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Creative Commons gains $4 million grant, loses CEO Lessig

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pledges funds to the copyright-reform group over the next five years as Lawrence Lessig resigns to focus on his new Change Congress project.

Creative Commons, the nonprofit dedicated to reforming copyright in the digital age, said Tuesday it has received a $4 million grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The money will bolster Creative Commons' five-year financial plan, which has also seen support or pledges of support from Google, Mozilla, Red Hat, and the Omidyar Network.

Out of the $4 million from the Hewlett Foundation, $2.5 million will go to the main Creative Commons organization over the next five years, and the remaining $1.5 million will go to its CCLearn education project.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Lessig, the organization's founder, a Stanford law professor, and a "free culture" advocate, is stepping down from his role as CEO of Creative Commons.

His replacement will be entrepreneur Joi Ito, who described himself to CNET in 2006 as "sort of part-time entrepreneur, VC and nonprofit board member...(with) some writing, blogging, speaking and government policy work on the side."

Ito has been serving as chair of the Creative Commons board and will be replaced in that role by James Boyle, a current board member and a Duke law professor.

The organization has announced two other management changes. Diane Peters will join Creative Commons as general counsel, coming from a stint at the Mozilla Foundation; the organization's current general counsel, Virginia Rutledge, will take on the new role of vice president and special counsel.

Lessig, who will remain on Creative Commons' board, made headlines earlier this year when he briefly considered a run for Congress. Though that effort was short-lived, Lessig soon thereafter launched an online-and-offline campaign called Change Congress. The new initiative's goal is to cast off the corporate influence on American politics, including lobbyists to big-money political action committees.

With his departure from Creative Commons, Change Congress will become Lessig's primary project. "Although I have changed my focus, I'm still very much committed to Creative Commons and the Free Culture cause," he said in a statement. "The work I intend to do with Change Congress is in many ways complementary to the work of Creative Commons. Both projects are about putting people in power and enabling them to build a better system."

Lessig founded Creative Commons in 2001 to combat what he saw as a rigid and outdated copyright system, encouraging the rejection of the traditional "all rights reserved" standard in favor of a "some rights reserved" alternative that would promote "creative reuse."

While big tech players like Yahoo's Flickr and the OpenSocial Foundation are eager supporters, Creative Commons still has yet to gain true mainstream media acceptance.