Lessig in the ASMP video (about 19:46 in) and elsewhere, in collaboration with his CC minions, makes a very bold claim that the White House uses CC Attribution licenses for content on the Whitehouse.gov site. He says it quickly and implies that ALL content on that site is under that license.
In fact, there are two lies in that. First, it is not all content. Content created by the US government is in the public domain at creation. The US government cannot hold copyrights for its own creations (it can hold © otherwise though, like those assigned to it, however–see previous link). Lessig doesn’t even mention that because it weakens the impact of what he is saying.
In fact, if the government was going to mandate a change in how it handled copyright on that site, why didn’t it say “all content submitted must be released by its copyright holder into the public domain” or similar? Why have a CC license at all? It serves no purpose that I can fathom.
The second lie is that all third-party content is under a CC-Attribution license on that site now. That too is untrue.
Here is what you will find on CC’s site: [whitehouse.gov] included a clause in its copyright policy mandating that all 3rd party content [link in original, bold added by me] on the site be released under our Attribution [link removed by me] license.
Mandating… that’s an important word. According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, it means “to make mandatory.” But, if you read the content of that Copyright info page linked to by CC above, here is what you will find (all links removed by me):
Except where otherwise noted, third-party content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to Whitehouse.gov under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
“Except where otherwise noted” means that all the third-party content is NOT CC after all. It’s not a mandate, it is a default. And it is playing on the ignorance of the general public because in the next sentence it says that “Visitors…agree…for their submissions.” In other words, if you offer something up, yeah, they want you to give it away. But clearly they are negotiating with other content providers.
That’s not a mandate. That’s screwing the ignorant just like so many sites do (for example, if you submit content to CNN via their iReport system you are essentially giving it away too, but they will pay for and license content from others).
Moreover, it is another case of Lessig playing fast and loose with the truth.