidates contracts.
Misrepresentations may cause a contract to be void and open to remedies and damages.
Disclaiming responsibility for obtaining permission, offering (with an invitation to reuse)
works for which not all rights are cleared, and disclaiming liability is not legal in all
jurisdictions. In France,218 a Licensor is bound to offer peaceful enjoyment; therefore, a
contractual waiver is neither valid nor applicable. In any case, an author warrants that she is
the actual author of the work and that the work does not infringe any third party’s rights.
Product liability legislation219 helps clarify whether representations are compulsory if not
implied. Contract and tort law impose special duties on professional suppliers of goods and
According to the European Code of Contracts, article 42,220 contracts limiting responsibility
for dol and faute grave are void. According to the principles of European law regarding non-
contractual liability (i.e., tort, in common law), there is a duty to avoid giving misleading
information, based on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive,221 and fraud remedies
cannot be excluded.222
Even if it is difficult for a Licensor to secure every single piece of the work, it is important to
raise awareness. If representation is not re-incorporated, then the Licensor must remove the
waiver, which at most is invalid and at least risks making the system useless, since the
Licensee cannot rely on the licensed works’ non-infringing nature.
d. Collecting societies
Another hidden difference between jurisdictions lays in the clause that addresses collecting
societies. An important caveat of the licenses is that in most jurisdictions, collecting societies
require their members to assign all the rights to their present and future works. Thus,
members cannot use a Creative Commons license, even for some of their works or some of
their rights. Authors can license their non-commercial rights for free, under a CC license. In
Article 1626 of the French Civil Code.
Duintier Tebbens Harry, International Product Liability: A Study of Comparative and International
Legal Aspects of Product Liability, Alphen aan den Rijn: Sijthoff and Noordhof, 1979.
Gandolfi (ed.), Code Européen des Contrats, 2002.
According to the Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May
2005, concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market and amending
Council Directive 84/450/EEC, Directives 97/7/EC, 98/27/EC, and 2002/65/EC of the European Parliament and
of the Council and Regulation (EC), as well as No 2006/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council
(“Unfair Commercial Practices Directive”).
Christian von Bar, Principles of European Law, Volume 1, op cit, p. 495.
theory, they can assign the management of their commercial rights in some collecting
societies in some countries, primarily the United States, the Netherlands, and Denmark.
Collecting societies’ situations vary from country to country, and users in different countries
cannot have the same expectations. Because of these issues, a clause has been added to signal
that mandatory collective management, in some countries and in some cases, does not conflict
with the obligation to offer the work for free.
If works licensed under a CC license improperly (because their rights holders are members of
collecting societies) are reused by a Licensee, then the Licensee may commit involuntary
infringement. Who will be held responsible and liable to the collecting society: the Licensee,
who acted in good faith, or the Licensor, who should not have used the license? The Licensor
will probably be liable, but the Licensee may be bothered in her peaceful enjoyment and may
even further transmit the issue. This reasoning is also applicable to the usages of works that
fall under compulsory collective management, which thus cannot be granted for free. This
information is only available in collecting societies’ statuses and in national laws; it should be
reflected in the licenses’ jurisdictional versions of the collecting societies’ clauses, but it will
not be easily accessible to users of licenses from other jurisdictions.
5. Conclusion: options to mitigate risks and improve
This section evaluates possible solutions for improving the infrastructure and preventing
inconsistencies that jeopardize the licensing system. Some of these options are undesirable
because they might bring more problems than they would solve, or because they impose a
high burden on CC; other propositions, however, could be implemented easily. Some
elements could be redrafted in the short-term, without requiring much effort. Other, more
substantial points could evolve in the long-term, after more research and development of the
user interface and the definition of community guidelines.
Based on conclusions reached at various stages of this legal study, these proposed solutions
are primarily logical and technical. I propose to improve the interface design as well as to
reorganize and redraft the text of the licenses in order to rationalize and simplify the whole
system. The text of the licenses could also be shortened and written in plain language, closer
to a Commons Deed. A single document could merge the human-readable summary and the
Legal Code. I also suggest stopping the legal porting process, which introduces involuntary
inconsistencies. Definitions would not be drafted according to any legislation. Instead of
being localized by jurisdictions, the CC porting process could occur within user communities
and could focus on social governance rather than legal normativity.
5.1 Improve the interface
5.1.1 Develop more technologies to support the licenses’ requirements
Licenses comprise several layers that link to each other: a logo, a summary of the license, the
legal text of the license, and metadata. It is not certain that all licensees read the legal license
or that they even notice the link to it, which appears when the cursor hovers over the logo and
clicks on it. Embedding one format inside another is an elegant and effective design, but the
link to the license could appear in a less hidden way to ensure that everyone can take
advantage of it (which is already the case in the notice text). Additionally, the logo HTML
code that is delivered when selecting a license (accompanied by a piece of text), known as the
notice button, could contain more information or could provide fields that incentivize users to
add more information, such as what precise item constitutes the Work or who is the Licensor.
A fourth format is needed, in addition to the common deed, the legal code, and the metadata;
the button is often the only information a user will see. It contains the logo of the options and
a link to the human-readable deed. The button must be accompanied by a sentence, the notice,
which is included in the HTML code delivered by the “Choose your license” interface: “This
work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License”. However,
this notice is sometimes deleted by the users and is sometimes expressed only vaguely. It
could be customized to fit users’ needs – for instance, by describing what is intended to
constitute the “Work” to which the license is applied: “Copy the text below to your Web site
to let your visitors know what license applies to your works,” informs CC when providing the
notice button text to be inserted on a website.
The failure to specify what is actually licensed may impact the validity of the agreement. Here
is the sentence used on the CC website: "Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is
licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License". However, this is not the
sentence generated by the interface, which does not formulate the sentences corresponding to
the cases “where otherwise noted”. Therefore, further fine-tuning the sentence and
transforming the word “work” into one or more editable fields could raise the licensors’
awareness and help encourage them to specify what they intend to license. An easy solution
would be proposing a few options (e.g., single work or general website) and adding some
easy-to-copy and -paste HTML notice text. At a later stage or for more experienced users, the
Licensor could explicitly state what constitutes the work in the License Notice: the website as
a whole, some of the individual works placed on the website (for instance, only the text and
the music, but not the images), the music (including lyrics), or a composition and its
performance. Specificity is essential to clarify precisely what is being licensed, and the
inclusion of fields describing the work would ease that process. Currently, it is not easy to
figure out what constitutes a music composition.
Metadata have underused potential. Licensors should include additional information more
frequently. Thus, the ability to fill these fields could be expressed in a more assertive way,
and the number of these fields could be increased to include the following:
-The format of the work (audio, video, text, image, interactive, or other)
-The title of the work
-The name of the author or the entity that the Licensor wishes the Licensee to attribute
-The Licensor’s name and contact information (data that are currently missing)
-“The URL users of the work should link to. For example, the work's page on the author’s
-The URL of the source work, if the work is derived from another work
-A URL for more permission, where a user can obtain information about clearing rights that
are not pre-cleared by the CC license
This would make the licensing process longer, but more complete.
Automatic tagging tools can facilitate the respect of provisions that are often not respected by
the Licensee because the task is difficult to perform (e.g., attribution, license notice, and
choice of options for derivatives).
The management of license requirements for derivatives can be improved by developing more
technologies based on the ccREL. Extended information on attribution and modifications can
be embedded into metadata, which would follow the work during its lifecycle and would
update semi-automatically (for instance, when saving or uploading a document or a wiki
page, the software could prompt the author to fill in attribution, URL, and modification
When remixing two works licensed under different options, an expert system could easily
prescribe the licensing options available for the derivative work. This task could be
operationalized through the metadata update process, when adding the name of the new
author and the new URL.
5.1.2 Remodel the acceptation infrastructure
In order to answer some issues raised by contract law, the infrastructure could be improved by
adding text or fields that the Licensor can edit.
Following the legal framework of e-commerce and e-signatures, the infrastructure could
introduce a click-wrap acceptation of the legal code for licensors, including future and CCi
versions. This might improve the contracting process, but it would make the licensing process
more cumbersome; hence, this option may not be desirable.
The question of consent is taken into account by the PD certification, where the Licensor
explicitly manifests and expresses her consent to the license by checking a box223:
“I have read and understand the terms and intended legal effect of this tool, and hereby voluntarily elect to apply
it to this work.”
CC0 also makes the Licensor manifest her consent:
“I hereby waive all copyright and related or neighboring rights together with all associated claims and causes of
action with respect to this work to the extent possible under the law.”
“I have read and understand the terms and intended legal effect of CC0, and hereby voluntarily elect to apply it
to this work.”
A double-click confirmation is even required:
“Are you certain you wish to waive all rights to your work? Once these rights are waived, you cannot reclaim
If the name of the author is indicated because of the attribution requirement, then there is no
obligation to include the contact of the licensor, although that information is useful for
additional permissions beyond the license grant. The infrastructure should include a field for
the name of the Licensor in the license; this could be achieved via editable values, as in the
BSD license template.
The addition of a form similar to the CC Public Domain tools would solve both the problems
of consent regarding consumer law requirements and the lack of identification of the contact
person (whether author or licensor). CC Public Domain tools require explicit consent from the
licensor, who is asked to provide more information than requested by the standard interface,
such as the name of the author.
The Founders’ Copyright tool, which operates an actual rights transfer, institutes a more
detailed contractual process; the Licensor must provide the name of the rightholder. The
question of rights’ representations is also addressed by requiring the Licensor to answer a
series of questions:
Creative Commons, “Public Domain,” http://creativecommons.org/choose/publicdomain-2
“Do you have exclusive rights to this work?
Are there parts of your work that are from other sources (quotes, pictures, etc.)?
Is this a derivative work? (includes translations)”
These questions could easily find a place in the standard acceptation infrastructure to secure
the system and to limit infringement, or at least to inform the licensor.
Similarly, regarding the representation issue,224 the Sampling “Choose your license” interface
carries a warning that the standard “choose your license interface” could also display:
“Before you apply the Sampling License to your work, make sure you have the authority to license all the rights
involved. Musical works, for example, often consist of multiple copyrights (composition, recording, lyrics).”
5.1.3 Reverse the system’s logic
The licenses’ logic is structured around the elements BY, NC, ND, and SA. BY is no longer
optional. The other three elements are the first information provided to users in all situations:
-As a Licensor selecting a license, because choice is given among NC, ND, and SA on the
“choose your license” interface
-As a licensee, since the combination of the elements produces the name of the license and
since the elements’ initials are displayed in the logo
However, the licenses are not limited to these three elements, which only modify a core grant
composed of eight longer clauses. The core grant, which is common among all the licenses, is
neither displayed in the “choose your license interface” nor expressed in the title of the
The core grant gives the non-exclusive right to reproduce, perform, and distribute the
unmodified work for non-commercial purposes. It also contains many other clauses that are
shared among all the licenses. Even if the optional elements significantly modify the core
grant, their preeminence may contribute to hiding the basic clauses of the licenses.
Instead of focusing on the author’s choice of options that modify freedoms, why not invert the
presentation and present users’ freedoms, as modified by options? It would be logical to
present the core of all licenses first and then explain their modifications, according to the
choice of the licensor, instead of focusing on qualitatively crucial but quantitatively minor
Most of the text is the same for all licenses, and this important part of the licenses is hidden
because of the optional elements’ prominent position in the most visible parts of the licensing
process, the interface and the logo, which might be the only information read by users who do
not read the bottom of the Common Deed or the Legal Code.
The machine-readable code, or ccREL (Rights Expression Language), is an abstract model
Exclusion of representations, warranties of non-infringement, and the limitation on liability for any
damages are not legal in all jurisdictions.
with the syntax and semantics needed to describe copyright permissions and conditions and to
build automatized applications.
To improve the system’s logic, the expression of the permissions in the human-readable layer
could be re-crafted with RDFa syntax, while ensuring that current machine-readable
expressions are still supported.
In the interface, this change would be reflected in the license chooser, which would present
the core grant (e.g., copy) before the optional elements. This would reflect a positive ontology
of the clauses, instead of failing to display the core freedoms and clauses prominently.
In the human-readable layer, this information would be displayed by even more illustrative
icons and corresponding lines in the Common Deed (adding, e.g., warranties, publicity rights,
and choice of jurisdiction, if any). Some additional icons have already been designed, coming
from the GNU-GPL, GFDL, and BSD CC wrappers’225 conditions (e.g., notice, source code,
or no endorsement), and they could be reused in an extended human-readable illustrated
A positive logical order would first present the core clauses offered by all the licenses,
granting the right to share the work for non-commercial purposes only, with attribution and
without modification (BY NC ND). Next, it would note that these rights can be augmented by
more freedoms by adding SA or removing NC and ND optional elements. By testing the
design ergonomy and the logic of names, it should be determined whether reversing the logic
of the system could constitute a realistic and workable option. It should also be determined
whether optional elements, instead of being expressed negatively (e.g., NC, ND), could be
expressed as additions (e.g., the right to share for commercial purposes, the right to reuse, and
the right to make modifications). It could then be determined whether SA constitutes a
positive addition or a negative restriction to a core grant, in order to implement a similar
positive representation. For copyleft advocates, SA constitutes an addition of freedom, but
technically, it adds a legal constraint.
After reversing the logic towards a positive expression, the basic freedoms granted by the
core clauses would be those of the BY licenses, which would become a baseline instead of the
BY NC ND licenses. The license chooser could either add SA or restrict freedoms by adding
NC and ND.
The user interface in the CC Lab226 provides a powerful example of a cognitive re-
organization of the options around the core grant. Allowing users to tweak the license
elements and aggregate them differently than in the usual license chooser interface227 provides
another visual representation of the positive rights228 expressed by the main clauses, which the
The user can play with the bricks of a license on the Freedoms License Generator, available in the
ccLab at http://labs.creativecommons.org/demos/freedomslicense/. This license engine is presented as a puzzle,
and it may have different cognitive effects on the user’s understanding than the usual license chooser interface:
“Not all combinations are possible, but as you experiment with the selections, you can see the different licenses
Creative Commons, “License Your Work,” http://creativecommons.org/choose
Toward the definition of a positive rights expression ontology, which could be then reflected in a new
NC and ND options limit. This puzzle interface constitutes an interesting starting point for
further research and testing of the system’s logic.
On February 1, 2004, the Commons deed (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/)
mentioned that the grant included the right “to make commercial use of the work.” It is
cognitively useful to also display the contrary of NC and the contrary of ND (i.e., commercial
uses and derivatives allowed).
To sum, the license elements are accessible before the main clauses they alter, and they are
provided in the license chooser interface, in the notice button, and in the title of the license.
The main clauses appear only in the Legal Deed, and to a lesser extent in the Commons Deed.
It could be very informative to display the main clauses earlier, reversing the cognitive
process in which the user sees a logo and an interface, then icons within a Commons Deed,
and then the Legal Deed (if he or she sees the Legal Deed at all).
Eventually, such a reorganization of the rights’ representations and conditions within the core
grant and the license elements could lead to a new method of naming the licenses. Title
simplification is greatly needed, since the names of the licenses (both the acronyms within the
logos and the extended names in the titles) are too long. Additionally, they are not necessarily
meaningful to the average reader, who often indicates incomplete information and declares
that a work is licensed under a CC license without mentioning which one – sometimes even
mentioning that it is license under “the” CC license, even though there are many different CC
licenses. However, changing these names could be tricky.
5.2 Simplify the system
5.2.1 Redraft the text of the licenses
Consumer law suggests drafting plain-language licenses and avoiding legal language, which
is difficult to understand and read.
An example of a plain-language license is provided by the legal code of New Zealand, which
clusters rights under “You may,” conditions under “You must,” and restrictions under “You
It is possible to go even further. The Commons Deed and the Legal Code could be combined
in a single, short, human-readable document that presents all the clauses in the form of
clustered bullet points, drafted in non-legal language and illustrated by corresponding icons.
structure for the options, see Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, “An Action-Based Legal Model for Dynamic Digital
Rights Expression,” in Tom van Engers (ed.), Legal Knowledge and Information Systems, JURIX 2006: The
Nineteenth Annual Conference, Amsterdam: IOS Press, 2006, 157–162. http://halshs.archives-
Another starting point is the document entitled “baseline rights,” which briefly and clearly
identifies most of the rights and conditions for both parties, without hiding too much
information.229 This document is addressed to the Licensor, whereas the Commons Deed
targets the Licensee; further, it focuses on the core clauses, not the optional elements.
“All Creative Commons licenses have many important features in common.
Every license will help you
-retain your copyright
-announce that other people’s fair use, first sale, and free expression rights are not affected by the license.
Every license requires licensees
-to get your permission to do any of the things you choose to restrict - e.g., make a commercial use, create a
-to keep any copyright notice intact on all copies of your work;
-to link to your license from copies of the work;
-not to alter the terms of the license
-not to use technology to restrict other licensees’ lawful uses of the work
Every license allows licensees, provided they live up to your conditions,
-to copy the work
-to distribute it
-to display or perform it publicly
-to make digital public performances of it (e.g., webcasting)
-to shift the work into another format as a verbatim copy
-lasts for the duration of the work’s copyright
-is not revocable”
The synthesis of open licenses’ core freedoms and restrictions, proposed in section 3.5.4, also
provides a starting point towards a shorter text:
Freedoms: Rights to Use
An open license grants all the necessary rights to access, copy, perform, distribute, and modify a work, including
in a database, a collection, or a modified version and including all types of usage.
The work and its source should be legally and practically accessible and modifiable.
Admissible Conditions: Credits, Notice, and Metadata
The author may require the work to be accompanied, in an unmodified way, by:
- the name, URL, or link to the text of the license;
- the title of the work, the attribution information (author, performer, other rightholder, or sponsor), and the
modification history of the work, to the extent that they are provided in a reasonable way, according to the
standards of citation; and
- a digital signature, original source or location, and other metadata.
Unacceptable Restrictions: Legal, Technical, and Economic Usage Restrictions
An open license should not accept or impose:
- legal restrictions on the exercise of rights in order to limit users who may exercise those freedoms, or legal
restrictions on the territory, scope, domain, or field of usage;
- technical restrictions to access, download, and edit a digital copy of the work (e.g., a technical protection
measure, compulsory registration, or distribution in a non-copiable or non-editable format); and
- economic restrictions to access and copy a digital copy of the work (e.g., distribution for a fee or in a format
that is not free of charge).
Even before taking the important step of writing one short text, a reorganization of the legal
Creative Commons, “Baseline Rights,” http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Baseline_Rights
code could improve the license’s layout and readability. It would be easy to reorganize and
cluster thematics. Further, it could help to add subtitles inside the longest clauses – for
example, in the Sampling licenses section 3, the Australian legal code sections 3 and 4,230 or
the New Zealand section 2231 – in order to improve their readability.
Following the findings of section 2.2.3, which analyzed the main clauses, and starting with
the Definitions, it should not require much effort to modify the text slightly, in order to match
international law definitions and include all notions. (Unless, of course, definitions cease to be
legal and ported, as suggested further in section 5.2.1.) As discovered in section 2.2.3, a
harmonization of the notions covered in the licenses, with concepts included in international
-The first fixation of a film or broadcast, in the definition of “work”
-All the elements of a complex work (for instance, music composition, lyrics, performance,
and fixation for a recording)
Otherwise, “work” could be defined simply as “the copyrightable work of authorship and/or
the other forms of creation protected by related rights.”
Adaptations should include adaptations of broadcasts.
Several issues are raised by the definitions of and differences between adaptations and
collections. These differences are legal notions that are difficult to grasp for non-lawyers. An
extension of the Share Alike clause and the disappearance of the Non-Derivative clause
(authorizing only Collections, not Adaptations) could make these differences irrelevant. This
would help decrease the number of licenses, simplify the text, and therefore avoid
misunderstandings (e.g., about the qualification of Adaptation when synching music on
moving images, even when using the music track in its entirety and without modification).
The license grant should include the rights of commercial rental and public lending.
The definition of “Original Author” should be clarified to avoid confusion between authors
and rights holders.
The fair dealing clause could be entitled “Limitations and Exceptions,” and it could specify
that limitations to related rights – not just limitations to copyright – are not preempted by the
License’s Restrictions and License Elements. (For instance, a performance can be parodied
even if it is released under an ND license that reserves modifications.)
The license grant clause should include related rights or other applicable rights. It could also
be re-organized. It should clarify its incompatibility with other exclusive agreements (e.g., as
underlined in the FAQs about rights assignments to collecting societies), and it should address
a transfer of ownership and all exclusive rights through, for instance, a publication contract
with an exclusivity clause. This information is not hidden, and it is obvious to the specialist.
However, it is not clear for the layperson, who is often unaware of these types of notions:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia, http://creativecommons.org/
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 New Zealand,
-The meaning of exclusivity
-The prerogative of the original rights holder to exercise her exclusive rights
-The impossibility of granting exclusive rights to a collecting society or a publisher when
using a CC license
Thus, a clarification could avoid licensors’ risk of committing to incompatible agreements.
The clause about collecting societies, as well as the NC clause, could fit here for all licenses.
Currently, it is the case only the non-NC ones, and the following section could be renamed,
for example, “Notices and Credit.” The clause related to technical measures could also be
relocated, as could the provision stating that rights can be exercised in all media and all
formats and that technically necessary modifications are not considered Adaptations. These
small modifications would improve the consistency of these complex texts, the structure of
which is fairly scattered.
The Restrictions section should clarify whether the notice requirement provision also applies
to uses arising from limitations to exclusive rights. The collective management clause, which
is included in the restrictions for NC licenses and in the license grant for non-NC licenses,
could be related more closely to the royalty-free provision that it amends.
More substantial modifications could also be considered and evaluated.
Because of threats to the Share Alike clause’s validity, and because of its implementation
difficulties, as discussed in section 2.2.3, the consequences of introducing sub-licensing
should be studied further. Sub-licensing would allow a direct relationship between successive
parties; B could then bear some responsibility towards C, which could allow C to sue B if A
sued C, since B committed the infringement.
The moral rights clause could be redrafted or even eliminated. One the one hand, the
provision may impose more restrictions than the law, since publishers seldom enjoy moral
rights. One the other hand, the provision may exclude some parties from its scope even
though they benefit from the protection; moral rights may exist for non-authors in some
jurisdictions. For instance, in Australia, performers and film-makers have moral rights. “Film-
makers” include producers, directors, and screenwriters, although the producer is not
mentioned in the CC’s definition of Original Author. (However, she can be included if
considered a creator.) Therefore, the clause could be changed accordingly. Separate
definitions should be created for the Author, the other Original Rightholders, and the
Licensor, who would be the current rights holder. The interface should also include a contact
field that the Licensor fills when selecting her License.
Other provisions of the licenses are related to the exercise of moral rights and reputation, to a
broader extent, and they could be placed together: the attribution clause, the right not to be
attributed (upon request of any Licensor of Collections and Adaptations), and the non-
endorsement clause (stating that attribution should not imply support from the Original
Author, the Licensor, or the Attribution Parties).
Removing the clause about limited representation of non-infringement could cause
incompatibilities; some versions and jurisdictions contain this type of clause, whereas the
Share Alike effect removes the representation. There is no consensus on the need to provide
or not to provide such representations. Instead of asserting or excluding representations, the
license could refrain from mentioning them and could, instead, leave the question outside of
the license, to be decided through applicable law.
Lastly, the provision stating that a waiver of the license’s terms should be consented to in a
written, signed contract could be located closer to the provision allowing distribution of the
work under different conditions. It should be clarified whether the license constitutes the
entire agreement, because another agreement concluded at a later stage may exist elsewhere.
It should also be specified that the license cannot be modified without the mutual written
agreement of the Licensor and the Licensee. Additionally, this language should be simplified.
The licenses’ substantive content should be clarified, shortened, relocated, and substantially
For instance, the Attribution clause is located in three sub-clauses that could easily be
gathered together, and it contains very specific requirements that extend beyond legal and
social norms. It could be more limited.
In the absence of technologies that clarify the potential of this clause and determine the fields
to be filled, it is doubtful that this clause is exercised to its fullest extent by licensors or
implemented to its fullest extent by licensees.
The metadata fields should be displayed even more prominently in order to foster their use.
This would increase the likelihood of gathering the following attribution information (which
is often unavailable, thereby hindering the need to carry this information):
- The name of the author, licensor, or any party
- The title of the work
- The source URL of the work, as well as the source URL of the original work, for
- A credit identifying the original author, the use of the original work, and the changes that
have been made, for derivatives
This requirement is difficult to express. It could be deleted or transformed into a non-binding
best practice, as in section 5.2.3., or the sentence could be semi-automatically drafted, in the
spirit of section 5.1.1.
Together, these changes would create a more compact text. Some decisions must be made
regarding issues such as representations, databases, the scope of the Share Alike clause and
adaptations, and moral rights. Instead of requiring licensors to consider all the legal and
policy differences between licenses – which make it difficult to cross-license, dual-license, or
re-license works – this simplification could ease the compatibility process with other open-
5.2.2 Options rationalization: generalization vs. customization
The number of options and core clauses could be either reduced or extended.
The Share Alike clause could return to version 1.0 and require licensees to license derivative
works under only the same version, instead of also allowing derivatives under a CCi version,
a future version, or a compatible license, which are different per se and hence raise the most
problematic compatibility issues. The 2.0 update was a useful policy move, however, and
going backwards would drastically reduce the remixing options and would raise
incompatibility among works.
The system could be simplified to offer fewer licenses; for instance, it could stop offering the
less popular licenses or the licenses that do not offer sufficient freedoms. (These two solutions
are contradictory, since the NC option is widely chosen, and a moderated approach to
freedom has contributed to the success of the licenses.) Or, the option that creates uncertainty
– NC, again – could be removed.
Providing only one license would certainly be difficult; should it be the simplest BY, the
Copyleft BY-SA, the most popular BY-NC-SA, or the most restrictive BY-NC-ND? Despite
the difficulty of choosing, defining what constitutes freedom for non-software works in the
field of CC would clearly be beneficial. It would obviously limit one source of
incompatibilities between works licensed under different options. It would also reduce
information costs for users who must choose between different options. Further, it would
decrease legal uncertainty when users do not fully understand their consent to the
combination of options they choose. A stronger conceptual definition of freedom for CC, and
fewer variations from that core, would result in fewer incompatibilities.
If the logic of the system were reversed, then two choices could be proposed, in addition to
the baseline core clauses of the BY license to obtain other licenses: add SA, in order to
produce a BY SA license, or remove commercial and derivative rights, in order to produce a
BY NC ND.
As an opposing possibility, the number of options could be increased (e.g., add advertising, in
order to specify and thus clarify the notion of NC). However, this would lead to increased
information costs and additional incompatibilities among options. Otherwise, it might be
advisable to externalize some of the options in the CC+ protocol (instead of adding more
inside the licenses): for example, warranties and representations (if they do not become
standard again), a parallel distribution clause (if there is a use case), distribution of sources (if
they do not become standard), and database rights (if they are not already re-included in the
related rights). Additionally, clearly identified icons could satisfy more needs; however,
obviously, this would not simplify the system.
Finally, two options may be considered to circumvent international law difficulties:
introducing an international private law clause, or removing localized clauses and ported
International private law principles led to a consideration of introducing a private
international law clause to designate applicable law and competent jurisdiction. Researchers
should study what happens without such a clause, and they should consider how adding this
clause could impact the porting process. Could dual licensing be introduced according to the
principle of territoriality? Could differences be made visible outside the local legal deed, or
could commentated re-translations be made available? Or, is stopping legal porting the most
viable option, since porting adds complexity?
The simplest and most effective solution for reducing both the number of licenses and the
international inconsistencies among jurisdictions’ versions is simply stopping the porting
process and offering only a translation of a revised generic/unported, 4.0 version. This text, as
described in section 5.1.3, would be drafted in plain English, and it could use sui generis
definitions in order to avoid relying on any legal interpretation or any national or international
legal definitions, which differ among legal systems. This solution has been chosen by the FSF
for the GNU-GPL and the GFDL. Their definitions are based not on any legal concepts but
rather on the domain’s ad hoc vocabulary; the translations are merely linguistic and do not
have legal value.
Implementation issues in local jurisdictions with different, incompatible legislations would
not disappear. Works already under jurisdictions’ licenses would not be addressed. However,
this problem is inherent to copyright law, which is not harmonized, and solving this problem
is not a responsibility that CC can bear. Thus, ceasing to offer ported versions would stop
adding complexity and internal inconsistencies, which threaten the validity of assent for both
the Licensor (who has expectations that may be disappointed) and the Licensee (who may
ignore the conditions she accepts or who may consent to conditions that will change).
Proposing linguistic translations – in order to improve access, acceptability, and
understanding for non-native English speakers – is a worthwhile idea, and this endeavor
should not be interrupted. It was wise to implement the porting process in the first place,
because it led to the structuration of local teams and the internationalization of a U.S.-based
project, including on a legal level. However, it quickly became obvious that legal porting was
only a minor task for the jurisdictions’ teams, who dedicated much more time to explaining
the licenses, giving presentations, discussing issues with stakeholders and users, examining
implementation issues, performing research, developing projects, and proposing
improvements of the licenses and their infrastructure, in coordination with the other
jurisdictions’ teams and the headquarters.
The porting process has created a useful constitutional moment for the development of the
international network, but it has raised too many legal issues to be maintained for the sole
purpose of improving accessibility and enforceability in local jurisdictions. This is especially
true now that generic licenses are no longer based on U.S. law, unlike when the international
porting process began.
5.2.3 Diminish the impact of the law
Coordination by external intermediaries and user communities could add significant value to
simplified CC licensing text and infrastructure.
Formalities, registrations, and licensing metadata updates for liability can be offered by third
parties. Safe harbors for infringement by licensees, insurance mechanisms, and online dispute
resolution mechanisms could also be implemented by parties other than CC.
User communities or institutional entities (e.g., universities, Wikipedia for the BY SA 3.0,
and funders) could recommend the use of only one license, as a top-down ideological
prescription, after identifying the license that best suits their particular needs. For instance, in
addition to making CC options’ features more accessible, the CC could explain that the Share
Alike clause’s effect is similar to the effect of the Non-Commercial option, at least in regards
to limiting commercial exploitation. The CC could also explain that reputation and integrity
concerns, which often lead to the choice of the Non-Derivative options, are already
ameliorated by the Attribution clause.
The CC porting process could occur not in jurisdictions but rather within communities,
relying on social governance to define implementation norms instead of relying on legal
normativity for enforcement. Best practices could be defined and implemented within certain
creative or user communities: life science researchers, electronic musicians, non-profit
broadcasters, commercial platforms, public libraries, and collecting societies, for example.
Two topics would provide an excellent experimental, normative field for testing such a
practice: Attribution and Non-Commercial clauses.
Norms vary among jurisdictions that apply national legislations and among user communities
that create and enforce social norms. A set of ethical principles described in an extended
common deed, or in a separate document, may be more effective and accessible than a
detailed doctrinal definition ported in a multiplicity of jurisdictions. Thus, instead of long,
binding licenses – or, in addition to a shorter text – protocols and guidelines for “appropriate
behavior”232 developed by communities may have a normative aspect, without involving
issues of legal uncertainty. Additionally, they may act as “conversational copyright”
communication tools233 rather than mere legal contracts. However, the communities could
potentially produce incompatible guidelines. The dearth of case law (so far) may indicate that
enforceability is difficult to reach by individual users or that the licenses can be viewed as
communication tools rather than legally binding, easily enforceable instruments. Both judges
and users could use these soft-law documents to interpret and implement the licenses more
See the norms for contributors and users of data developed by the Polar Information Commons
community at http.www.polarcommons.org/ethics-and-norms-of-data-sharing.php; it intends to regulate
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Melanie Dulong de Rosnay