Custom Licensing Provides Much-Needed Middle Ground for Content

Tester's Choice: Stanford professor's Creative Commons proposal would allow content creators to develop licenses that distinguish between fair and for-profit use.

In the tech world, as in real life, debates can quickly polarize. Macs vs. Windows; Linux vs. Windows; free exchange of information vs. intellectual property; open source vs. commercial software.

Well, at least in the final two areas, a recent proposal may finally offer a much-needed middle-ground option.

Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig, one of the leading authorities on technology and copyright issues, recently announced a plan to start what he calls the Creative Commons (a Web site will eventually be active at The Creative Commons will provide artists, writers and, of course, programmers with an option other than giving their work away for free or strictly controlling how it is used.

According to Lessig, the Creative Commons will make it possible for content creators to build custom licenses that describe how their work can be used. In most cases, these licenses will be described in tags that will be attached to the content and will be easily readable.

This will allow for sensible licenses that will let content creators treat fair use differently than for-profit use. This is a much better option than the blunt hammer approach of copyright, which treats copying for personal use the same way as massive piracy.

One aspect of the Creative Commons that I find very intriguing, especially in the tech area, is its ability to once again make it acceptable to use old software that has been abandoned by its creators. Lessig has said that the Creative Commons will make it possible for old software to become a resource for new developments through opening up its code.

As someone who uses quite a bit of "abandonware," I see a lot of value in this, especially in helping with the development of improved software.

With the backing of Lessig, the Creative Commons is an idea that may actually get off the ground and finally provide an option that has been much needed.

EWEEK Labs Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]