Aug 312016

Diane Peters and Michael Carroll

Creative Commons has requested permission to file an amicus brief in litigation between Great Minds and FedEx Office and Print Services, Inc.  At the center of the litigation is the proper interpretation of the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license, known as BY-NC-SA. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York before Judge Hurley. While we rarely file amicus briefs, we feel strongly that the correct interpretation of the legal code here is essential to the utility of the NC licenses for both licensors and licensees, including those using any of the more than 370 million works that are licensed under one of CC’s NC licenses.

In this case, Great Minds claims that FedEx Office violated the terms of the BY-NC-SA license Great Minds applied to educational materials when FedEx Office copied material at the direction of school districts for non commercial use in classrooms. While it is undisputed that the use of these materials by public school districts is non commercial (as defined in the CC license), the claim against FedEx Office is that it cannot make copies for the school districts—even if it does so at the direction of the school districts and solely in service of that permitted NC use. CC disagrees with this interpretation and has requested permission to explain to the court why the license clearly allows this activity under these circumstances.

Entities using CC-licensed works must be free to act as entities do—including through employees and the contractors they engage in their service. To preclude an entity from using contractors to carry out otherwise-authorized work is not supported by the law, and is not prohibited by the terms and conditions of the NC license. A contrary understanding would mean that in many cases, a bona fide noncommercial licensee could not engage any service that charged a standard fee in the course of the non commercial user’s exercise of its legitimate rights under the license. Instead, only those with the means and resources to own all points in the reproduction and distribution chain could use NC-licensed material.  If that were so, the value of the license would be significantly diminished.

As a result, we believe this litigation is important to the usability of the NC licenses, which feature prominently in the OER ecosystem at present. Moreover, we pledged to our community during the 4.0 versioning process we would do more to clarify how the NC limitation works in the practical world. We will continue to work closely in collaboration with CC United States as this litigation unfolds. Watch here for updates as this case progresses.

Apr 152016

[Cross posted from Carrollogos]

Are Creative Commons licenses enforceable in court?  Yes.

In an important decision titled Drauglis v. Kappa Map Group, LLC, 128 F. Supp.3d 46 (D.D.C. 2015), Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia has issued a decision that:

  1. confirms the enforceability of Creative Commons licenses under U.S. copyright law;
  2. interprets the attribution requirement in the licenses to have the flexibility that is consistent with the licenses’ language and intent;
  3. holds that incorporating a photo into the cover of a road atlas creates a collective work rather than derivative work under U.S. copyright law; and
  4. holds that the “ShareAlike” condition in the 2.0 version of CC licenses is only triggered when a user distributes a derivative work as that concept is understood under U.S. law.

The court also rejected some misdirected arguments about copyright management information under Section 1202 of the Copyright Act.

Origins of the dispute

In April 2008, Art Drauglis took this photo of Swain’s Lock along the Cheasapeake & Ohio canal in Montgomery County, Maryland. He posted it to his shared photostream on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

“Swain’s Lock, Montgomery Co., MD.” Photograph by Art Dragulis.

Swain’s Lock, Montgomery Co., MD.” Photograph by Art Drauglis. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

Kappa Map Group publishes road atlases under the brand “ADC”. Beginning in 2012, Kappa relied on the Creative Commons license to publish an atlas that incorporates Drauglis’ photo on its cover.


Subsequently, Drauglis registered his claim to copyright in the photo in 2014 (which is required to file a lawsuit for copyright infringement) and sued Kappa. Although he acknowledged that he had granted Kappa and the rest of the public the right to use his photo commercially, Drauglis asserted that Kappa was operating outside the license and therefore was an infringer because (1) Kappa had failed to give him credit appropriately, (2) failed to properly identify the CC license under which his photograph was offered, and (3) that Kappa had created a derivative work that required the entire atlas to be licensed under the same CC license.


Drauglis acknowledged that Kappa had given him credit in the atlas.  The back cover identifies the title of the photograph, the authors of the shared photostream, and the name of the CC license under which the photo is offered to the public.

Drauglis complained that Kappa had not given him credit in the front inside page of the atlas where the copyright notice is published, that the credit he received is not as prominent as that given in the copyright notice, and that the attribution fails to provide the URL for the CC license.


The court rejected the comparative prominence claim as follows:

But the Court finds that the copyright notice on the first page is not the relevant authorship credit to which the attribution on the back cover should be compared. Instead, the notation at the bottom of each individual map – “© Kappa Map Group, LLC” – is the comparable authorship credit, because the single Photograph is more similar to an individual map than it is to the Atlas as a whole.

. . . .

Therefore, because defendant provided plaintiff with authorship credit in a manner comparable to and as prominent as the attributions on each of the individual maps when it attributed the Photograph to plaintiff on the back cover, the Court finds that defendant did not violate section 4(c).

Drauglis, 128 F. Supp. 3d at 59.

Identifying the CC License

With respect to the claim that Kappa was required to provide a link to the CC license with the attribution, the court carefully interpreted the plain language of the license, which reads that the user “must include a copy of, or the Uniform Resource Identifier for, this License with every copy . . . of the Work”.

The court analyzed and rejected this claim because the license does not require a link to the license text if the name of the license is used:

While there is no legal authority on this point, Internet authorities have defined a Uniform Resource Identifier (“URI”) as “an identifier consisting of a sequence of characters . . . . [which] enables uniform identification of resources via a separately defined extensible set of naming schemes.” T. Berners-Lee,7 et al., Uniform Resource Identifier: Generic Syntax 5 (Jan. 2005), Network Working Grp., (last visited Aug. 18, 2015). There is more than one form of URI – it can be “a locator, a name, or both.” Id. at 7.

. . . .

Thus, when plaintiff argues that defendant should have provided “a link to the full license” in the Atlas, he conflates the term Uniform Resource Identifier, which is used in section 4(a), with the narrower term Uniform Resource Locator, which appears nowhere in the License. A Uniform Resource Locator – “URL” or “link” – is one form of a Uniform Resource Identifier, but it is not the only one. For that reason, plaintiff’s contention that defendant was required to include in the Atlas a “link” to the License – its Uniform Resource Locator – is simply incorrect. Section 4(a) states only that a licensee “must include . . . the Uniform Resource Identifier” for the License when distributing a work offered under the License. See License § 4(a) (emphasis added).

To satisfy section 4(a), then, defendant could have printed the Atlas with either the License’s URL or its URN, as both are subclasses of the URI required by the License. And while defendant did not print the Atlas with a link to the License’s web address (its URL), it did provide the License’s URN when included the notation “Creative Commoms [sic], CC-BY-SA 2.0” on the back cover of the Atlas. Atlas at 116. Creative Commons has unique names for each of its six licenses, and the particular type of license at issue in this case is specifically designated and easily located online by the phrase “CC BY-SA 2.0.” See About the Licenses, Creative Commons, (last visited Aug. 18, 2015) (abbreviating the “Attribution-ShareAlike” license as “CC BY-SA”); Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic, Creative Commons, (last visited Aug. 18, 2015) (referring to the License as the “Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)” license). That “CC BY-SA 2.0” is the proper URN for the License is further confirmed by a routine Internet search.

Therefore, the Court finds that defendant’s reference to the name of the License on the back cover of the Atlas was sufficient to satisfy the section 4(a) notice requirement, and defendant is entitled to summary judgment on this issue.

Id. at 56-58.


The court recognized that under the terms of the 2.0 license – which mirrors the language of the U.S. Copyright Act – use of the licensed work as part of a new work that is original enough to get its own copyright will result either in a “collective work” or in a “derivative work.”  The distinction matters because under the license, the ShareAlike requirement applies only to derivative works.

Under both the 2.0 license and the U.S. Copyright Act, a derivative work arises only when it is based upon the original and is embodied in a form in which it has been “recast, transformed, or adapted.”

Applied to the atlas, the court held:

But the Atlas is a map book and not an adaptation of plaintiff’s photograph. Because this 112-page book of maps is not in any way “based upon” the Photograph, and because defendant did not “recast, transform[], or adapt[]” the Photograph when it used it as the cover art for the Atlas, see License § 1(b), the Court finds that neither the Atlas nor its cover constitutes a derivative work subject to the ShareAlike requirement. Rather, the Atlas is more akin to a collective work, because the Photograph was placed “in its entirety in unmodified form” alongside “other contributions, constituting separate and independent works” – that is, the maps. See id. § 1(a).

Id. at 55.

This is always how we at Creative Commons have understood the difference between collective works and derivative works. Unfortunately, Drauglis’s attorney submitted to the court a sworn statement from a former Creative Commons employee that took the position that Kappa’s use of the photograph turned the entire atlas into a derivative work, or, in the alternative, that the cover of the atlas was a derivative work.

This person admitted that she was not speaking on behalf of Creative Commons, but there is no doubt that this is the implication based on her statement of expertise. The judge correctly ignored this legal opinion because she found no ambiguity in the language of the license and therefore she did not need outside evidence to aid her interpretation of the license. The judge also found that plaintiff had failed to raise the claim about the atlas cover as a derivative work, but even if the issue had been properly raised, she would have rejected it for the same reasons.

Mar 012016
OER Breifing Picture

Michael Carroll, Nicole Allen, Val Emrich, Layla Bonnot & Ethan Senack

Creative Commons United States’ Professor Michael Carroll participated today in a briefing at the Rayburn House Office Building on “Understanding Open Educational Resources and Student Learning” (agenda here).  The briefing covered the legal background of what open educational resources are and how they work; how OER can save money for college students; and pathways for states and districts to implement OER in the K12-setting.


Rep. Jared Polis

Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.) kicked off the session. The Congressman has been a leader on education issues, including his leadership in the recent reauthorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The panel was moderated by SPARC’s Nicole Allen, who introduced the panel by highlighting the recent success in OER policy at the state and federal level, including the Department of Labor open licensing policy and the Department of Education Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (factsheet here).


Prof. Michael Carroll

Michael Carroll spoke about the interplay between copyright law and open licensing – highlighting places like the K-12 OER Collaborative and Tidewater Community College’s Z-Degree program, where CC-licensed Open Educational Resources are improving quality, access, and equity for students, by removing cost and copyright as barriers to educational attainment.

Ethan Senack, the Higher Education Advocate at US PIRG, highlighted the impact textbook costs have on higher education completion, and the potential savings to students available though OER alternatives. A full breakdown of the US PIRG research on higher education textbooks costs was published earlier this year in their Covering the Cost report.

Layla Bonnot and Val Emrich

Layla Bonnot and Val Emrich

Layla Bonnot introduced the next speaker on behalf of the Council of Chief State School Officers. CCSSO has been a lead partner in the Department of Education Office of Education Technology‘s #GoOpen initiative, working with states to provide support, research, and peer stories about OER implementation through their OER Portal.

Val Emrich, the Director of Instructional Technology, Maryland State Department of Education, explained Maryland’s new statewide education resource initiative, as part of the #GoOpen Campaign (Maryland press release here).  She also highlighted that Howard County Public School System had committed to transition one textbook from a traditional textbook to OER in the 2016-2017 school year.

FAQ on Open Educational Resources

the briefing was co-hosted by:

SPARC – SPARC is a global coalition committed to making Open the default for research and education. SPARC empowers people to solve big problems and make new discoveries through the adoption of policies and practices that advance Open Access, Open Data, and Open Education.

COSN – CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking) is the premier professional association for district technology leaders. For over two decades, CoSN has provided leaders with the management, community building, and advocacy tools they need to succeed. Today, CoSN represents over 10 million students in school districts nationwide and continues to grow as a powerful and influential voice in K-12 education

CCSSO – The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues.

SETDA – The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is a not-for-profit membership association launched by state education agency leaders in 2001 to serve, support and represent their emerging interests and needs with respect to the use of technology for teaching, learning, and school operations.


Dec 092015

ombCreative Commons USA has submitted a comment to the White House Office of Management and Budget for its review of Circular No. A-130: Managing Information as a Strategic Resource. Circular No A-130 establishes policies for the planning, budgeting, governance, acquisition, and management of the Federal government’s information resources. It was last revised in 2000, and the current revision aims to address new realities in today’s rapidly evolving, information-centered economy.

The comment from Michael Carroll and Meredith Jacob centers around two principles: “1) that information policy needs to deal with terms of use in addition to the terms of access, and 2) that publicly funded information resources should be made openly available for public use, not just public access.”

Click here for the comment as a PDF


Mr. Tony Scott
U.S. Chief Information Officer
Office of Management & Budget
1650 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Washington, DC 20503

December 5, 2015

Re: Proposed Revisions to Circular No. A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource

Dear Mr. Scott,

We are writing on behalf of Creative Commons United States (CC-USA) to comment on the proposed revisions to Circular No. A-130, Managing Information as a Strategic Resource. Creative Commons United States is the U.S. affiliate of Creative Commons Inc., and operates in Washington, DC as a project of the Program on Information Justice & Intellectual Property at American University Washington College of Law.

Our comment has one main point: the proposal should be revised to be more explicit about why and how agencies should make Federal information resources reusable by the public. Paragraphs 4(c), (d), (k), and (l) of the proposal all assert that making Federal information resources usable by others furthers the national interest. However, the proposal does not provide direction to agencies to ensure that Federal information resources are usable in light of the application of the Copyright Act of 1976.

In that Act, Congress recognized the importance of reuse of Federally created information resources by enacting Section 105, under which all copyrightable works created by Federal employees within the scope of their employment are in the public domain in the United States (with the exception of certain standards created by employees of the National Institute of Standards and Technology). However, any other information resource that falls within the scope of Circular A-130 created by non-Federal employees is automatically subject to the restrictions imposed by Section 106 of the Copyright Act. The only way to make these resources fully reusable by the public is to require that non-Federal persons who create resources that fall within the scope of Circular A-130 with Federal funds grant sufficient permission to the public to make these resources reusable.

In sum, our comments on the proposed revisions to Circular A-130 reflect two broad principles implicit in the proposal: 1) that information policy needs to deal with terms of use in addition to the terms of access, and 2) that publicly funded information resources should be made openly available for public use, not just public access.

General Comments

In the current form and in the suggested revision, OMB Circular A-130 focuses almost exclusively on the terms of access to covered information resources, while the terms of use are equally important in maximizing public benefit from that access. Copyright applies to a large part of the Federal information resources, and therefore copyright law provides the default terms for the use of these resources.

The Copyright Act deals with the terms of use for Federal information resources created by Federal employees by placing these works directly in the public domain. Circular A-130, however, covers a larger category of Federal information resources, including those created under Federal grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts. To accomplish the goals of giving the public meaningful access and enabling broad reuse, revisions to Circular A-130 should add terms of use for Federal information resources. In the case of copyrighted content, those terms of use should take the form of a standard open license, such as the Creative Commons Attribution license. (See Appendix 1 for more information on the Creative Commons licenses.)

The approach of using open licenses to enable public use of Federal Information Resources has already been adopted by grant programs within the Federal government, such as the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant Program. An agency-wide policy that would require information resources produced with direct grant funds to be openly licensed has been proposed at the Department of Education (Department of Education Open Licensing Requirement for Direct Grant Programs, 80 Fed. Reg. 67,672 (proposed Nov. 3, 2015) (to be codified at 2 C.F.R. pt. 3474).

Revision to the proposed amendments to Circular A-130 should: (1) identify that agencies will need to adopt policies that address the automatic application of copyright to information resources produced by non-Federal employees; (2) identify open licenses as a means that some agencies already have adopted to address legal barriers to access and use of information resources; and (3) require agencies to explain their reasoning for how they address the management of copyright in covered resources.

Comments on Specific Provisions

4. b. (p. 7, ln. 217) The government agency responsibility to openness should include facilitating public use of Federal Information Resources, not just public access.

4. d. (p. 7, ln. 226) Government commitment to making information resources “usable” should include removing or reducing legal as well as technical barriers to use and reuse.

5. d. 2. l. (p. 14, ln. 529) The design of information systems and information resources procurement should use standard open licenses to facilitate legal interoperability, access, and usefulness of information, in addition to considering technical interoperability and usefulness.

5. h. (p. 18, ln. 630) As written, this provision focuses on access to information and technical standards, without focusing on the legal restrictions that are automatically placed on information resources produced by non Federal employees. The section should be amended to include throughout the presumption that copyrightable Federal information resources created through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements should be released under a standard open license.

5.h. 5. (p. 20, ln. 701) The list of agency principles should be amended to add “k) Considering open licenses as the default choice for copyrightable Federal information resources created under grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements, to facilitate public use of Federal information resources.”

Thank you for your consideration of our comments. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us for more information.


Professor Michael Carroll
Meredith Jacob
Creative Commons United States
Program on Information Justice & Intellectual Property
American University Washington College of Law
4300 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington DC 20016

Nov 022015

department_of_educationOn Thursday, October 29, 2015 the U.S. Department of Education announced the #GoOpen campaign, which it defined as a major commitment to “significantly expand and accelerate the creation, curation, use, and sharing of openly licensed educational resources in our schools.”  To further promote OER, the Department is proposing a regulation  that  would  “require  all copyrightable  intellectual  property  created  with  Department  grant  funds  to have  an open license.”

Creative Commons-United States participated in the Open Education Symposium co-hosted by the Department of Education and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Meredith Jacob, from the CC-USA Legal Team said “we applaud the Department of Education’s support for Open Educational Resources.  The #GoOpen campaign recognizes the potential of OER to improve teaching and learning, and to fostering equality of access for all students.”

Speakers including Secretary Arne Duncan described the multiple benefits of OER adoption, including increased equity among students, saved money for school systems, empowered teachers (who can adopt the texts to suit classroom needs), and the ability of teachers and others to keep OER texts up to date and relevant (as opposed to traditional textbooks, which are “perpetually out of date”).

For more on the initiative, see

Oct 262015

ogp2[Cross-posted from, Link (CC-BY)] One of the best things about having been a member of the Obama administration was the chance it gave me to see history unfold close up. For example, I remember the night when my heroic friend Bob Shireman, then-deputy under secretary of education, sprinted back to the U.S. Department of Education after a critical meeting at the White House with the news that the Affordable Care Act, which also contained student loan reforms he’d championed for decades, was likely to pass the Senate by at least one vote, and that we would also get $2 billion placed into an obscure job-training fund (TAACCCT) we might be able to use to create free, high-quality open educational resources (OER) for community college students and unemployed workers. It was a singular moment, one that will stay with me forever. It meant that in at least that one instance we’d have a chance to get past all the arguing, we’d get a chance to govern in a new way and to do some really big things to help people, including voters who had placed their faith in President Obama. It was a moment when I knew I wanted to dig in and fight even harder.

I’ll be part of another such moment in Mexico City next week at the bi-annual global summit of the Open Government Partnership (the OGP). At the meeting, I will have the privilege and honor of joining representatives from the U.S. Department of State in an open panel discussion designed to encourage formal, government-to-government collaboration in the creation, use, and continuous improvement of free, high-quality open educational resources (OER). This OGP meeting is a milestone in the history of the Open Educational Resources movement; the first substantive effort to enlist governments around the world in a formal partnership aimed at using technology — not just to enrich entrepreneurs — but to also provide free, high-quality, open, publicly-funded learning resources and opportunities to every student, school and teacher on the planet. Yes, you read that right.

I have long maintained that this is one of the most important undertakings of our generation: transforming education around the world from exclusionary systems that weed students out to inclusive systems that lift students up. Old-world ideas about who is worthy of a good education were rooted in the possibilities of an earlier era; excellence was fostered but too often at the price of exclusion and bitterness. In place of those social carcinogens, we can instead now plant more hope and opportunity using new, more modern educational practices and approaches that rely on OER. I’ve been given a small speaking role at the start and close of next week’s meeting (OGP Summit-Save the Date) as a representative of Creative Commons USA which is, of course, a very great honor. But what matters much more is that next week’s meeting is happening in the first place, and that it was organized and will be led by two exceptionally able U.S. Department of State officials, with additional support from a variety of Obama administration federal agencies, including the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and the White House. The Obama administration will send a powerful signal to the world next week: the government of the United States formally invites other governments to join in using the Internet and OER to improve national and local systems of education, to learn together, to create together, to grow together, to learn about and from each other at prices we all can afford, to share digital educational and job-training opportunities freely, and to build a better world filled with more opportunity and hope for the generations who will follow us.

The Open Government Partnership

Some background on the OGP:

“The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Since then, OGP (which operates with a small staff, my note) has grown from 8 countries to 66…In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms,” according to its website.

At heart, the OGP is a coalition of governments around the world that have agreed to support one another as they envision, specify, implement and measure the impact of reforms aligned with the values of openness. Each year, OGP member-countries publish a National Action Plan (NAP) in which they make public commitments that detail the specific reforms they plan to implement. The annual NAP’s provide a basis on which progress in each country can be bench-marked and measured. NAPs also create opportunities for collaborations among countries with similar needs, for example, if one country decides to publish online data about, say, traffic signal patterns to see if doing so eases urban congestion, other countries can learn from the experience and, if interested, perhaps work together to jointly spur the development of new tools, technologies or practices that make it easier to get around crowded regions.

In the first few years, OGP National Action Plan commitments were important but mostly prosaic. Promises were made to publish lists of government officials, more detailed public budgets, publish contracts online, establish better protections for whistle-blowers, etc. These are all very important reforms, to be sure, and areas where lots of additional progress can and should continue to be made but, in some sense, the first commitments were also mostly low-hanging fruit, primarily items governments had been working on for years.

President Obama’s OER OGP Game-Changer

That all changed when President Obama traveled to the United Nations building in New York to personally deliver his administration’s annual OGP National Action Plan update in late 2014. For the first time, the U.S. plan featured a promise to work with other countries to support the collaborative creation, use and continuous improvement of OER. Just months earlier, I’d worked with a small group of senior Obama administration officials to bring this particular recommendation to the White House, where it was quickly vetted and embraced. The official, public announcement to include support for OER in the U.S. OGP NAP happened the same month I returned to private life in Palo Alto after five-plus years in the Obama administration. I regarded the OGP NAP OER announcement (sorry for all the initials, that’s life in government!) as a sort of going away present: an insurance policy that the new approach many of us had worked so hard to initiate and champion on President Obama’s watch — using public resources more efficiently to provide free, high-quality, open learning materials in place of more traditional, costly, closed commercial resources and textbooks — that this work would now have through the OGP an expanding center of gravity and champions in D.C. working with others around the world after I went back to tending our neglected fruit trees and garden in California.

The progress in recent days has been more than heartening.

Earlier this month, Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, Sunshine Ison, Director of the Education and Cultural Affairs Collaboratory at the U.S. Department of State and Nancy Weiss, Senior Advisor to the Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy gave additional heft and momentum to this work in a historic White House blog post, “Openly Licensed Educational Resources: Providing Eqitable Access to Education for all Learners.

And next week, I will join two of the smartest, most dedicated, hardest-working, most forward-thinking leaders I worked with during my years in the Obama administration, Jennryn Wetzler, Senior Program Designer in U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs innovative “collaboratory,” and her colleague, Sara Trettin, a tireless, and also obviously brilliant Presidential Management Fellow who served in the Department of Education before recently moving over to the U.S. Department of State, who will lead the only official U.S. government workshop that will take place at this year’s international OGP summit meeting. The workshop will be focused squarely on the opportunity governments now have to collaboratively use OER to build and constantly improve more inclusive, high-quality, systems of education and job-training for the permanent benefit of financially-disadvantaged students here in the U.S. and around the world and in doing so, bring new opportunities and hope to billions.

Some important history will be made next week in Mexico City. Thank you, President Obama.

Oct 132015
Photo: Mollyali, Link, CC-BY-NC 2.0

Photo: Mollyali, Link CC-BY-NC 2.0

[Timothy Vollmer, Creative Commons HQ, (CC-BY)] A few months ago the United States Copyright Office issued a request for comments on an extended collective licensing (ECL) pilot program they are considering for mass digitization projects. The Office thinks that such a program would permit greater access to cultural works by allowing institutions to engage in mass digitization and then licence those digital collections for a fee. Creative Commons and Creative Commons USA submitted comments to the Copyright Office in coordination with Wikimedia and Internet Archive.

We urged the Office to reconsider the pilot because the fair use doctrine has actually been strengthened in the U.S. due to recent court cases. This has increased the certainty with which a number of entities can engage in mass digitization. And even though the Office points toward similar pilots in Europe, their reliance on ECL is a response to the inflexibility of the current EU copyright framework. Some European cultural heritage institutions are willing to accept the ECL framework because they have no other option. U.S. institutions—such as university libraries—can rely on fair use.

The ECL system as proposed by the Office would not work well to support mass digitization projects. Many authors are not primarily interested in financial rewards—for example those that write scholarly books. And if there is no expectation of revenues for the creator, paying a collective rights organization collect fees to use such works is inefficient and in opposition to the intentions of these authors.

The proposed ECL scheme in the U.S. would be more powerful if it could do more, but the Office has chosen to favor a pilot program that would “facilitate the work of those who wish to digitize and provide full access to certain collections of books, photographs, or other materials for nonprofit educational or research purposes.” By limiting the proposed ECL scope to noncommercial uses, the Office inadvertently makes a stronger case that the activities of digitizers and users will be considered a fair use and that the ECL is not needed in the first place.

We explained that if the Office ultimately pursues an ECL pilot, it should affirmatively exclude works that are publicly licensed and allow other authors who wish to be excluded to apply a Creative Commons license to their work.

In the end, we agreed with many of the libraries that if the Copyright Office is serious about helping to increase legal mass digitization of our shared cultural heritage, it should instead focus on: 1) Encouraging the application of fair use to digitization projects; 2) Promoting the development of better copyright ownership and status information through enhanced registries, rethinking recordation, and asking copyright owners to identify themselves and their works through an internationally-compliant formalities system; and 3) Providing better access to existing copyright ownership and status information by digitizing or encouraging others to digitize and provide free access to all of the Copyright Office’s records.

Comments of Creative Commons and CC USA (PDF)

Sep 152015

The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, visited the Williamsfield Community School District in Illinois on September 15, 2015 to highlight the District’s use of Open Educational Resources as a means of improving the quality of its instructional materials while also saving public funds. Here’s a CC-USA FAQ on Open Educational Resources and copyright licenses.

Continue reading »

Aug 102015
CC-BY Matt Wade

CC-BY Matt Wade

Creative Commons USA and over 100 other groups have sent a letter to President Obama urging a policy to ensure that “educational materials created with federal funds… are made available to the public as Open Educational Resources to freely use, share, and build upon” through the use of open licenses. The letter further notes that “the global standard for public copyright licensing for copyrighted content is Creative Commons. Existing U.S. Government grant programs including the TAACCCT and First in the World Programs mentioned above, use the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Releasing materials under a standard license, such as CC-BY, allows for increased reuse and compatibility between materials produced by different institutions, including private charitable foundations and other national governments.”

The coalition notes that the federal government has spent billions of taxpayer dollars through various programs to create educational materials, but these materials “are generally not open to the members of the public who paid for them.”

Opening up access to federally funded educational materials would allow others to benefit from, build on, and improve these works. To do this, the coalition identifies five core principles to guide Administration policy:

  • Adopt a broad definition of educational materials;
  • Provide free access via the Internet;
  • Create conditions for resources that enable reuse;
  • Require prompt implementation; and
  • Regular reporting of progress and results.

The full letter is available here.

For more information on the coalition letter, see

  • SPARC press release. SPARC Calls on White House to Open Up Access to Federally Funded Educational Resources.
  • Creative Commons blog. Obama Administration Should Require Sharing of Federally Funded Educational Resources Under Creative Commons licenses.
Mar 122015

mc at carnegieIn all my time with Creative Commons, I’ve come to see that support comes from people across a wide spectrum of creators. For some, the Creative Commons licenses and their related icons provide the vocabulary and the solidarity around the sharing that they would engage in over the Internet even if the licenses did not exist. For others, the licenses are needed to free users from copyright constraints that would otherwise inhibit or prohibit uses that the creator wants to promote.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking on a panel at the Comparative and International Education Society’s Annual Conference with representatives of two open education projects that depend on Creative Commons licenses to do their work. One is the OER publisher Siyavula, based in Cape Town, South Africa. Among other things, they publish textbooks for use in primary and secondary school in math and science. After high school students in the country protested about the conditions of their education – singling out textbook prices as a barrier to their learning – the South African government relied on the Creative Commons license used by Siyavula to print and distribute 10 million Siyavula textbooks to school children, some of whom had never had their own textbook before.

The other are the related teacher education projects, TESSA, and TESS-India, which use the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license on teacher training materials. Created first in English, the projects and their teachers rely on the reuse rights granted by the Creative Commons license to translate and localize these training materials to make them authentic for teachers in the linguistically and culturally diverse settings of sub-Saharan Africa and India. (Both projects are linked to and supported by the Open University in the UK,, which uses Creative Commons-licensed materials as well.) If one wakes up hoping to feel that one’s work in the world is useful, then an experience like this makes it a good day.