Creative Commons

The Creative Commons project takes a new approach to giving the owner rights to his/her material while still allowing other users to utilize and share the information.  The general idea of “all rights reserved” is that the owner holds the exclusive rights to the work and that nothing can be done with the copyrighted work without explicit permission from said owner (Engelriet, 2006).  The Creative Common project has set up a standardized system that takes a “some rights reserved” approach that allows creators to maintain their copyright while still allowing others to copy, distribute, and make some uses of their work under specified conditions.  In doing so, the project allows for works to be distributed more openly on the internet, and promotes the internet being used for its original intention (information sharing).

The Creative Commons project allows the subjects of the work to be redistributed or shared as long as it stays within the boundaries of copyright law.  An example would be Flickr’s shapefile dataset and mash-ups of other photographs.  All of the subjects of those works are allowed to be used by others who feel the images would be useful as long as the creator has allowed for the work to be redistributed in such a manner and still receives credit.  The subjects themselves are distributed at will, but the logic is that this allows for the images or information to be used more freely.  Another example would be GSK pharmaceuticals surrendering the copyrights on their datasets to allow for other scientists to perform additional research.  It puts the focus on the information itself and allows for greater collaboration in working towards a common goal.

If Creative Commons had been around for Gone with the Wind and the works for Sherrie Levine and Michael Mandenberg the situations certainly would have been different.  The case of Gone with the Wind would have been a little complicated because Margaret Mitchell was looking to have the life of her copyright extended.  She wanted to hire writers to write a sequel, but then have the estate own their work.  Under the Creative Commons, Margaret Mitchell would be allowing authors to copy characters from her work, but they would not be able to use them for their own commercial purposes.  However, if the copyright expired, the authors would be able to ask for credit on their own works under the Creative Commons.

The case of Sherrie Levine and Michael Mandenberg would have been much more cut and dry under the Creative Commons.  Sherrie Levine could have taken the photos she copied from Walker Evans and simply given him credit for redistributing the photos.  This wouldn’t have given her the recognition that she was looking for, but it would be legal under the idea of the Creative Commons.  Then Michael Mandenberg could have shared the images a second time as long as the original creator, Walker Evans, was still given credit for the photos on his website.

The Creative Commons affords rights to ownership of publicity when trying to reproduce it for commercial reasons, but there are still legal exceptions.  In the Bela Lugosi case (Lugosi v. Universal Pictures), Lugosi’s widow and son tried to claim that Universal Pictures could not use Bela Lugosi’s likeness for commercial gains without their permission.  The court ruled that because Lugosi had not converted his personal image into a property right in his life it could not be revived by his heirs in his death (essentially the chance to do so died with him).  If the Creative Commons had been applied to this case, Bela Lugosi could have claimed his likeness and prevented Universal Studios from using it commercially in his life, but once he died the family cannot revive that claim.


Engelfriet, A. (2006). The phrase “all rights reserved”. Retrieved from       

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