Tag Archives: Lisa Rein

Creative Commons Licenses Are An Elegant “Hack”

lisareinHow to Celebrate Aaron Swartz’s Legacy? Go to a Hackathon This Weekend

By Lisa Rein, Coordinator of Aaron Swartz Day, for Takepart.com

Remember to RSVP for tonight’s event if you want a spot. I’ve also printed a small amount of limited edition posters. (Many thanks to artist
Ryan Junell!) They will be given away to at least the first 150 people who arrive.

It’s been really hard to watch this story unfold over this last year. At first it seemed like perhaps Aaron’s actions had crossed some kind of legal or ethical boundry. However, now, after more than a year of careful analysis, the evidence suggests that Aaron most likely was not breaking any laws at all. He was just doing something innovative and unexpected. This is one of the main reasons we need to protect young innovators like Aaron from misguided government prosecution in the future.

I was Creative Commons’ first technical architect, a job I got upon meeting law school professor Lawrence Lessig at a conference in Washington D.C. in 2001. When I told him that I was an XML geek who’s obsessed with copyright law, he closed his laptop and said that he had a job for me. When he explained what that entailed—expressing licenses in RSS, a simple XML format usually used for news feed syndication—I said that it couldn’t be done, that it was too simple of a format and copyright law was too complex.

Aaron showed me a way to do it. I knew him from his online activity, so I was sure he was the right person to help me—even when I found out that he was only 15.

His viewpoint towards simplicity influenced our entire online model. We decided to create a simple deed, in non-legalese, saying what a license meant. (Our lawyers still created lengthy legal documents for each license, using existing copyright law, to cover all the legal protections we wished each license to afford.)

Our team created a web site where a person could answer a series of yes or no questions to pick a license. At last, our dance of simplicity was complete. With Aaron’s help, Creative Commons licenses have become a truly elegant hack.