The "embargoed" or "delayed" model for open-access is tried and true in the scholarly journal business, and arguments about the appropriate length and propriety of embargoes are entrenched. In medical research, funding agencies such as NIH demand embargoes of no longer than 12 months, while humanities publishers argue that they need longer embargoes. Recently, the American Historical Association recommended that doctoral students be allowed to embargo their dissertations for up to six years. (Suber's book discusses delayed open access and embargoes in chapter 8, Casualties.)
Delayed open access for books, by contrast, is almost nonexistent. For ebooks, it would seem that an exclusive selling period followed by Creative Commons licensing could unlock a lot of value for society, and not just for scholarly works. Most books do most of their sales in the first year of publication and not much after that. The current duration of copyright, typically more than a hundred years, seems disproportionate in comparison. Used book stores capture some of the residual value of print books without profit to the rights holder, and libraries help to preserve another chunk of value. The lack of first-sale rights for ebooks leaves huge doubts about the viability of these channels for ebooks.
MIT Press accomplished the delayed open access with a promise on the copyright page of the ebook. Readers could rely on the integrity and prestige of MIT Press to make good on that promise. Wouldn't it be nice if doing something similar was easy to do for any sort of work, just like attaching a copyright date? Suppose I wanted exclusive rights to this blog post for five years, it would be nice if I could just write "(CC BY 2018)" with a url to provide the legal code.
I don't think I can really do that easily, today. Without some sort of license language, nothing would prevent me from changing my mind, so my prospective license offer would not be reliable. Today's Creative Commons licenses depend on conveyance of the license and assume immediate effect. In the publishing world, companies go bankrupt or get acquired all the time. If Elsevier had acquired MIT Press in May, a purchaser of the book in April would have no assurance that the book would really go Open Access in June. This is not such an issue with journals because they're continuing publications.
Although I'm not a lawyer or anything, I've taken a first stab at language for applying a future date to a Creative Commons license. I've used Docracy to make the document public so that anyone can make modifications to improve it. (If you do a lot of contracts and you haven't seen Docracy, I suggest you go check it out!) Or maybe other people have worked on this and can contribute some better language.
The beauty of Creative Commons is that it gives creators more options for distributing their works in partnership with users. A robust way of granting future CC licenses will allow more creators to vote with their works for mitigation of over-long terms-of-copyright.
Update: a quick comment from Timothy Vollmer points to a thread on [cc-licenses] that's very relevant, including some interesting discussion of the mysteriously named "Founder's License".
Update 2: James Grimmelmann, a real law professor, suggests via Twitter that "It is not out of the question that one could unilaterally enter into a binding future license at present." and points to the language he used on a 2005 Yale Law Journal Note:
Copyright © 2005 by The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc. For classroom use information, see http://www.yalelawjournal.org/about.asp. After June 1, 2006, this Note is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/. Any use under this license must carry the notation “First published in The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 114, pp. 1719-58.”This suggests that maybe I'm making things too complicated, which wouldn't be the first time. But I wish Creative Commons or someone would just tell us what to do!
Update August 9: I've written more about what we want to do with Dated CC at Unglue.it.