This is Commons, an entry originally posted on December 19, 2003 in the blog In chronological order, before this was Progress. After this comes Atom for MT in Four Easy Steps. If you're lost, I recommend the about page.

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After several months of equal parts deliberation and procrastination, I have made up my mind to license this site under a Creative Commons License. I have long been an advocate of the public domain, and the many recent abuses of intellectual property law have only solidified my beliefs.

I don’t claim that my offering is particularly grand. As of today my site contains 200-odd pieces of writing, about twice that many photographs, and some XHTML/CSS templates for Movable Type and PhotoStack. I haven’t been writing on the web for eight years, nor have I written and given away for free two books, nor do I play jazz guitar (though I’m working on it). But I do feel passionately about the importance of sharing my modest contributions with the public, and I want to make it official that you all are allowed to reuse, redistribute, remix, reproduce, mock, abuse, and/or create a shrine from anything and everything you see here.

You may be wondering why any of this is necessary. The Creative Commons site has a good overview, but I’d like to offer a different example.

Megaman sprite in the spotlight.This animation has been making the rounds over the past couple months. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s a “music video” of some of the characters from the video game Megaman 7 singing the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s funny, if you (like me) are the kind of person who has nostalgia for old Queen songs and old Nintendo games.

It’s also illegal, under the current system. Both the Megaman sprites and the Queen song are copyrighted—current law is such that every creative work is copyrighted upon creation, even without a © symbol, even without the creator’s knowledge or intent, unless specified otherwise—and using them in this new way is not allowed. We imagine that we are safe because Queen and the creators of Megaman are probably reasonably good-natured, and an animation circulated on the Internet is not a credible threat to their image. But this security is at best a hypothesis. The law is so unwieldy that the sensible course of action is to ignore it and enjoy our illegal animation; but shouldn’t there be a better way?

Megaman waving.The Creative Commons project is that better way. A Creative Commons license is a way for an artist to make it clear that he doesn’t mind his work being used in new and innovative ways. It is a nod to the fact that all artists have influences, and we want to encourage, not forbid, further derivation. It is about increasing the pool of freely-shared information, and hundreds of thousands of licenses have been created with that goal in mind.

If you found all of that boring, you can hear audio of one of Laurence Lessig’s speeches on the same topic mixed into a Trance/Ambient-esque song (MP3, 3.39MB). It’s exactly the kind of creative reuse that Creative Commons is working to promote.

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