YouTube Encourages Re-Mixes With Creative Commons Licensing

YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) has introduced a new feature that will be a boost for aspiring videographers looking for the “perfect clip” for a video. The video-sharing service has a new feature that lets video owners apply a Creative Commons license to their videos that allows for greater sharing and re-mixing.

The program is being kicked off with a group of more than 10,000 videos that’s already CC-licensed, from groups like C-SPAN,, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. Videographers who want to use clips from that content will be able to edit directly in YouTube’s editor. They’re required to credit the original, but YouTube’s editor conveniently takes care of that, with a tool that automatically displays the source videos.

It’s interesting to note here what YouTube isn’t offering. First of all, the company apparently wasn’t able to convince any major U.S. content company to participate in this program. Of the four big contributors listed here, two are non-profits already dedicated to public openness-C-SPAN and Public.Resource.Org-and VOA is part of the federal government, and its content isn’t copyrighted in any case. It’s too bad, actually, because while they understandably might not want to open up all their content it’s hard to believe that big television networks, for example, couldn’t find at least a few hundred videos they didn’t mind putting under a CC-license as an experiment.

Second, it’s not giving access to the full array of Creative Commons licensing, which has licenses that, for example, allow specifically non-commercial sharing, or allow creators to insist on “share-alike” terms (meaning, the original is free, so any remix/re-use must also be free.) The only license available is CC-BY, which compels remixers give attribution to the maker of the original, but otherwise allows for unlimited re-use, commercial or not.

According to BoingBoing’s Xeni Jardin, who spoke to YouTube about the options, the thinking on this point was “start simple.” The full array of licenses might be too complex for casual users. That sounds smart to me. There’s no doubt that for many users, YouTube will be their first introduction to Creative Commons.

A one-button option is probably the smart move to help the CC-licensing choice take off. (Although, CC-licensing has become extremely popular on Flickr-probably the largest repository of CC-licensed works on earth-and that photo-sharing service does offer photographers the full array of CC choices.)

The new option will surely be a big publicity boost for Creative Commons, a non-profit co-founded by digital copyright guru Lawrence Lessig. The point of CC-licensing is to allow creators of all types of media to part with some of their rights to allow greater sharing-to replace “all rights reserved” with “some rights reserved.” Creators can specifically retain the rights that may be important to them, such as the right to use the work commercially.

This feature will be a useful for re-mixers and forward-thinking content owners who realize that allowing more sharing-for at least some content-is the smart choice in the digital age. But it doesn’t change the fact that unauthorized video remixes are still in a precarious legal state. That’s because it’s never been completely clear in the digital age how much sampling is okay.