Sunday 12 July 2020

Copyright and Her Limits, Act Two: Going to the Creative Commons

Copyright and Her Limits

Act 2: Going to the Creative Commons


by Kathryn Kure



This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

For this assignment, it can be assumed that FOAK, the Fount of All Knowledge is the one who narrates all of the below. The questions, and other personae will be added at a later stage, at which time the play will be updated. However, it has been proving difficult to conjure up personae for the various licenses, but as I have come to understand their attributes better, they are starting to take shape. So, watch this space!

1. The three layers of the CC licenses

Some describe the Creative Commons licences in terms of three layers, but I am not at all fond of that description since it implies some kind of hierarchy in which one could be seen to be superior to the rest. It also makes it seem as if each layer is independent of the others when in fact, they are interdependent.

Instead, I like to think of them as the three-headed goddess. She is the same substance, but each of the heads addresses or talks to three very specific, and different audiences in different kinds of languages. There is an old symbol for the three-headed goddess, which relates to the waning, waxing, and full moon, and it looks like this:

AnonMoos - Own work - SVG version of image Image:Triple-Goddess-Waxing-Full-Waning-Symbol.png . Converted from the following PostScript code:%!6 setlinewidth6 240 translate300 156 144 0 360 arc stroke12 156 144 -90 90 arc-71.138439 156 166.276878 60 -60 arcnclosepath stroke588 156 144 90 -90 arc671.138439 156 166.276878 -120 120 arcnclosepath strokeshowpage%EOF, Public Domain,

However, what I would like to transfer it to is this:

Three CC Layers as Three Goddesses. BY Kathryn Kure CC BY 4.0

So, indeed, while the base layer or the foundation is the legal basis, which in terms of Creative Commons 4.0, is accepted internationally. However foundational or fundamental this base, legalese needs to be translated into ordinary language, and multiple ones at that, so that people to be able to understand how it works. There is no point in creating a solution unless people are prepared to use it. But they can’t use what they don’t understand, so the great big middle is about ensuring that the legal definitions are translated into easy to understand ordinary language. (Would that we could do the same thing with vaccine information, translating medical expertise into common understanding!) Finally, the raison d’ĂȘtre of Creative Commons is about responding to the tremendous potential of the Internet, and as we all know very first thing we do when we are looking for something is to type our need into a Search Engine. Hence, the final translation is of the licences has to be into something that can be readily understood as meta-data by the machines. As a result of all the work done in the software works that are published online with CC licenses embedded can be easily searched, retrieved, copied, disseminated – all  in terms of the terms and conditions of their CC licences which are readily understood as an attribute of the work itself. This final layer is called a “machine-readable” version of the licence.

Hence, depending on the questions you ask, the goddess will talk to you either in legalese, or in ordinary language or in meta-data, but the answers are equivalent, though different and not everyone will understand all of them, or indeed is meant to in the case of the machines.

 2.        The four license elements

 There are four basic license elements:




















a) Attribution. Each and every single CC licence requires that the creator be given attribution. Hence, the abbreviation for every single CC licence will be CC BY. Although in earlier versions of the licence this characteristic was implied rather than explicit, based on the fact that over 98% of creator’s wish attribution it is now the default setting for every licence. However, the conditions where a creator can ask that they are not attributed (for instance where they are not willing to be associated with a derivative of the work, and this too must be respected). As with everything, there are the rules, and then the exceptions to the rules but the main role is that you have to do acknowledge the creator.

 B) Share Alike. The Share Alike requires that any user of the work make sure that they licence any adaptation of the work under at least the same license. They can also share under a less restrictive license, but never under a more restrictive license. That is, a re-user cannot licence an adapted work where the original was shared under one of the Share Alike licence under a No-Derivatives license. They are required to stick to the original terms and conditions in terms of Share Alike.

 C) Non-Commercial

This is pretty much what it says on the tin – that the work cannot be repurposed or reused for commercial purposes. Although a commercial entity may use the work it can only use it in a non-commercial manner. So it is the nature of the use of the work, and not the nature of the entity using the work, that counts in this case a non-profit organisation which is wishing to sell the work is not entitled to do this under the NC licence element.

 D) No Derivatives. This licence element ensures that no one can adapt or modify the work, apart from the creator. No one is entitled to remix the work. Of course, in terms of copyright limits it is possible for a limited use of the work as an adaptation (for instance for data-mining purposes, or if they make limited, in-house use of the work without sharing it). But this specifically ensures that adapted works cannot be shared freely and publicly.

3.The six Creative Commons licenses,  from least to most restrictive, are:






This is the least restrictive CC licence, and all that is required by the user is that they attribute the creator of the work. The user can remix, adapt, and share the work freely. Even for commercial purposes.


In this, the user must not only attribute the work, but it puts a condition on the re-use of the work such that anyone who adapts, or re-shares the work (whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes) must do so under at least the condition of this licence if not one that is more free (less restrictive). Wikipedia for instance requires that all works be CC BY SA which means that work done for the site has to be freely shared, it cannot be restricted by an ND license for instance. This is also known as copyleft.


This licence means that any user must not only attribute the creator, but that the use of the work can only be for non-commercial purposes.


This licence means that a) the creator has to be given attribution, b) the purpose to which the workers used can only be a non-profit purpose, and c) any adaptations to the work has to be able to be shared under the same, or a compatible licence.


This licence prohibits any user from creating a derivative work and sharing it. That is, only the adapted version of the work can be shared – and as usual, the creator of the work must be given attribution. Interestingly, the work can be used for commercial purposes, but only in an unadapted form.


This is by far the most restrictive of all licences, in that not only can no derivatives be made, but also the work can only be re-shared or used rather for non-commercial purposes.

4. How the CC licenses affect exceptions and limitations to copyright

 The CC licences can, by default, have zero impact on exceptions and limitations to copyright.  It is a long-held value of Creative Commons that they work with copyright. Hence, with regard to exceptions and limitations to copyright, such as fair use, the CC licences cannot affect such exceptions and limitations. In fact, the CC licences are themselves bound by these exceptions and limitations. For instance, if the CC licence was NC, but an organisation wanted to make use of a small section of the work for commercial purposes -  provided the use fell within the accepted parameters of how it was being used, and how much was being used, inter alia, then the licensor is bound to accept such use. That is, the CC licences do not replace copyright, but work within current copyright laws – including all exceptions to, and limitations of, copyright.

5. How the CC licenses affect works in the public domain

The CC licences work within copyright law. The public domain is usually thought to refer only to those works which either not copyrightable, or where term limits mean that they are no longer under copyright, or where the creators never enforced copyright in previous times when there were specific requirements that had to be fulfilled in order for copyright to be granted. However, even though it is not a licence, there are public domain tools which Creative Commons provides. The first merely acts as a label, for instance, in relation to very old works by museums, but the second is more interesting and is a mechanism whereby creators can indicate that they have chosen to effectively provide their works to the public domain. This is called the public domain dedication tool. Although it is not recognised in all jurisdictions, by all countries, at the very least the CC Zero public domain dedication tool grants assurance to any user using Internet country in the world that the creator would not assert copyright against the re-user, even if the country in which they are using the work does not recognise this tool.






Creative Commons Australia, 2009. Which Creative Commons license is good for me?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 June 2020].

Creative Commons, 2020. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0). [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 July 2020].

Creative Commons, 2020. Attribution 4.0 Legal Code. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 July 2020].

Creative Commons, 2020. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 July 2020].

Duke Law: Centre forthe Study of the Public Domain, 2020. Bound by Law. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 June 2020].

Purdue University, n.d. Copyright Basics: Exceptions. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 16 June 2020].

United Nations, 2020. Sustainable Development Goals 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 7 July 2020].

Wiley, D., 2007. About the Open Publication License. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 5 July 2020].


Copyright and Her Limits Go to the Creative Commons

Copyright and Her Limits Go to the Creative Commons A Play in Two Parts   by Kathryn Kure     This work is licensed under Attribution 4.0 I...