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some rights reserved

No doubt you've seen the little "c" in a circle with the words "all rights reserved" on books, music and other products. It’s the copyright notice and it tells the world that the work is protected by law against copying and redistribution of any sort. But a new group says traditional copyright needs an alternative… so it's looking to provide a different kind of notice… some rights reserved. Greg Dahlmann explains. (originally aired March 5, 2003)
4:50 | listen: RealAudio · mp3 · ogg

It's been said that on the internet we'll all be famous to 15-people. Cory Doctorow has managed to build a somewhat bigger fan-group on the web. He's co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing and is starting to get notice as a science fiction writer. So, when Doctorow's new book "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" was ready for release... he decided to use his online rep to push the book... by giving away free downloads on the net.

{CD: build audience} :11
"The opportunity to have my readers share my book with each other as a means to of recommending that they pick it up and read it and read other works by me seemed like a really good idea."

But here's the thing about giving away content for free... it's not as easy as it sounds. Cory Doctorow wanted his fans to have the ability to download the book and pass it around lawfully... but he wanted to reserve his rights to film adaptations and foreign-language translation.

Enter Creative Commons... a non-profit project looking to help content creators easily license their work with more flexible terms. Glenn Otis Brown is the group's executive director.

{GB: make clear what's open} :27
"We basically want to make clear what content out on the net is available for certain uses. Right now, copyright is tends to be thought off as monolithic... as an on-off switch... either something's copyrighted or not. That's just not the case. Copyright's a bundle of fine-grained discrete rights... and we want to make it easy for everyday net users to exploit that find grained set of rights."

Creative Commons looks to do that by offering a menu of licenses at its web site. Creators can pick from options that cover non-commercial uses, derivative works and attribution. Users click their choices, hit submit and the web site returns a free license written in three different forms: one in plain English, one with the actual legal language and another in a format that computers can read.

It's that last format where the people at Creative Commons think they can really make a mark. Developers all over the world are currently working on applications and protocols to make finding and distributing information on the internet easier. By creating licenses that are people, lawyer and computer friendly... Glenn Otis Brown says Creative Commons is trying to hook into the next generation web.

{GB: machine reading} :09
"We want browsers and other kinds of applications to be able to talk with each other and identify these kinds of works without having to rely on some sort of central repository of content."

Brown says the hope is that in the not-too-distant future you'll be able to go to your favorite search engine... and do a search for, say, photos of the empire state building that I can use in my artwork... and you'll get a list of results sorted according to how the content is licensed.

This ability to selectively license and identify content on the web is becoming ever more important because of the changing nature of copyright law. Jessica Litman is a professor of law at Wayne State University and has written extensively about digital copyright issues. She says the law used to make rights holders responsible for most aspects of the copyright relationship… like letting people know what's protected… but that's changing.

{JL: until recently} :27
"We now have a situation where the law grants very broad rights to copyright holders. It has specific exceptions for commercial interests for who negotiated them... very few exceptions for you and me. So, we have a situation where we have millions of people using the internet and technically in violation of the copyright law every day."

Litman has doubts about whether Creative Commons will be successful in getting a critical mass of people to use its licenses... but she says if the group gets people talking about copyright issues... it'll be a success either way.

Since its launch in December... Creative Commons' Glenn Otis Brown estimates the project has already helped people license between 10 and 20-thousand works... including a multi-media presentation by DJ Spooky and course-material from MIT. Brown says Creative Commons is now working on getting their license options built into programs that help people do things like make movies or record music.

{GB: at creation} :16
"We want to get in at that level and have the Creative Commons license an option that early. So, when you hit save, one of the questions that's asked is what kind of copyright status do you want for this work and our meta-data, our machine readable license would be embedded straight into the work."

And what about Cory Doctorow... the blogger and sci-fi writer? He ended up licensing his book with a Creative Commons license... and he says it's gotten 80-thousand downloads... which has made the publisher of his next book rather happy.

{CD: dance of delight} :10
"He said, '80-thousand people have downloaded your book and now represent a potential audience for the book we're publishing in November' and I said yes, that's right... and you could hear him do a little dance of delight"

Doctorow says he plans to give away downloads of an upcoming short story collection, too.

I'm Greg Dahlmann.



a journalist


pieces from various public radio programs


Albany, NY


now and then


it's complicated


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gdahlmann (at) hotmail dot com

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