Did you know that written, scientific or artistic content you create is automatically put under copyright protection under US law - whether you want it to be copyrighted or not? That's not good for a culture of collaboration and building on each others' work - quite the opposite in fact.
Today, the Creative Commons Foundation is announcing a new tool called CC Zero. CC Zero isn't another legal license from the group, instead it's a legal tool that lets content creators give up the rights claims they are given by default and instead send their work into the public domain.
The Creative Commons Foundation's work is already extremely useful in finding content that's licensed for freely reusable work with certain conditions placed on it, like the section in Flickr where you can find photos you're free to reuse as long as you give credit to the original creator. A new tool that lets authors just push their work immediately into the public domain free of conditions should make content reuse and collaboration all the more friction free.
As things stand, US copyright law prohibits reuse without explicit permission for creative works until they enter the public domain - 70 years after the death of the author or 120 years after publication date if the date of death of the author is unknown. These lengthy periods leave the public domain pretty anemic. CC Zero will let content creators uninterested in copyright claims push their work into the public domain immediately.
A Well-Designed Tool
CC Zero has three components to it. The first is legal code, developed as all of CC's work is to be applicable with laws in every country around the world. The legal work was done in collaboration with two of Silicon Valley's very top legal firms, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati and Latham & Watkins. It should be pretty air tight.
The second component is a "human readable" text explaining how CC Zero works. You can read the CC Zero FAQ on this page.
The final component is machine readable code, making CC Zeroed content easily discoverable around the web. The Foundation says this should be particularly valuable in scientific work, but machine readable markup is interesting in all kinds of contexts. Try Googling for freely reusable content now to get an idea how this might work.
Two scientific projects are using CC Zero right away. The Proteomecommons Project is an academic project where scientists study large proteins. The Personal Genome Project is putting the genetic data of 10 individuals into the public domain for research using CC Zero.
The Foundation has been gathering Creative Commons case studies in a wiki since the middle of last year; that's a good place to find out about how people around the world have been putting CC's other work to use so far. Hopefully CC Zero projects will start appearing there soon.
The default copyright protection imposed by US copyright law, and increasingly around the world, might serve some people's interests well - but the availability of a tool to give up those "rights" and participate in the global free knowledge economy seems to us a very valuable effort. You can check out CC Zero on this page.
See also Microsoft's collaboration with CreativeCommons on a new scientific ontology plug-in for Office, also announced today.