The Day After CC-BY Fail – CC-Infinity

Yesterday was an interesting and emotional day for me.

  • I made a video of how upset I am at my own mistake of putting CC-BY on materials and having that decision play into the hands of spammers who would use my content for search or link bait.
  • I removed all the CC-BY references from my Coursera Internet History, Technology, and Security recorded lectures and replaced it with All Rights Reserved.
  • I got some help from Cory Doctorow (tweet) who noticed my situation and gave me some reassurance that YouTube would fall on the side of the copyright holder and not let the spam stand even with the small detail of the CC-BY license. I of course did not believe him (tweet)
  • YouTube did remove the offending videos – even the ones that were CC-BY. Cory was right. It only took two days. (tweet)
  • I made a new version of my histronic video addressing the issues independent of YouTube taking the videos down.
  • Bill Fitzgerald wrote an excellent post titled Creative Commons and Human Nature where he covers some of these issues with less histronics than me. In particular points out that Createspace has an excellent policy that nicely addresses the rights of the copyright holder when the copyright license is “non-exclusive”. It is a beautiful thing – the policy was changed from “first in wins” to “copyright holder wins” early last year. Worth a read.

So reading the above sequence of events you might think, “Great – You won against a spammer.” – but actually that is not at all how I feel.

I effectively used a bit of bluster and YouTube’s general tendency to do whatever the copyright holder asks to get my way. But in effect, I succeeded in revoking CC-BY after the fact and that makes me feel bad. I don’t want to break CC-BY – it was my mistake to use it and legalize spammers.

So I am still removing CC-BY from all my materials that I don’t want used as spam or link bait. I don’t want to face YouTube the next time and have them look at the actual copyright detail and decide that I have no recourse.

We still need a license that protects high-value OER materials from inappropriate reuse while enabling responsible reuse without any requirement of permission.

What we need – CC-∞ (Infinity)

I tenatively title my idea CC-∞ as homage to Creative Commons CC0. CC-∞ starts with All Rights Reserved as the default license (much like CC0 starts with effectively Public Domain) and then adds statements that define legitimate reuse scenarios for which permission is explicitly given.

In a sense if we look at CC-BY+SA+ND+NC it is structured as a liberal license that adds increasing restrictions based on the desires of the copyright holder. CC-∞ is the opposite – it is a restrictive license that adds clauses that make it more liberal in scenarios per the wishes of the copyright holder.

Much like in all of CC – we are best served if the smart lawyers at Creative Commons draft these up. All this stuff is so complex especially when international laws are involved. This is not something that I should draft up by myself – but unless CC builds something like this – I will be forced to define CC-∞ myself – and it will suck. But it will be better than any of the CC-BY variations and better than All Rights Reserved – but still suck unless Creative Commons steps up and does this work.


I was really upset yesterday. But I should be clear that I was not upset at YouTube and I was not upset at the spammer. I was upset at myself for not anticipating this “CC-BY” gotcha. It is always painful when you assume that you are safe and doing the right thing and then something jolts you and makes it clear to you that you made a mistake. And you might suffer negative consequences for your mistake. Yesterday my intellectual property and copyright cheese got moved and I was scared and upset.

Now 48 hours later all is well. I will still keep CC-BY on much of my materials – for example, my Python for Informatics course on is 100% CC-BY and releases all its materials with CC-BY (here). I am not going to remove the CC-BY from these materials because I really want them distributed as widely as possible and and want to pre-permit unfettered reuse – even if a copy of the materials end up in a content slum. I have thought that through and am prepared for it.

Going forward, I won’t just put CC-BY on everything I create related to teaching and learning. I will put it on most of what I produce – just not all. I will ask myself the question, “Are you prepared to make spam-like reuse of these materials legitimate?” If the answer is “yes” – then I will use CC-BY and if the answer is “no” the answer will be my own self-constructed version of CC-∞.

Just in passing, I would just like to note that I am very explicitly not revealing *who* did the spamming. They probably did not have any truly evil plan – they do not deserve any particular attention or criticism. They were in possession of a few MP4 files and put them up on YouTube. I got them taken down – nothing to see here – move along.

Thanks for listening and as always comments welcome.