More than one billion works have been licensed pursuant to "creative commons" licenses, which permit the free use of copyrighted material subject to certain conditions. Recently, the organization responsible for the creation and stewardship of those licenses, Creative Commons Corporation, asked a federal district court for permission to file an amicus brief in a rare case testing the scope of those licenses,Great Minds v. Fedex Office and Print Services, Inc.
In the case, plaintiff Great Minds asserts that Fedex exceeded the scope of the license granted in educational materials Great Minds produces. Great Minds shares those materials with school districts pursuant to a Creative Commons license that expressly permits reproduction for "NonCommercial" purposes only. Some school districts exercising their reproduction right under this license hired Fedex to make copies of the licensed material. Great Minds asserts that Fedex itself violated its copyright interests in making the copies at the school district's direction, because Fedex is a commercial entity and generated revenue through its work for the school districts — therefore, Great Minds argues, Fedex used the materials for a commercial purpose in breach of the license.
In requesting permission to file its amicus brief, Creative Commons criticizes this theory, arguing that an entity engaged in a bona fide Noncommercial use is not required to refrain from seeking outside assistance, "including commercial entities acting solely at the licensee's direction, at every step in the reproduction or distribution process that culminates in sharing of the work for a NonCommercial end."
Fedex has filed a motion to dismiss in the case, which will likely be watched closely by users and beneficiaries of Creative Commons licenses. Whatever the result, the lawsuit represents a rare challenge to a license framework that has otherwise gone mostly untested.