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Original cover photo by Eric Fischer/Flickr licensed as CC-BY 2.0

When the Net was born, its code was its norms. Its architecture enabled sharing. Its users shared wildly.

Many celebrated this freedom. Some fought it fiercely. Shared creativity was also copyrighted creativity. And under the rules of copyright, to share is to require the permission of the copyright owner — unless (in America at least) that sharing is “fair use.”

When this battle first exploded, it presented itself in binary terms. People were, the story went, either for copyright, or against it. And if you were for “sharing,” that meant you were against copyright. The norms of the net, it followed for many, had to be changed if the rules of copyright were to be respected.

But many of us recognized then something that’s pretty obvious in retrospect now: that there are many who respect copyright, but who want to encourage people to share their work. And what the Net did not give those creators was a simple way to say that and make it stick. The law presumptively said no; we needed an easy way for creators to say yes.

Hence Creative Commons: a simple way to mark creativity with the freedom the author intends it to carry. Coders (Aaron Swartz was the first) crafted its technical architecture, lawyers (beginning with copyright experts at Cooley) drafted its legal architecture, and an incredible team of design geeks and entrepreneurs (including Matt Haughey of Metafilter and Glenn Brown, now at Twitter) built a simple and beautiful interface to enable people to mark their creativity with the freedoms they wanted for their work, as distinct from the restrictions the law otherwise imposed. In the middle of a war between “All rights reserved” and “No rights respected,” we raised a flag of “Some Rights Reserved,” with the balance given over to the public for free.

Millions of works now live under this banner. On Flickr there are nearly a billion images licensed “Some Rights Reserved.” Both Google and Bing now enable people to search on the basis of the freedom to reuse. Almost all of the freely licensed scholarship in the world today is Creative Commons licensed. YouTube and Vimeo give creators the freedom to mark their work with freedom. Wikipedia protects its community of authors with a Creative Commons license that assures its collaborators that their collaboration will be free to all.

Today Medium gives their creators the choice to join this community4freedom. To anyone who knows Medium (and the innovators behind its birth), this is not a surprise. Medium has captured something powerful about the way creativity in today’s web can be shared. And by embracing Creative Commons licenses, it stakes its commitment to the idea that it is the authors who should be able to choose just how freely they want their work to be shared. Medium thereby marks itself as not yet another island of creativity on the Net, but as a platform that encourages people to create and share across the many islands that the Internet has become. That encouragement will help keep the Net as it was born: a platform that encourages sharing, now with the simple ability for authors to say, “Of course, share this too.”

Written by

law professor, activist.

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