Creative Commons TimeLine

I am currently studying for a Creative Commons certificate for educators and we have our first assignment. We were asked to publish assignments online, so I’m putting mine here on the blog. Although all the content on this blog is CC-BY I’ve added additional attribution.  The brief was to write a timeline for Creative Commons which explains the key events around its establishment.  It’s difficult to know where to stop with this kind of thing because you can certainly keep expanding the story.  I’ve focused mainly on copyright but you could tell a pretty interesting open education story from 2008 onwards…

Year Event
1886 The Berne Convention provides the first international agreement for managing copyright and mandates several aspects of modern copyright law such as automatic registration, mutual recognition between nations, what qualifies as a protected work, what rights are connoted or expressed, and where exceptions or limitations might apply.  The Convention is widely adopted, being revised in 1908, 1914, 1928, 1948, 1967, 1971 and 1979.


1909 1909 Copyright Act (USA) establishes that works that were neither published nor registered did not enjoy statutory intellectual property protection (U.S. Copyright Office, 2003).
1952 The Universal Copyright Convention (UCC) was developed by UNESCO as an alternative to the Berne Convention. UCC was aimed at developing countries who tended to be importers rather than exporters of copyright. This further strengthened international co-ordination and convention around copyright.
1976 The Copyright Act of 1976 updated copyright law for the age of mass communication. It covers a wider range of authorship, works, and technologies than superseded law. Important codifications include fair use and transferal of copyright. It also codifies the following rights:

·       to reproduce (copy) the work

·       to create derivative works

·       the right to distribute copies

·       to perform the work publicly

·       to display the work publicly

1983 Free software movement founded with launch of GNU
1989 World Wide Web launched.  Through the 1990s the Internet will extend authorial reach but raises many issues with regards to copyright across national boundaries and associated regulation.
1993 EU Council Directive 93/98/EEC of 29 October 1993 harmonises the term of protection of copyright and certain related rights. The directive instructs EU members to establish a baseline copyright term of life plus 70 years and to deny this longer term to the works of any non-EU country whose laws did not secure the same extended term. One effect of the Directive was in some countries to remove some works from the public domain and return them to copyright.
1995 The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 (DPRA) amends the Copyright Act of 1976 by including the right to perform a sound recording by means of digital audio.
1996 World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty provides additional protections for copyright which reflect advances in information and communication technologies since the establishment of copyright law. Features of note include recognition of computer code and databases as literary works; and prohibition of technological circumvention of copyright protection (WIPO, 1996).
1997 The No Electronic Theft Act criminalises copyright infringement where there is no intention to profit. Prior to this act, some commercial or private benefit was needed to prove a criminal intention – see United States v. LaMacchia 871 F.Supp. 535 (D.Mass. 1994).
1998 U.S. Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) or “Sonny Bono” CTEA further extends copyright protection by 20 years to 70 years after the authors death (U.S. Copyright Office, 2003). For corporate rights holders the extension was to 120 year after creation or 95 years after publication. The act represented the latest effort to extend copyright terms in favour of copyright holders and was at least partly motivated by the potential expiry of long-standing corporate intellectual property.  The CTEA represented the 11th extension of USA copyright in 4 decades.  One result of the CTEA was that no copyrighted material published since 1923 could pass into the public domain until 2019.

Despite this extension of copyright power, there were significant developments towards openness.  Also in 1998, the “open-source” movement is formalised with the release of Netscape’s web-browser code and the establishment of the Open Source Initiative. The term “open content” is proposed (Wiley, 1998) to describe content that anyone is free to use or adapt.

1999 Copyrights Commons is formed to legally challenge the copyright term extensions resulting from the CTEA. The constitutionality of the CTEA was challenged by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and internet publisher Eric Eldred.
2001 Copyrights Commons evolves into Creative Commons, a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the number of works in the public domain.
2002 The first set of Creative Commons licenses – partly inspired by copyleft and GNU – are published with the intention to close the gap between private copyright and the public domain (Geere, 2011). The licences comprise: a plain language textual summary; legal code to express permissions reserved; and machine-readable code to allow search engines to differentiate openly licensed content.
2003 The CTEA appeal case (Eldred vs Ashcroft) finally makes it to the Supreme Court, who upheld the constitutionality of the CTEA in 2003.  However, the justices dissented in their opinions with respect to whether (in pragmatic terms) perpetual copyright was in the public interest (USSC, 2003). The key issue was balancing the private and moral rights of copyright holders while attempting to support a vibrant and enriching commons.   This would determine the future trajectory of Creative Commons licensing, which provides authors with the flexibility to determine how their works are used without giving up their moral rights to be recognised as the author.
2004 This year saw the first revision of the Creative Commons licences. Since 2004, all Creative Commons licenses (except CC0) require attribution of the original author (Creative Commons, 2004).
2006 Directive 2006/116/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 updates Council Directive 93/98/EEC. This Directive increased copyright protection from 50 to 70 years, following the precedent of the CTEA.

A European court rules that Creative Commons licences are legally binding in one of the first legal tests for open licensing (Marson, 2006)

2007 The Developing Nations and (1 of 3) Sampling licenses are withdrawn by Creative Commons (Lessig, 2007).


2009 Creative Commons withdraws the Sampling Plus and NonCommercial Sampling Plus licences from use.


2016 Creative Commons announces an organisational strategy focused not only on increasing the size and range of the commons but also on the actions and interactions actors have around that open content (Creative Commons, 2016).

The CC0 licence is introduced to provide a route to relinquishing rights over a creation (in all countries).

2017 More than 1.4 billion works are published on a Creative Commons licence (Creative Commons, 2017).  Creative Commons has 104 chapters worldwide, forming a global affiliate network of advocates and experts in the technical and legal aspects of copyright. Getting involved in the network can also be done through their newsletter or via social media. Developers can contribute to the construction and refinement of new digital tools for copyright and licensing.


Creative Commons (2004). Announcing (and explaining) our new 2.0 licenses.

Creative Commons (2016). Strategy and Ideas.

Creative Commons (2017). State of the Commons.

Geere, D. (2011). The history of Creative Commons. Wired.

Lessig, L. (2004). How I lost the big one. Legal Affairs (March/April).

Lessig, L. (2007). Retiring standalone DevNations and one Sampling license. Creative Commons.

Marston, I. (2006). Creative Commons license upheld by court. CNet.

U.S. Copyright Office (2003). Certain Unpublished, Unregistered Works Enter Public Domain.

USSC (2003). ELDRED et al. v. ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL (2003). No. 01-618. United States Supreme Court.

Wiley, D. (1998). Open Content.

WIPO (1996). WIPO Copyright Treaty. World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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