Copyright regulates and protects tangible works, such as poems, music, art, essays, and books, to prevent unauthorized copies and adaptations of those created works for a limited time.
In 1991, the Internet became available to the public, providing the technological ability to share, adapt, and collaborate creatively across the globe. Many creators wanted to retain the rights to their work AND allow others to share, adapt, and remix their creations.
Tension began to build between the global copyright laws that restrict copying and sharing and the creators that wanted others to copy and share their works.
The tension came to a head in 1998 with the enactment of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), which extended copyright on creative works from the life of the creator plus 50 years to the life of the creator plus 70 years - that’s an additional 20 years!
Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford Law Professor, believed that constitutionally, copyright terms are intended to be limited so that creative works can eventually become public domain and be used, shared, and adapted in the creation of new works. The new law had gone too far.
Eldred v. Ashcroft: In 2002, Lessig represented web publisher Eric Eldred in challenging the constitutionality of the Copyright Term Extension Act. They hoped they could make it easier to share creative works online. The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but ultimately lost in 2003.
Creative Commons: Inspired by the online communities hindered by restrictive copyright laws, Lessig, Eldred, and MIT Professor Hal Abelson, with support from the Center for the Public Domain, founded the non-profit organization Creative Commons in 2001. The Creative Commons licenses followed in 2002.
Creators have shared their work across 9 million websites and range from user-generated content on YouTube and Flickr, to non-profit creations like Wikipedia, Open Educational Resources like OpenStax textbooks, and even formal collections like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The work of Creative Commons continues and the next chapter includes you!