The Need for a Reverse Creative Commons

I make no secret that I am a fan of Creative Commons. I use it on this site, as well as other sites I’ve created, and write routinely about it here on Plagiarism Today.

Though the system has it’s flaws it, overall, is a great idea that is well-executed.

But there is a pretty severe limitation to the system, it requires the copyright holder to take action first. If the copyright holder does not proactively license his or her work under a CC license, it is locked away and there is precious little help in getting the potential user of the work permission, even if the owner might be willing.

This is why there is a need for a CC system that starts with the user and works backwards. This could be a boon not just for the sharing and reuse of copyrighted works, but also for the Creative Commons Organization itself.

Though this is just an idea, I want to lay out how such a system might work and what the benefits/limitations might be to get the conversation rolling.

How It Might Work

The problem is pretty simple. If a potential user finds a work they want to ask permission to use and it isn’t granted universally, as through a CC license, they have to ask permission. However, few people are comfortable doing that and even fewer know how to do it properly, with full legalese.

A reverse CC system could fix that by having the user pick out the license that they need/want and then emailing it in the form of a permission request to the rightsholder via email. All the user would have to do is pick the rights they need, enter some information about the work, and then send it. This could also be used in situations where the copyright holder has a CC license but the user needs more permissions for a one-time use.

Ideally, this permission request would come in a similar format to current CC licenses, with first an easy-to-understand version of the terms and then a legalese one to satisfy the lawyers. Ideally, such a request would be usable both by smaller copyright holders, who might be unfamiliar with CC licenses and big corporations who have much more standardized permissions systems.

Such a system could do a lot of good for the copyright climate on the Web and it doesn’t take much imagination to see its potential.

Why It’s Important

While there are stock letters that can achieve much of this effect, they are not intuitive and they can be very intimidating. The easier this process is made, the more likely people will ask permission and the clearer things are to the copyright holder, the more likely they will say “Yes”.

Also, since this license would be CC-branded, it would be a good chance to introduce the CC brand and licenses to people who don’t use them. It might encourage the spread of CC licenses or at least awareness of the name.

Most importantly though, it would give users the tools they need to quickly, easily and effectively ask for permission to use work. This could drastically reduce disputes about who gave permission for what and the nature of the use. By getting these requests into a more structured format, everyone can understand them better making them more clear and forcing people to spend less time on them.

It’s a win-win for both rightsholders and potential users alike.

Some Limitations

A CC-style system for asking permission would not correct the biggest problem with rights clearance, the time required to do so.

Most Creative Commons searches for a work are done for some immediate need such as an image for a written post or a clip for a video in production. Usually, in these cases, there are many similar works that can perform the task and the key is to find one that is properly licensed. A good example is looking for a CC-licensed image of a sunset for an article.

This method would only be useful in situations where a very specific work was needed and waiting was possible. If there is no specific need, there is likely enough CC-licensed or otherwise available works that you can find what you need quickly. If you can’t wait, then the project is probably dead regardless.

Such a system would also face strong issues in terms of internationalization and problems. Though the CC Organization managed to largely resolve the internationalization issues with their main product, it might be too heavy of a load to go through it again, especially for something likely to be rarely used.

Furthermore, this is heavily prone to user mistakes. It requires the user to know what work they needs, be able to find the right copyright agent and then contact them. While this is a simple task for blog posts and Flickr images, it isn’t easy for music and movies. In fact, there are many people who are paid very good money to figure out just those issues.

Despite these limitations, there are still many situations where such a permissions system would be useful, especially for students and others who are assembling larger projects over a period of time. Best of all though, it would be a way to introduce copyright holders who do not use CC licenses to the concept and bring them, even if just with one or two cases, into the fold of sharing their content.

Bottom Line

Though there would be flaws and limitations to this system, it would also fill an important gap within the current licensing system and make it possible for users to effectively initiate the licensing process.

Though Creative Commons was right to start with the system it did as it is both easier to implement and more likely to be widely used, there is still a need and an audience that is unserved by this licensing revolution that could be an opportunity for all involved.

As great as standardized licensing is, it is a one-way street without standardized permission requests as well. It’s time to empower the user too and help them open up new doors for themselves and rightsholders.

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