Creative Commons, the non-profit best known for its copyright licenses that allow creators to voluntarily waive certain automatically-granted exclusive rights, has released a powerful new policy statement supporting fundamental copyright reform around the globe. This statement works to counter any argument that simply having a set of voluntary permissive copyright licenses available to rightsholders reduces the need for actual policy reform.
Without a doubt, Creative Commons, also frequently known as CC, has long been an ally in restoring sanity to copyright systems. Today's statement makes that role more explicit. At EFF, we've long admired the organization's work; as one token of that, we invited co-founder Lawrence Lessig to give a keynote at this year's Pioneer Awards, and have given the award to founding board member James Boyle, and to Aaron Swartz who helped design the code layer of the licenses.
It's a good thing too, that Creative Commons is dedicated to its role as steward of the free licenses and tools it produces— the authors of hundreds of millions of works around the Web, including EFF's Deeplinks blog posts, use those licenses. They're often the most effective way to give the public permission to share and build on existing creative work. But as CC's policy statement puts it:
However well-crafted a public licensing model may be, it can never fully achieve what a change in the law would do, which means that law reform remains a pressing topic. The public would benefit from more extensive rights to use the full body of human culture and knowledge for the public benefit. CC licenses are not a substitute for users’ rights, and CC supports ongoing efforts to reform copyright law to strengthen users’ rights and expand the public domain.
We agree. While some industries push to expand the scope of copyright through domestic legislation in the U.S. and abroad, as well as through policy laundered in through secretly negotiated international agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), we face an urgent need to rein in a bloated and ineffective copyright system.
In the U.S. in particular, we may be entering a very important time for copyright reform. In the past several years, activism around copyright policy has become very prominent, most notably in the protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the aforementioned ACTA; at the same time, the Register of Copyrights has called for "The Next Great Copyright Act," and Congress seems interested in pursuing that agenda.
In other words, it's a great time for groups like Creative Commons to take a stance on the need for reform that benefits users and creators, not just legacy industries. In supporting such a policy alongside its licenses and other tools, Creative Commons is taking a smart approach: develop technical solutions where possible, but pursue policy solutions too.