What's that?It's applying permission to copy and change to written works basically the same idea as open source applies to computer software. Just as open source means that the authors of some software have chosen to allow others to freely share and use that software, while reserving other rights, a CC licence on writing means that others can take that writing and use it.
So it's free?Yes and no. It's free as in beer, but it's not necessarily free as in speech. The original author retains all rights except those they choose to give away. With open source software, it's usually free for anyone to use for any purpose typically with the only restrictions being that they must distribute the source code of any modified version they distribute and they must distribute the modified version under the same licence. With CC, it's very common for the original author to place more restrictive conditions, such as no modifications or no commercial use. Strangely enough giving attribution to the original author is an optional, not a required, part of the CC licence. This last point doesn't make any sense to me, as I believe if you're quoting someone you should give them credit.
Why am I interested in this?I have a little hobby web site with information about the kiore. While I can write general information for the site, there's a lot of scientific papers out there that I'd love to be able to extract large quotes from. Unfortunately standard copyright doesn't permit this, so I need to either request permission or paraphrase. Paraphrasing is fine for general text, but if I'm trying to quote a scientific paper and paraphrase I'm likely to miss a key word and give wrong information.
Of course it's not automatic, and unless the original site uses CC I'd still have to seek permission.
So why don't I use a creative commons licence myself?Copyright laws differ from country to country, and there seems to be a different licence text for each country. Nobody has written a licence for New Zealand law that I've found yet. Actually on Kiore.com I have chosen to release under a CC licence, even though it may be partially incompatible with New Zealand law. At the bottom of ever page is 'Except for journal entries, and obvious quotes under different licences, content on [that] site signed [my common bylines], or "Kiore.com" may be reproduced under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence.' with a pointer to the licence I've chosen to use (Non commercial, must give attribution, modified versions are to be released under the same licence).
So, why don't I do that here? While I've been typing this I've realised that the same logic I applied on kiore.com applies here. I think I'll update my template to make that point.