Notes on Creative Commons

If one was to chart the tags used in this blog, it would be easy to get a sense of shift in interests through time. From early interest in P2P, passing through  software patents, sprinklings of DRM and virtual worlds, one early topic that has received diminishing interest has been Creative Commons. Several reasons for this of course, I missed out on the Sapporo iCommons Summit and a meeting in Chile, then I have been too busy to keep up with mailing lists and similar means of staying connected. But perhaps most importantly, my research moved to other areas.

My own relative loss of interest came at the same time as Creative Commons was entering a structural transition phase. The amazing growth in licence adoption, and the creation of national chapters and jurisdiction ports of the core licences stretched the existing organisation. Similarly, Lawrence Lessig had been the public face of the movement, and his shift from CC to concentrate on domestic issues meant that the movement lost its biggest superstar. At about the same time, the Creative Commons brand was in the process of splitting into all sorts of related organisations such as ccLearn, iCommons and Science Commons. I remember there was some confusion about who did what, and there was always the danger of diluting the brand and complicating the organisational structure too much.

My own limited impression was that there was unrest at the grass-roots levels about the way the organisation was going. The fact that there has not been a summit after Sapporo corroborated the private suspicion that such enterprises were insanely expensive and difficult to organise. Similarly, I was always struck by the seeming insularity, and dare I say, American-centric tint that permeated the movement. I should stress that CC was keenly aware of this, and always gave me the impression that they were working hard to involve jurisdictions more actively. However, little things still showed that there was much to be improved in this regard. One of the personal highlights of the Dubrovnik iSummit in 2007 were the keynote presentations by Benkler, Zittrain and Lessig (see here just how happy I looked). When I asked someone what they had thought, I was expecting the same level of excitement that I felt. What I got was a comment that has resonated with me since: “they’re all American, white, male, law professors”.

Another problem that I felt (completely centred on my very subjective and limited perception), was that the movement was becoming way to “cool-centric” for its own good. I could not help but feeling that in some instances substance was being sacrificed for image. Perhaps in order to bolster its own credentials with the more fashionable end of the Web 2.0 revolution, CC played up this cool image that might turn some people off, and may have been the source of detractors accusing Creative Commons of being mostly hype, or a fad.

These are small problems however, and the licences have been moving from strength to strength, earning growing brand recognition, as well as becoming widely used as the licence of choice for the Web 2.0 movement. From Flickr to Wikipedia, content under CC has been effectively creating a copyright-friendly environment for web developers. Some of the CC spin-off brands have also been wildly successful, such as Science Commons.

It is also unfair to assume that just because we have not seen a summit this year, that would spell trouble for Creative Commons. One of the best features of CC under Joi Ito has been the fact that there is a lot of interesting research going into the movement and the licences, which has resulted in some very good papers, as well as a comprehensive report on non-commercial use.

One thing that seems clear is that Creative Commons as an organisation is at a crossroads. It is certain that will continue its role offering a viable alternative to all rights reserved licensing schemes. But what else should it do? In my opinion, CC should embrace its role as as an organisation representative of a sizeable international stakeholder base, and as such it should be counted in policy making circles dealing with copyright subjects. In order to do this, it requires a participatory governance structure.

Changes are coming to Creative Commons. Let us hope the movement will continue to grow.

Comments 6

  1. Intriguing post

    It's interesting that you suggest CC was becoming way too "cool-centric" yet you explain your diminishing interest in CC (at least in part) by the departure of CC's "superstar" as you put it. Although Lessig started CC – I believe CC is more than an individual it is made up of the Community and if one is part of the community one needs to help to address the flaws that exist and offer support instead of lamenting ones own loss of interest.

    As far as I can tell Ito and his team are working towards a participatory structure and they need to be supported in this by those who ultimately believe in the ethos of what CC stands for not because of a high profile conference or because its a research subject but because one believes CC works. CC needs our support and participation and granted that includes being critical when warranted as you are being here.

  2. Hi Nate,

    Thanks. I thought about writing this for quite a while. I am hoping that I made it clear that this is not so much criticism as some personal musings about my temporary disillusionment on the direction the movement was taking.

    I have been reading and hearing about the changes, and I really like what I see. I think that there were a few things that bothered me, and I thought that I would leave some minor record of what I thought.

Leave a Reply