After more than two years of community discussions and many drafts, the nonprofit Creative Commons has released a new version of its popular copyright license suite. These licenses allow rightsholders to release some of the exclusive rights associated with copyright while retaining others, in a way that’s easy for re-users, indexable by computers, and that stands up to legal review in many countries.

Version 4.0 accomplishes some ambitious goals, but sticks to the spirit of earlier licenses, so that it shouldn't disrupt existing uses. In several places, the text has been clarified to better reflect the way the public uses the licenses in practice. The attribution requirements, for example, have been slightly adjusted to better accommodate the way re-users are typically providing attribution, by expressly allowing attribution to come in the form of a link to a separate "credits" page.

Among the most notable changes, version 4.0 breaks with the earlier practice of "porting" licenses to different jurisdictions, and is now designed to work all over the world. In the same vein, Creative Commons will provide official translations of the license deeds so that licensors and licensees can read the text in the local languages.

That change works towards another goal of the 4.0 license suite: to be flexible and robust enough to support new uses for many years without requiring any major version updates. Version 3.0 was released in February 2007 and has worked effectively for the last five years; the hope is that this new version can be used for even longer.

One of the primary reasons to use a popular license suite like Creative Commons instead of writing your own set of permissions is that it reduces the problem of "license proliferation." The planned longevity of Creative Commons 4.0 licenses also keeps with that goal, giving licensors plenty of time to get on the latest version.

Encouragingly, Creative Commons reached this final version through a completely transparent process. Goals were laid out in public discussions at a 2011 global summit, and continued in blog posts, open meetings, and mailing lists for the following two years. As a result, the licenses have the legitimacy of public consensus and the motivations for changes are well understood.

Contrast that process with the secretive copyright policy discussions happening in closed backroom negotiation sessions for trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and it's clear why groups like EFF understand that the "official" approach is broken. Creative Commons licenses are real legal documents that set effective policy for hundreds of millions of works across the Web—there's no reason they can't also be a model for effective and transparent policy-making.

It was a welcome development then, if not a major surprise, to see Creative Commons issue a policy statement last month supporting fundamental copyright reform around the globe.

Between that policy statement and the new licenses, Creative Commons is doing good work towards enabling its long-held vision of universal access to research and education, and full participation in culture. EFF is a proud to use Creative Commons licenses for all the original material on our site.

image by Creative Commons, used under CC BY 4.0.

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