Creative Commons Turns Six
I say fun and conspirators because the atmosphere at the panel and the reception afterward offered a mix of both. Nonprofit Creative Commons has been a global, grass roots movement to affect the future of the Internet and global culture generally. Everyone there--undergraduate science students, librarians, artists, legal and Internet activists of note, and more—mixed in celebrating gains against traditional copyright-driven restriction of intellectual property.
Days before, Lessig had met with the Obama transition team and convinced them to add a Creative Commons sharing provision to its work. See http://change.gov/about/copyright_policy. This will spur the broadest possible use, re-mixing, and spread of the ferment around the incoming administration.
In its own words, Creative Commons "provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators easily mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry. You can use CC to change your copyright terms from 'All Rights Reserved' to 'Some Rights Reserved.'"
Creative Commons generalizes the concepts behind Open Source software, now familiar in nonprofit tech circles. Creative Commons provides a legal, intellectual and, increasingly, a technical framework to support and encourage freer sharing of ideas. Constitutional Law scholar Lawrence Lessig set out to challenge an increasingly restrictive use of traditional copyright law that stifled creativity and limited social innovation.
If this is new terrain for you, check out Lessig's website and books. I started with “the future of ideas.” What I got from that is that if Open Source promotes a collaborative approach to software and related infrastructure, Creative Commons is about a collaborative approach to content.
The nonprofit sector cherishes a spirit of cooperation and networking that represents the best of community-based advocacy and social services.
Working on nonprofit communication and web strategy, however, we often still see a tightness of voice. In a web redesign, a traditional culture of control and centralization of message may run directly counter to s newfound desires for web interactive features. A blog without commenting is just using a different-named tool to post news. A calendar that only a designated staff person can put official events on probably just duplicates an email newsletter. If no one from your community can freely post events, your calendar won’t attract much attention.
As I evaluate content management systems for clients, I can see that the large, truly expensive commercial systems still offer richer out-of-the-box features for managing the writing, editing, approving, staging, and posting of articles on web sites. We might exaggerate a little by saying that the huge growth of popular Open Source alternatives--Drupal, Joomla, Plone and Wordpress--boils down to reducing the barriers to publishing and to collaborative writing, commenting, and social bookmarking on line. I was thinking about this after a recent conversation with Idealware’s Laura Quinn on this topic. It’s not just about cost. If you need tight centralized command and control, you may find you get further, faster with a commercial system (for a huge price). If you want to make your staff/community barrier more permeable, and your work and ideas more accessible, go Open Source.
It is often hard for nonprofits to face up to and move beyond the world of the “all rights” copyright to the “some rights” world. Cooperating on activity is one thing; having a collaborative culture around content is another. Freely posting training guides, resource guides or other core services materials may be hard to swallow. Who can blame anyone for wanting to preserve mission-critical material especially now at a time of forced competitiveness for foundation funding and individual donation?
Yet there is an irony here. Community organizations regularly wrestle with low click rates on their newsletters, low Analytics on their web site, low adoption of their advocacy platforms, or low community referrals of their services. Yes, there is a danger that others will appropriate your message as their own without adequate protection of your intellectual property. You have to ask, what is the main thing to worry about and the main line of opportunity for spreading the word now? The answer usually lies with more openness and more collaboration, much in the keeping with the Creative Commons movement. Worry about too many people using and adapting your ideas when it happens!
And there is a further, more philosophical point. The nonprofit social sector sits alongside but outside the global corporatizatization of products and services. For me at least, the cumulative weight of people, businesses and organizations producing and sharing creative products and services together stands as a growing counter-balance to the ownership society. It begins to balance out monopolized drug prices, corporate agriculture, and lots else globally where control of intellectual property affects our standards of living and freer societies generally. If your organization or business embraces these values, then you owe it to yourself to embrace the Creative Commons spirit and make it part of your own.
And if you already find yourself part of this framework, you owe it to yourself to financially support Creative Commons. The CC project started with benefactors such as Red Hat from the Open Source software world. To continue its work today, it depends more than ever on donations. If you want to make a pragmatic calculation, if you have used Creative Commons content on your web site or trainings, including much of what folks track down through idealware, techsoup, nten and other nonprofit tech resources, a donation to CC now will help repay what you have benefited from. For more on why to support CC, please check out Andy Oram’s excellent post. http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2008/12/creative-commons-needs-your-do.html. We saw each other at the Berkman event and both pledged to comment on what we heard and saw. Join and donate today at creativecommons.org