"There is this weird sense that the Internet is broken because it lets people make easy copies. . . . The Internet is a machine for making copies, and artists need to come to grips with that," Doctorow said.
Doctorow's experiment with his first novel went so well that he released his second one, "Eastern Standard Tribe," under a Creative Commons license and hopes to publish a third this spring the same way.
Apple Computer reports that its iPod download store is selling 1.25 million songs each day, at 99 cents per track.
(Des Jenson -- Bloomberg News)
"At every turn in history we see this new model of distribution that people say is going to destroy art itself," Doctorow said. But, he said, such fears been proved wrong time and time again.
Fritz Attaway, Washington general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America, said work licensed under Creative Commons licenses and those released under traditional copyright restrictions can coexist.
"I think it's helpful to educate consumers that there is a place like Creative Commons where one can access intellectual property that has been freely made available to the general public without compensation and that that should be distinguished from sites that are permitting access to infringing material," he said.
Still, even the most optimistic say that Creative Commons will be only part of the solution to ending the long-running battle over copyright. Attaway said he doubts the major movie studios or record labels would ever license large quantities of their work for distribution using Creative Commons licenses because they make plenty of money off the current system.
Hollywood producers Robert Greenwald and Jim Gilliam are among those challenging such assumptions. They released their movie "Outfoxed" under a Creative Commons license. Their controversial documentary accused Fox News of being a propaganda machine for the Republican Party. Just weeks after it was released in theaters, the producers posted 48 minutes of original interviews from the work online.
Gilliam credits the Internet with boosting interest in the movie because it reached a wider audience than it could in theaters alone. He said many of those who viewed parts of the work online ended up ordering a $9.95 DVD.
"This isn't necessarily just some altruistic thing," Gilliam said. "You can make money off of this, too."
It is not always easy for consumers to know when a work is protected by a Creative Commons license. If the work does not identify itself as such, online users can go to CreativeCommons.org and search its archives. In a few months, the developers behind the new Mozilla Firefox browser plan to release an update designed to allow people to search the Web for works of art licensed by Creative Commons.
John Buckman, an entrepreneur from Berkeley, Calif., has used the Creative Commons licenses as the foundation for his new online record label. All artists who sign with his company, Magnatune, must agree to allow free use of their work for non-commercial purposes. The site features 326 albums by 174 artists in six different genres, including classical and heavy metal. He said the company makes 50 percent of its money from downloads and 50 percent from licensing fees.
He said his label's songs are attractive because cash-strapped filmmakers can use the songs as they like for free and have to pay only when they start making money. "As much as musicians are having a hard time making a living, filmmakers and other creative people are having a hard time finding music to use in their works," he said.
And the start-up is making money, he said -- possibly as much as $2 million this year.