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Microsoft's Creative Copyright Move

Software giant Microsoft said it will offer a free tool for Office users to embed Creative Commons copyright options in Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents.

The unsupported tool permits content to be licensed from within the Office suite of applications.

Created in 2001 by Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons offers licenses enabling artists to retain a copyright but restrict distribution, such as whether a work can be used commercially or modified.

Although the software company has no plans to include the tool in Office 2007, Microsoft is monitoring customer interest, according to a spokesperson. There are 400 million Office users, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft said it was committed to removing barriers to sharing ideas across borders and cultures.

The download "underscores how for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations can work together to bring innovative ideas and tools to the public," Alan Yates, general manager of Microsoft's Information Worker Division, said in a statement.

If Microsoft were releasing Office under the Creative Commons copyright structure, there would be more raised eyebrows, Joe Wilcox, a JupiterResearch analyst, told internetnews.com.

Instead, the announcement is more testimony to the success of the use of Creative Commons copyrights by bloggers and artists.

"There's some nice PR benefits, too" for Microsoft, according to Wilcox.

This isn't Microsoft's first brush with Creative Commons licensing.

In 2005, Microsoft said extensions to RSS it planned to include in the Longhorn operating system would be available free under the Creative Commons license. The move was seen as a way for Microsoft to add RSS support without co-opting the free standard.

Although Creative Commons addresses copyrights for the written word, audio and graphics, late last year the open source community commended Microsoft for its Shared Source Initiative.