Creative Commons is an organization that was founded to help authors and creators who are interested in sharing their work avoid the very restrictive rules of copyright, and their subsequent chilling effect on users. The licenses available through Creative Commons allow authors and creators to attach a recognizable legal document to their work, especially but not exclusively web work, that allows users to make broad categories of use of that work without further permission. The most common provisions of a Creative Commons license allow reproduction and distribute of a work as long as the original author of the work is identified and the use is non-commercial. This is called an “attribution, non commercial” license. Creators also have an option to either allow derivative works made from the original as long as the derivatives are also shared under the same terms or to prevent derivative works.
Creative Commons offers a fairly wide range of license options. All of their licenses operate to waive copyright protection in the identified situations, such as for a non-commercial use where the author is identified, while retaining the right to enforce copyright in other circumstances. Thus Creative Commons is very effective for sharing academic work so that other scholars can distribute that work to students or other researchers. If derivative works are included in the license grant, a Creative Commons license also supports the continued development of an idea through collaborative scholarship.
If Creative Commons just supported collaboration and open sharing for education and research, its value would be tremendous. But the ability to require attribution is what really makes Creative Commons licenses so important for academics. Needless to say, since academics seldom are paid for their scholarly work, the credit they receive, and the concrete benefits of promotion, tenure and grant funding that spring from enhanced reputation, make attribution tremendously important. Ironically, our copyright law, as restrictive as it is, does virtually nothing to protect attribution. whereas most countries protect attribution as a “moral right” and also make proper credit an element of a “fair dealing” defense, US law does neither of these things. The ability to require attribution as a condition for sharing and permitting reuse thus makes a Creative Commons license a much more effective instrument for enhancing the values that really matter in the academy then traditional US copyright law.