Today Creative Commons released version 4.0 of six* of its licenses, with many improvements over version 3.0, after more than two years of work. I’ll write more about those details later. But you should skip right past 4.0 and upgrade to CC’s premier legal product, CC0. This is the case whether you’re looking to adopt a CC license for the first time, or to upgrade from version 1.0, 2.0, 2.1, 2.5, or 3.0.
Let’s review the named conditions present in some or all of the CC 4.0 licenses, and why unconditional CC0 is better.
Attribution (BY). Do not take part in the debasement of attribution, and more broadly, provenance, already useful to readers, communities of practice, and publishers, by making them seem mere objects of copyright license compliance. If attribution is useful, it will be provided. If not, robots will find out. Rarely does anyone comply with the exact legal requirements of the attribution term anyway, and as a licensor, you probably won’t provide the information needed by licensees to easily comply. Plus, the corresponding icon looks like a men’s bathroom sign.
NonCommercial (NC). Sounds nice, but nobody knows what it means. Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why NC licensed works are often used by for-profit entities, including with advertising, while NC licensed works are verboten for many community and non-profit projects, most prominently Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. (Because commercial entities know there is very low risk of being sued for non-compliance, and can manage risk, while community projects tend to draw and follow bright lines. Perhaps community projects ought to be able to manage risk, and that they can’t is a demonstration of their relative lack of institutional sophistication…but that’s another topic!)
NoDerivatives (ND). This term has no business being in the “Creative Commons” license suite, but sadly still is. If you don’t want to contribute to a creative commons, don’t. If you’d like to, but think copyright (through withholding permission to share adaptations, i.e., the ND term) will prevent people from misrepresenting you, you’re wrong, committing an act of hate toward free speech, and undermining the potential of voluntary license practice to align with and support an obvious baseline objective for copyright reform: noncommercial sharing and remix should always be legal.
ShareAlike (SA). Also sounds nice, and I am a frequent apologist and sometime advocate for the underlying idea, copyleft. But SA is a weak implementation of copyleft. It isn’t “triggered” by the most common use of CC-licensed material (contextual illustration, not full remix), and it has no regulatory condition not present in non-SA CC licenses (cf GPL, which requires sharing source for a work, and is usable for any work; if you care about copyleft, tell CC to finish making CC-BY-SA one-way compatible with GPL). And the SA implementation retains the costs of copyleft: blank stares of incomprehension, even from people who have worked in the “open” world for over a decade, and occasionally intense fear and dislike (the balance is a bit different in the software world, but this is my direct experience among non-software putatively open organizations and people); also, compatibility problems. It’s time to take the unsolicited advice often given to incumbents and others fearful of the internet: ‘obscurity is a greater threat than piracy’ — and apply it: ‘obscurity is a greater threat than proprietarization.’
CC-BY(-(NC(-(ND|SA))?|ND|SA))?-4\.0 is a regular expression matching all six licenses released today.