Lawrence Lessig (and others) first start talking about the Creative Commons Project
months ago. It took until December 16, however, for the formal launch
of the project. Now that Create Commons is live, it's time for a good look
at what they are up to.
The Creative Commons is a reaction to the steady increase in the power of
copyright holders over their creations. By allowing creators to lock up
their work indefinitely, the expansion of copyright protection is
impoverishing the intellectual "commons" -- the pool of ideas and works in
the public domain from which all can draw. By denying the growth of the
commons, content producers are denying the basic fact that the work they
would lock up also has its roots in that commons. Disney may have done
children a great service by cleaning up the gory and depressing parts of
"The Little Mermaid," but the foundation of the company's work lies deep
within the commons where the original Mermaid lives.
The copyright battle is being fought on many fronts, including in
legislatures and courts. The Creative Commons is taking a different
approach, however: it is attempting to create an explicit commons to which
creators of copyrightable works can donate their output. This effort has,
for now, two components.
The first is the Licensing
Project. This project aims to move works into the commons immediately
by providing a whole set of licenses for releasing works with varying
degrees of freedom. Content producers can select a license by answering
three basic questions:
- Should people redistributing the work be required to credit the
- Can others make commercial use of the work?
- Can others distribute (and perform, display, etc.) derived products of
work, or may it be used only in unaltered form? In the case where
changes are allowed, must the changes be distributed under the same
The answers to those questions map onto a list of eleven licenses
that reflect the author's wishes. (The twelfth case - the one with no
restrictions - is apparently deemed as being equivalent to releasing the
content into the public domain). The more restrictive licenses would not
be considered truly "free," since they restrict commercial use and the
ability to make changes. On the other hand, the "Attribution"
license is fairly BSD-like, and "ShareAlike"
takes its cue from the GPL.
Not everybody wants to make their work freely distributable from the
beginning, however. For those who want to enjoy the benefits of copyright
protection for a while, but who would still like to see their work pass
into the commons in a timely manner, there is the Founders'
Copyright project. Essentially, the Founders' Copyright attempts to
take copyright law back to 1790 by way of a contract which will release a
given work into the public domain after 14 years. O'Reilly &
Associates, which has funded the Creative Commons, has pledge to put some
(currently unspecified) works into the public domain under these terms.
The path ahead of the Creative Commons project looks difficult; how many
content producers will really be interested in giving away their current
legal rights in order to nourish an amorphous "commons"? Twenty years ago,
however, one could have reasonably asked why any sane programmer would
donate code to a seemingly infeasible project to create a free operating
system? As people become more aware of the costs of freezing the growth of
the true intellectual commons, there may well be room for the development
of a privatized version. We need that commons, one way or another.
As an aside, those who are interested in U.S. copyright law and its
expansion over the years may want to have a look at The Progress
of Science and the Useful Arts, a lengthy report from the Free
Expression Policy Project.
Another leading thinker, Siva Vaidhyanathan, puts 'intellectual
property talk' at the root of today's conflicts over
anti-circumvention technology, extensions of the 'limited time' of
copyright, and other efforts by the industry to expand its profits
and control. Vaidhyanathan writes that copyright 'was not meant to
be a property right as the public generally understands
property. It was originally a narrow federal policy that granted a
limited trade monopoly in exchange for universal use and access.'
Viewing creative expression as property distorts this original
The report looks at copyright from the beginning through to current issues
(copyright extension, DMCA, etc.). It's a long but worthwhile read.
Comments (3 posted)
The ElcomSoft trial is over, and the verdict is in: not guilty. In the
end, the jury decided that ElcomSoft did not willfully violate the law, and
should not be punished. In other words, the court agrees with much of the
community that the U.S., last year, violated the rights of an innocent man
when it arrested and detained Dmitry Sklyarov.
The outcome of this case is good news for ElcomSoft, but it has little to
offer others who face possible DMCA prosecutions. As a low-level jury
trial, the ElcomSoft case would have had little precedent value in any
case; the judge in this case also went out of his way to ensure that the
validity of the DMCA itself was not called into question. The issue of
whether or not ElcomSoft's software was illegal was not much discussed;
what decided the case was the jury's assessment of whether ElcomSoft
knowingly and intentionally violated U.S. law.
So ElcomSoft was acquitted, which is good news for the company. But the
DMCA itself remains unchallenged, and companies that might consider
distributing a "circumvention device" have seen that the DMCA can lead to
expensive criminal trials and arrests, even if they win in the end. The
DMCA's chilling effect will thus be undiminished, and, for those who remain
unchilled, there will certainly be other criminal DMCA trials in the
Comments (2 posted)
Remember Lineo? This company initially was spun out of Caldera as Caldera
Thin Systems, but switched over to Lineo shortly thereafter. Lineo
received vast amounts of venture capital, went on an acquisition spree
(FirePlug, INUP, Moreton Bay, USE, RT-Control, Zentropix, ...), and filed for a
$60 million IPO
- in May, 2000. Needless to say, things didn't
work out that way.
Denied its IPO cash windfall, Lineo went into decline. The hardware
businesses it had picked up were unacquired. Then, last April, the company
was "recapitalized" - from the details that have been made available it
seems that the company was foreclosed upon and reincarnated (as "Embedix,
Inc.") in the hands of the Canopy Group - the company's venture capital
firm. Now Lineo/Embedix has been sold to Metrowerks, which hopes
to make a compelling product out of the combination of Embedix and
CodeWarrior. Of the 200+ people employed by Lineo when it filed for its
IPO, about 30 remain to move to Metrowerks.
Lineo is a relic of the Linux Bubble Days; perhaps the only surprising
thing is that it lasted this long. The company certainly had worthwhile
products in its Embedix system, development tools, and embedded web
browser. But they got caught up in the hype of those days and went off
buying big trade show booths, acquiring companies of marginal use, and
generally trying to tread the high-flying IPO-bound path. When the IPO
failed to happen, there really just wasn't a whole lot left.
Lineo pursued a path that appeared to be rational and lucrative at the
time; it's hard to put (too much) blame on the company's management. It
has taken years, however, to divest the pieces of a company built around
the dotcom business model. What's left, finally, is the core of a real
Linux business, which, as part of a bigger structure, will be doing its
part for Linux World Domination in a more realistic way. The end of the
dotcom bubble has brought hard times to many Linux companies and
developers, but it has also brought a new focus on creating products and
services that customers actually want to buy. That change will, in the
long run, do far more good for Linux and free software than the Bubble Days
Comments (none posted)
We'll start with the most fun news: the LWN.net 2002 Linux Timeline
now available. For the fifth straight year, we have gone through and
pulled out the most interesting news from the last twelve months. The
result is a concise, and, we hope, fun summary of what's been going on.
As some of you may know, LWN.net will turn five years old next month. In a
bit of early celebration, we have put together the the LWN.net Five-Year Timeline,
giving a condensed view of what has happened while LWN has been watching.
There are now just over 2400 individual LWN.net subscribers. The number
continues its slow, steady growth despite an increase in the number of
expiring subscriptions. With luck, that trend will continue, but we remain
distant from our short-term goal of 4000 subscribers. (Meanwhile, the kind
soul who subscribed "cypherpunks" needs to renew, as it has expired...).
This is the last LWN Weekly Edition for 2002; there will be no Weekly
Edition during the Christmas week. We will return to our regular schedule
on January 2, 2003 (the front page will continue to be updated during
this time). Hopefully our readers will forgive us if we're
still a little hung over at the time.
This has been a challenging year, to say the least.
Through all of our ups and downs, we have continued
producing LWN because we have such a great set of readers.
Best wishes to all of you for great holidays and a happy new year
from the folks at LWN.
Comments (2 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Germany sees security in free software; new vulnerabilities in exim, fetchmail, micq, MySQL...
- Kernel: Speeding up system calls; the state of the feature freeze; supporting hardware crypto.
- Distributions: Happy Holidays; Embedded Freedom Linux; Skolelinux
- Development: Aegir CMS 1.0 beta3, MICO Snapshot, POE 0.24, OMNI 0.7.2,
Ganymede 1.0.11, GNUsound 0.4.1, Samba 2.2.7a, KOffice 1.2.1
Stability Release, LyX 1.2.2, SmartEiffel 1.0, ActivePerl 5.8.
- Press: Linux out-Googles Microsoft, Eclipse project grows, DMCA challenge deadline,
Elcomsoft: Not Guilty, Alternative Web Browsers.
- Announcements: Free documentation database, global bioinformatics grid, LinuxWorld program,
FOSDEM interviews, OSS in Healthcare, Deep Space 6 Initiative.
- Letters: Modules correction; CAAST and FLOSS