Made With Creative Commons by Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson
The Creative Commons (CC) has been around for a while now (since 2002, which is several eons in Internet years), and has to be considered very successful, at least in its initial ambitions. Creative Commons licenses are widely known and used, and they solve the technical problem they were created to solve: they are a universally recognized standard for controlled sharing of intellectual property.
I have always admired the clear sighted way CC laid out and explains their licenses. “There is no one right way.” (, p. 41) But they have worked out a range of very sensible alternatives, which make it easy to do what you mean to do in a standard way.
If nothing else, CC has given the world an array of possibilities. No one is forced to share via CC, but the multiple CC licenses lay out ways that you can share if you want to. Do you want to share, but always preserve your credit (Attribution)? Do you want to preserve your creation whole, or allow people to modify it (No Derivatives)? Do you want to preserve rights to make money (No Commercial)? Do you want to share, with the provision that everyone who uses the work must also share what they do (Share Alike)? Just asking myself these questions, inspires me to want to try it out!
Of course, Creative Commons has always been about more than license language,. The overall goal is to foster global culture and to use the Internet as the repository of shared, common information. The Commons, for the benefit ao all humankind.
In recent years, CC has been moving to new directions, and this book is a part of the new direction.
Basically, the “strategy” aims at three goals:
“We need to talk about sharing,”
“Towards a vibrant, usable commons,” and
“Let’s light up our global commons.”
Boiling these down, CC is moving to try to make it easier to share, and generally to get a lot more sharing going on. I note that the essential accomplishments of CC’s first decade is succinctly summed up in only two and a half pages of this book, Chapter 3. The rest of the book is the new stuff.
One aspect of this new project is to consider financial models. The global commons may be powered by “joy and gratitude”, but people need to eat.
Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson’s new book, Made With Creative Commons, is all about this topic–economic viability. As they say, the original notion was to document successful “business plans” that use CC. But the “open business plans” they found are not really about the money, they are about how to succeed in a very broad sense.
“What we didn’t realize was just how misguided it would be to write a book about being Made with Creative Commons using only a business lens.” (p.20)
To this end, the book includes short but useful chapters that define “commons”, particularly the “digital commons”, and the challenges of navigating commons in a world of markets and states.
Even though this book is about how to make money using CC, it’s not about money. It can’t be, because it’s about values.
“Sharing work with Creative Commons is, at its core, a moral decision.” (p.20)
“Being Made with Creative Commons is not just about the simple act of licensing a copyrighted work under a set of standardized terms, but also about community, social good, contributing ideas, expressing a value system, working together. “ (p. 30)
“sharing with a Creative Commons license is a symbol of how you want to interact with the people who consume your work” (p. 20)
Stacey and Hinchli suggest that using CC is beneficial in a variety of ways.
First, CC can be very valuable with ‘Problem Zero: getting discovered’. Specifically,
- CC can help grow audience, gain name recognition, differentiate
- CC can be a marketing tool (loss leader)
- CC can foster “hands on engagement”—tinkering creates demand, and committed followers
CC can be used in business models that make money in a variety of ways. These concepts aren’t especially novel, but CC can play a valuable role. Many creators or companies share part or all of their work, and sustain themselves viaL
- Selling other services. E.g., Sell in-person version (e.g., live concerts). Advertising. Help or other consulting.
- Charging some users (e.g., charge content providers for uploads)
- Memberships, pay-what-you-want, crowdfunding
But, by sharing via CC, “Rather than simply selling a product or service, they are making ideological, personal, and creative connections with the people who value what they do.“ (p. 30)
The authors consider that sharing is also a personal connection between a creator and the people who consume their work.
“the common strategies that creators, companies, and organizations use to remind us that there are humans behind every creative endeavor. To remind us we have obligations to each other. To remind us what sharing really looks like. (p.31)
This seems to require more than a commercial relationship. It is a human relationship.
- Be human (“But it can’t be a gimmick. You can’t fake being human. “ p.31
- Be open and accountable
- Design for the good actors
- Treat humans as humans
- State you principles and stick to them
- Build community
- Give more than you take….
- Involve people
Clearly, there is much more to CC than digital rights.
The bulk of the book is 24 case studies, ranging from ‘Arduino” to “Wikimedia”. These cases reveal a great variety of ways to do it. For that matter, there are quite a variety of “its” to do. There is a common theme, throughout:
“Regardless of legal status, they all have a social mission. Their primary reason for being is to make the world a better place, not to pro t. Money is a means to a social end, not the end itself.” (p. 14-15)
I am familiar with some of the cases, though I did not necessarily understand their business models. (‘Open source’ means that users do not need to know how you make money!)
The enterprises studied are mainly digital, but some have substantial “analog” components. Even in cases that offer similar products and services, there are different approaches to making money.
The cases in this book examine some of the business models for these enterprises.
- Charging for uploads and publication
- Custom implementations for institutions
- Value added (e.g., metrics, tools for assessment)
Pretty much every business model you can think of is represented except purely commercial ownership and slavery.
The enterprises include:
Individual creators (e.g., writers and musicians): Fans are your friends, friends share. CC lets creators retain credit, allow reuse or not, and reserve commercial rights.
Media distribution: digital images, music, etc. – Individual creators benefit from large markets that attract users and expose their work. CC licenses protect the interests of creators who wish to share, while allowing services to make enough money to operate.
Journalism – The purpose of journalism is to share information, but it must be available to everyone, and it must be authoritative. CC licenses let journalists share while protecting the integrity of the product, through Attribution, controlling Derivatives, and controlling commercial use.
Knowledge Enterprises: Libraries, Archives, Journals, Textbooks, etc. – The vast common heritage of humankind needs to be shared by all. This includes school books, science journals, cultural museums, and lots of other kinds of knowledge. CC licenses make it possible to share widely with the people who need the information, which protecting the interests of creators and sustaining the services that make the sharing possible.
Things: design and know-how for building – The vast common heritage of humankind include making. CC isn’t limited to digital artifacts, and these days “how to” is usually represented in digital materials including plans, software, tutorials, and consulting.
While sharing is “a moral decision” (p. 20), this book surveys all the ways that people manage to both freely share and accrue enough resources to continue to share. Whether formally “for-profit” or “not-for-profit”, the main point is not to make money, it is to make enough money to continue the mission.
The business models described in these case studies are surprisingly diverse, ranging from conventional grants, sponsorship, and advertising, through a variety of user fees and “extra” products, and ultimately the “pay-what-you-want” model (essentially, digital busking). Many operations use a combination of approaches.
The book documents the ways that CC helps these enterprises accomplish their goals. A CC license is the clearest possible signal that the creator wants to share, as well as a universal declaration of the rules that apply in each case.
This signal is used by creators to publicize their own values, and to define a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with their audience and consumers. For most of the cases, these values and relationships are the social capital that is the very core of the enterprise.
It’s hard to know the ultimate importance of these kinds of enterprises in the grand scheme. The world economy seems to be dominated by a mixture of restrictive property rights and uncontrolled appropriation. I think that CC offers an interesting middle way.
This book helps make the case that sharing is both a morally and economically rational.
Very interesting, and highly recommended.
- Paul Stacey and Sarah Hinchli Pearson, Made With Creative Commons, Copenhagen, Ctrl+Alt+Delete Books, 2017. https://creativecommons.org/made-with-cc/
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