A nonprofit group that has provided millions of simple, streamlined copyright licenses over the past decade issued a policy statement this week urging lawmakers around the world to reform copyright law to make creative works more open to public domain.
Creative Commons issued the statement in the face of more restrictive intellectual-property trends — both overseas and domestically — to dispute suggestions that "the very success of CC licenses means that copyright reform is unnecessary."
"CC licenses are a patch, not a fix, for the problems of the copyright system," the statement reads. "However well-crafted a public licensing model may be, it can never fully achieve what a change in the law would do, which means that law reform remains a pressing topic."¦ CC licenses are not a substitute for users' rights."
Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by a group of intellectual-property advocates to make it easier for individuals to share their creative work with one another. Small, circular "CC" logos are nearly ubiquitous on the Internet, as the group has provided licenses to hundreds of millions of works ranging from songs to video and scholarly materials.
But the statement, which Commons said it spent a year developing, makes clear the group is disheartened by the direction copyright laws have headed during the digital age.
"The trend, internationally, is to have more restrictive copyright laws," said Maira Sutton, a global policy analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation who focuses on intellectual property. "What this statement does is, it allows affiliates to use their CC hat and say we're involved in this international coalition pushing to make copyright laws more sane."
Sutton said the statement could carry a lot of heft because of the organization's large affiliate base and its important standing. But as influential as Commons has been over the past decade, others remain skeptical that its words will carry any serious clout among lawmakers.
"Creative Commons is a fairly powerful camp, but it pales in comparison to big industries who have a lot of influence on Congress," said David Sunshine, an intellectual-property lawyer with Cozen O'Connor. Sunshine noted that lawmakers changed copyright law "at the personal behest of Disney" when it passed the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which increased the length of time copyright protections could exist after the death of the author.
"They're saying there should be less protection because of the nature of technology, and instead the opposite is happening," Sunshine said. "I don't see a whole lot in the way of change happening."
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in 1998, was the last major update to U.S. copyright law. It intended to retrofit existing law with provisions accounting for the Internet's explosive growth, but the Web has changed dramatically in the past 15 years.