Parallel Distribution

As readers of this blog may be aware, I have been working on Creative Commons-related issues for some time. I interned at Creative Common during law school, I try whenever possible to release my writings under Creative Commons licenses, and I have thought a good deal about drafting issues in the Creative Commons licenses. I’d like to call your attention to a small but important issue of Creative Commons policy.

Right now, the Creative Commons licenses contain a clause designed to prevent CC-licensed works from being used with digital rights management (DRM) technologies. Most of the time, this is a sensible restriction. Seeing a CC license on a work should mean that it does not have to stop with you; you can copy it, redistribute it, use it however you wish for yourself, and make changes to it. DRM coud be used to inhibit these freedoms as a practical matter, so CC-licensed works should usually be kept DRM-free.

Usually. It is possible to distribute a CC-licensed work in such a way that any restrictions created by the DRM around it are irrelevant. The key is to distribute a second copy in parallel, without DRM. This “parallel distribution” means that anyone who wants or needs to use the work in the non-DRM format can do so. Carving out this exception from the anti-DRM policy allows CC-licensed works to be used on DRM-only formats (such as game consoles) when doing so does not actually inhibit individual freedom.

Creative Commons proposed such a “parallel distribution” clause in its planned revisions for version 3.0 of the licenses. I think such a clause makes eminent sense. Unfortunately, some vocal members of the Creative Commons community disagreed. To my surprise, Creative Commons dropped the language from the version 3.0 proposal. Benjamin Mako Hill and I decided to try and revive it, before the version 3.0 proposal became final.

Mako and I share a commitment to open access. The wide availability of useful information and the fruits of human creativity is essential to full human flourishing, and Creative Commons’s work in facilitating widespread information sharing is a great thing. Mako and I disagree on a number of more specific issues about best to encourage open access, but when it comes to parallel distribution, we are in complete agreement. Creative Commons will better serve its mission, its users, and the world in general if it adopts the proposed parallel distribution language.

We’ve written an open letter explaining why we favor the parallel distribution solution. Please have a read. If you feel moved to take a position on parallel distribution, please let Creative Commons and the Creative Commons community know your views. Even if the language doesn’t make it in to the version 3.0 licenses, further airing of the pros and cons of the language is important. This important issue has received too little discussion.