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Creative Commons comes to Microsoft Office

Software giant builds a tool that allows Office users to choose a Creative Commons copyright license.

Microsoft and the Creative Commons on Wednesday plan to release a free tool that will let people attach a Creative Commons copyright license to Microsoft Office documents.

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that has written licenses that allow content creators to share information while retaining some rights.

Currently, some Web-based tools let people associate a Creative Commons license with information. But Microsoft is the first vendor to embed a license-selection option inside its applications, said Lawrence Lessig, the founder of the Creative Commons and a Stanford Law School professor.

Creative Commons in Office

"This is important to us because a huge amount of creative work is created inside the Office platform. Having a simple way to add Creative Commons licenses obviously helps us spread those licenses much more broadly," Lessig said.

Once installed, the license-selection software will appear as a menu option in the Microsoft Office application.

It will generate a Creative Commons logo, a short summary of the license chosen, and a hyperlink to the Creative Commons Web site. People can download the software from the Creative Commons Web site or from Microsoft Office Online.

Microsoft and Creative Commons have collaborated on other projects, but the Office tool is the most significant effort to date, said Tom Rubin, associate general counsel at Microsoft.

"We very much share a common belief that creators of works should be able to express their intentions with regard to subsequent use, and Creative Commons has created exciting ways to have works shared freely or have works reused by others," Rubin said.

He said there are 400 million users of Microsoft Office applications. Microsoft contracted with 3Sharp, a Redmond, Wash.-based consultant to build and test the copyright licensing tool.

The first document to be created with the Office plug-in tool will be a speech about globalism by Gilberto Gil, the Brazilian musician who is now the minister of culture in Brazil.

Lessig said that Creative Commons continues to explore ways to attach licenses to other types of content such as video and audio files.

However, Microsoft has not yet decided to make a license-selection tool for its Windows Media creation software, Rubin said.

"It's something we'll certainly look at," he said. "We're certainly open to it."