Creative Commons is…
…a way of telling you about the copyright status of my work. The way current copyright law is set up, you generally have only two choices: either copyright it (thereby restricting anyone from ever using your work without your permission) or release it into the public domain (whereby you relinquish all control to it.)
Creative Commons is a middle ground. It allows you, as a creator, to set up parameters for how your work may be used.
What’s the big deal? Can’t I just get permission from the copyright owner to do these things?
You could…but the problem is that when a work is copyrighted, many assume that its use will be restricted. Asking the author is viewed as so onerous that it’s often considered easier to just not bother.
What are the deeper implications of this for the publishing world?
There are many. For example, don’t you consider it very odd that in order to access scientifically-published research that’s been funded through the NIH or at public universities (both of which are financed by the taxpayers) that the very same public (through the university libraries or as private individuals) need to pay to access the results? Even stranger, the copyright owners (the researchers/authors) give their copyright away to the publishers in order to gain publication.
It sounds really odd when you put it like that.
Yep. And it is odd. So support open-access journals that maintain the rigour of peer review but permit their work to be free to all. The Public Library of Science is perhaps the best-known example. You can also check out the Science Commons.
What’s that picture up there, by the way?
That’s Airlife One, a medical air transport unit I flew with. They’re based in Urbana, Illinois. I took that picture, and since the site is under a Creative Commons license, you can copy that picture and use it yourself, under the license terms here.
So I can just copy your stuff and use it as long as I follow the rules you’ve set out?
Yes, really. Go on. You can take it. I know, it feels odd, doesn’t it? You’ve gotten so used to everyone controlling their work that you feel like you’re stealing. It’s okay.