I recall working on my first software license over twenty years ago. At that time the concept of a “license” was alien to most attorneys. And, when I explained to friends that I was a “licensing attorney” some thought I worked here. (Unfortunately, I’m not making that up.)
Thus, I am still fascinated by how the concept of a “license” is becoming fully integrated into mainstream culture. Here’s a recent example in which a photograph of a young woman posted to Flickr was used by Virgin Mobile in an advertisement. Flickr uses a Creative Commons license and the individual who posted the photograph apparently did not understand the specific terms of the license used for the site. Obviously, the subject of the photograph was quite surprised to find that she was appearing in a bus stop advertisement for Virgin Mobile.
What I find most interesting here are not the specifics of the laws that apply, but rather how the Flickr community quickly responded and in a very knowledgeable fashion. Collectively, they cover most of the legal analysis that previously could only have been provided by an experienced licensing attorney. Yes, some of the posts are incorrect or inappropriate, but the overall level of legal awareness they represent is so much higher than at any time in the past.
Given the significant growth of social networking sites and developer open source communities, public awareness of licensing will continue to grow. With individuals also increasingly becoming content creators (ask your teenager whether they are creating anything online), it’s only a matter of time before most people understand the laws relating to licensing as well as they do the laws covering how they drive their cars.