The case of the witch and her cat: crowdfunding free culture

Ryan Merkley, July 17th, 2015

The guest post below was written by Erik Moeller from Passionate Voices, in support of our campaign “Made with Creative Commons: A book on open business models” which will present in-depth profiles of Creative Commons use.

The dragoncow is chewing on an uprooted tree, its bulging eyes staring vacantly into the distance as the orange cat hanging off its udder extracts a large drop of milk into a wooden bucket held by a young witch balanced precariously on her broomstick. The scene is from David Revoy’s Pepper & Carrot, a much-loved comic strip about a witch and her cat.

Unlike most webcomics, which release new strips a few times per week, there’s typically one episode of Pepper & Carrot every month. Each episode is several pages long, crafted with an attention to detail rarely seen outside more commercial work. Slowly but surely, David is building Pepper’s identity and the world she inhabits. “So much heart in each and every piece you do”, writes one admirer in the comments.

Volunteers translate each episode to a dozen or so languages, on the basis of the source files which can be downloaded freely. David uses a GitHub repository to collaborate with the community and to share assets.

All this is possible because the entire comic strip is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Other than CC0, this is the most permissive licensing option Creative Commons offers. Works under these terms can not only be copied, but also remixed and built upon, including for commercial uses. Re-users just have to attribute David Revoy as the author.
David is no stranger to Creative Commons. He was art director for Sintel, a crowdfunded CC-BY licensed 3D animated movie produced by the Blender Foundation. His love for open source goes back even further, as he explained in a recent interview with Passionate Voices: “Even when I was using Windows and proprietary software, I always kept an eye on the Linux distributions. I always kept an eye on GIMP. It was one of my first digital painting tools. And I always really appreciated the whole movement.” Today, David uses Krita, an open source digital painting application which has been supported by two Kickstarter fundraisers.

revoy user manual small

User Manual by David Revoy, available under the CC-BY license.

David’s work on Pepper & Carrot is funded by a Patreon campaign. As of this writing, for every episode he produces, his supporters donate $1200, which is inching ever closer to the amount David needs to focus fully on creating the webcomic as his “dream job”. As such, he is not concerned about others building on his work as long as they attribute him for it: “I’m really happy if Pepper & Carrot can bring more money for external people.”  David is disappointed when people fail to meet the simple requirement to credit him as the author: “It’s easier to respect something that was given for free, in my opinion.”

Back in May, a Kickstarter campaign launched without David Revoy’s involvement to create a printed version of Pepper & Carrot. The initial version of the campaign suffered from attribution issues: “The author of the Kickstarter, in the description of his crowdfunding page, was acting like he was the creator. He was quoting my name but he was acting like it was my Kickstarter page, and it was really not visible inside the page.“ After David contacted the campaign creator, the attribution issues were fixed, and David tweeted in support of the campaign. In the end, $6,837 were raised towards a print edition which otherwise would not have happened.

Although David recognizes the power of the CC-BY license, there are circumstances where he uses more restrictive licensing. The Yin and Yang of World Hunger, a powerful painting which depicts the disparity between rich and poor, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial No-Derivatives license, because David doesn’t want to see it used for commercial or political purposes without his approval. The license doesn’t preclude him from selectively granting those permissions:  “There are plenty of associations about hunger that use this illustration, and I’m really happy to give them the illustration for free.”

David’s long term vision is to create an animation studio which only produces works under a free license. With his growing base of supporters, his vision is audacious but not outlandish. Today, many creators of webcomics and YouTube channels are funding their work through their fanbase, whether it’s through one-off campaigns or ongoing Patreon-style support. But relatively few use a Creative Commons license, and fewer still the very permissive CC-BY license alongside an open source toolchain.

When confronted with commercial use and unwanted derivatives, creators may be tempted to to default to a license that places limits on re-use, and as David’s story demonstrates, this can be a good answer, especially when dealing with sensitive works. And yet, there’s always the tantalizing question: What if? What if you let go, what if you set your work truly free? What if you push the limits of what’s possible with open source software?

Artists like David are experimenting with permissive licensing options and open source production methods to create a free culture with no strings attached. Fan support through crowdfunding platforms gives them the ability to do so without fearing loss of income.  You can find my full interview with David Revoy (and with other pioneers) on Passionate Voices, and of course you can read Pepper & Carrot online and join David’s community of supporters.

With your help, Creative Commons will be able to showcase many other examples of CC use and re-use. Please consider supporting the Creative Commons campaign, “Made with Creative Commons: A book on open business models”.

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CC’s Contribution to Welfare, Field-by-Field: The Separate Contribution to Art

Tal Niv, December 9th, 2010

Last time on the CC blog I was sharing my thoughts about the evaluation of CC’s contribution to Collaboration and Sharing. There was a part there in which I was making the point that it is an impact which is distinctly challenging for estimation. Well, my full hearted belief that that analysis is, in fact, the pinnacle of prospective hardships can explain why when I first came to engage with CC’s contribution to the field of art, I was feeling lighthearted. After all, most of the characteristics which made sharing and collaboration such a tough domain to gauge, are not properties of art. So, I can begin by reporting that it was definitely light-minded to be lighthearted; the contribution to art is a completely independent pandora’s box.

I hope at least this last point will be rendered clearer by reading this post, but my aim here is actually to describe my initial attempts to tackle this distinct quandary. Like with my former posts, by unabashedly exposing my very modest attempts, we, here at CC, are hoping to elicit a response and to engage you all in this important project.

Down to Business: CC’s Contribution to Art

Note #1
Art encompasses activities that are traditionally divided into distinct genres. However, online creation has challenged the boundaries of those genres as it has provided an environment which made it easy for creators to put their creative efforts into works that cannot be conveniently categorized under one genre or even two, but rather reflect a hodgepodge of genres. Sometimes these acts of creativity coalesce into new genres, and sometimes they remain unique instances. The measurement of the contribution of CC needs to take account of all of these cases, and cannot be content with estimating the contribution to each traditional genre.

Note #2
New genres as novel types of artistic endeavors have an independent value of their own which ought to be noted and measured separately. There are several reasons for this:

    1. The evaluation of the novelty of these new works is altogether different than that of works of traditional genres.
    2. These works usually involve different types of creators than traditional works (e.g., on the lay-professional scale) and therefore represent a different type of contribution to art.
    3. Passive consumers and future contributors would necessarily have a different interaction with new types of works than traditional ones, which means that their perspective requires a distinct analysis.
    4. The contribution of these enterprises to other value fields of CC (e.g., to Collaboration and Sharing) are different and should be distinguished and measured properly considering this difference.
    5. From a pragmatic perspective, the estimation of new artistic enterprises obviously requires new metrics.
    6. Lastly, and most importantly, CC is very plausibly contributing in a very distinct way to new enterprises as opposed to existing ones. For example, because those new works are created in a much more of a copyright limbo, CC’s ability to contribute specifically to their effective production and consumption as well as more broadly to the way that the enterprise is framed as part of the IP realm is unique.

Note #3
Now having said all that, the contribution of art to welfare is in itself very hard to estimate, even before delving into the effective measurement of sub-genres. As a result, not many economists have tried to come up with analytical frameworks that would gauge art and its contribution. In fact, there persists a form of prima facie acceptance that art is dually valuable, for the outputs it produces, and as a human enterprise. The trouble with evaluation has to do with both: not all of art’s outputs are market outputs, and even when they are, they usually emblem non-monetary value in addition to their monetary one, and the abstract contribution of “art as human enterprise” is an even tougher cookie.

However, although CC is likewise resigned that art is valuable, for the purpose of its value analysis it must subscribe itself to some theoretical framework that analyzes the contribution of art. Absent such a framework, it will be impossible to assess any form of incremental contribution. As for the possible models that could potentially be applied, some writers have analyzed the quality of artistic products as strongly hinged in the question of how innovative they are. In other words, a valuable or a good artwork is one which is avant-garde in terms of technique or artistic expression. (Check out David W. Galenson’s Analyzing Artistic Innovation). From a slightly different perspective, some ascribe an artwork’s contribution to the extent by which it promotes innovation in other fields. The basis of the latter is that art is unique in cultivating creativity, originality and inventiveness (for example, Xavier Castañer and Lorenzo Campos’s The Determinants of Artistic Innovation: Bringing in the Role of Organizations, 26 Journal of Cultural Economics 29-52 (2002)).

Note #4
If we are ready to accept this last paradigm, then that will allow us to rely on the extension to the contribution of CC to art of the full breadth of theories which analyze the capacity of innovation to enhance welfare, or the value of innovation in art.

Yet, putting aside the multiple benefits to accepting these paradigms, there are several difficulties which have to do with the imperfect correspondence of these frameworks to art. To demonstrate, not even the underlying Schmpeterian concept of creative destruction applies to art, as art tends to incorporate all prior expression within it as it evolves. Therefore, any analysis which discusses the contribution of art in innovation terms would require substantial theoretical accommodation.

Note #5
The innovation paradigms of the second category (the ones considering the contribution to art as in itself a contributor to innovation) mind less the level or nature of the artistic outputs themselves, and mostly emphasize the very existence of novel outputs as inherently beneficial. In other words, they would still need to be complemented with other theories recognizing the direct importance of the artistic enterprise.

This is why in addition to developing novelty measures and to understanding how CC contributes institutionally to innovation, the project continues under the assumption that all else being equal, having more art is better, having more art contributors is better, having more consumption of art is better, having better art is better and extended quality in creativity and consumption is better. This assumption plays out alongside the presumption that more art variability is better which is a parameter directly related to innovation in art. Therefore, CC sets out to measure its impact on those values as to provide the necessary fodder for the analysis of its contribution. Examples follow.

The Evaluation Itself

Quantity Parameters

Quantity includes all the measures that are based on counting. Among which are the following:

    1. Tracking the number of CC artworks that are being produced. Obviously, our work would not end once coming up with this number, because an analysis would have to ensue which may be extremely complicated. This is because it isn’t necessary that all other things being equal, more artworks is invariably a welfare improvement; for example, because more clamor which more art might produce may mean less welfare (note that this pertains only to the detriments of overcrowding and not to other claims that touch upon quality which needs to be accounted for too).

    Well, the only thing I can say about that is that it is these moments which make me grateful for taking this one step at a time.

    2. The number of CC artists. Again, like with the case of the number of works, this datum does not reveal the entire story: An example for a claim which would be influential in the analysis is that artistic production is optimal when it is the single realm of a thin stratum of artists (the benefits of the alternatives). Now since CC operates under the contrary conviction that more engagement in artistic pursuits and thus tries to increase it without discretion, it needs to prove that the outcome it promotes is superior in terms of the contribution to welfare.

The latter claim suggests that this parameter should be divided up by profile of the artist. To the extent that this is possible it would be beneficial to distinguish between the added number of lay and expert CC artists, between heavy and light contributors, between additions of CC artists who create just CC works and those that use different legal frameworks other than CC.

    3. The number of new types of CC artworks that are being generated.
    4. The use of assisstive applications for CC works: (1) art editing applications (Technique) (2) art distribution applications (Distribution) (3) search applications (for CC art) (4) Curation activity, exhibition (CC work).
    => Obviously, for the purposes of allowing an analysis which would consider CC’s dynamic contribution it is necessary to be gathering data with respect to temporal trends as well.

Internal & external quality parameters

Internal measures:

    1. The progression of the technique being employed in CC works, per each art genre, and for each function, like the creation of the new contribution and for the fusing together of existing artistic resources for the new creation.
    2. The progression of the inherent quality of the artistic expression of CC works. This is a very complex attribute to measure, because it requires the perspective of time, or at least the ability to estimate the overall cultural weight of the work, which in turn requires multi-term adjustment.

External measures:

    1. Value as a resource/use availability: The progress in the outward impression which is being created by the artwork divided by (1) Lay artist impression, and (2) Expert artist impression. This quality measure has to do with the ability of others to extract benefits from the artwork and can be estimated using the proxy of use: the extent to which the work is used as a resource for other works.
    2. Consumption readiness/ease of access. This parameter is set to measure the accessibility of the work for passive consumption. This again requires analysis that would tie this data back to the measure of quality: it is impossible, for example, that degraded art or lower quality art is in general more accessible than art of better quality.

Quality measurement, extra challenges

Don’t tell me you thought that was it? Up until this point I’ve been calmly suggesting quality measures, without offering a clue as to how to create the actual quality scale for each. So how to begin measuring quality in art? Well, thankfully we are not the first to have to approach this question. Cultural economists have dealt with this issue, particularly in relation to the question of the proper government subsidy for non-market goods such as cultural products many times are. (See, for e.g., Eric Thompson’s et al. Valuing the Arts: A Contingent Valuation Approach, 26 Journal of Cultural Economics, and Douglas S. Noonan’s Contingent Valuation and Cultural Resources: A Meta-Analytic Review of the Literature, 27 Journal of Cultural Economics 159-176 (2003)).

What these scholars offered was to go from household to household, and use a method called Contingent Valuation in order to assess the extent to which people in general value a particular cultural service. The Contingent valuation method (CVM) employs survey methods to gather stated preference information, and through those it derives a translation into a monetary value with is called the WTP – the willingness to pay.

So these scholars begin with price, as an arguably satisfactory proxy for quality of an art product when there is a market for it. Yet when exploring CC’s predominant fields of activity we see almost no outputs with a dollar value. Therefore, although CC can safely rely on CVM as an established technique in cultural economics, it remains debatable whether CVM can capture the full value generated from cultural goods, and within it, from art: For one, art is classed as an experiential or addictive good, for which demand is cumulative, and hence dynamically unstable, whereas in WTP, people are being asked to evaluate it even if they do not consume it at all, as though it was a commodity like a street lamp. A solution for that might be to turn to expert appraisal. And indeed, when we shall come to the stage where we start going into detail with these metrics, we expect to rely on parameters used by experts to perform appraisals for different forms of art.

Two, there is a very strong claim that art has intrinsic value, as a public good, that is unappraisable by the individual by way of potential consumption estimation. (David Throsby thus differentiates between economic and cultural value, see in David Throsby’s Determining the Value of Cultural Goods: How Much (or How Little) Does Contingent Valuation Tell Us?, 27 Journal of Cultural Economics 275-285 (2003)).

This issue cannot be solved using traditional economic tools, which may mean these should be abandoned. Instead, we ought to identify measurable characteristics of cultural goods which give rise to their cultural value. For example, “their aesthetic properties, their spiritual significance, their role as purveyors of symbolic meaning, their historic importance, their significance in influencing artistic trends, their authenticity, their integrity, their uniqueness,” and so on. This is partly why in order to correctly quantify the contribution to welfare in all its facets, we must content ourselves, at least to some extent with simplified measures that pertain to quantity of production, to engagement and to the richness of the field as we are beginning to do here. This, in addition to those parts of the artistic enterprise which can be economically evaluated using such methods as CVM.

CC Art Variability Measures, Internal, External

    1. (direct measures) Novelty level, conceptual and experimental separately measured, of CC works. (1) for each new genre (2) within every existing genre.
    2. (indirect measures) The number of new relevant applications which are used for CC works: (1) art editing applications (Technique) (2) art distribution applications (Distribution) (3) search applications (for CC art) (4) Curation activity, exhibition (CC work).

Control Measures (confounders)

In order to be able to measure the pure impact of CC, it is necessary to be able to be able to clear out influences unrelated to CC that may muddy our measures. The following are metrics directed for this purpose:

    1. Changes in the production of non-CC art. This parameter will be used to gauge changes in artistic activity which can reflect on CC art too but have nothing to do with any activity led by CC. While collecting this data it is important to separate between non-CC art which is licensed under open framework and between non-CC art relying on proprietary frameworks. This is because part of the growth of comparable frameworks might be attributable to CC’s activity under the 3rd pillar of contribution which might further complicate the analysis.
    2. Extension of consumption of non-CC art. The aim here is to clean the CC impact with respect to consumption.
    3. Art markets expansion
    4. Extension in the number of general artists. (measuring unrelated entrance to the specific labor market)
    5. Evolution in general technical platforms for art creation, distribution, consumption.
    6. Government grants for art (non CC – easy separation: government will usually define the license to be used)

That’s all folks.

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Behance Network Creative Roundup

Cameron Parkins, November 5th, 2009

Artists and creatives of all types are sharing some incredible CC-licensed content on The Behance Network.

Levi van Veluw showcases miniature landscapes built on a human canvas in Landscapes (BY-NC-ND); Glenn Jones offers ideas for future t-shirts (BY-NC); L Filipe dos Santos highlights illustrations with See. Saw (BY-NC-ND); Si Sott offers a poster series in Silent Records (BY-NC-ND); and Iain Crawford shares his stunning still photography (BY-NC).

It is fantastic to see this kind of up-take with our licenses, and Behance is only one of the many content directories that use our tools to help increase sharing and reuse. For more info on Behance, be sure to read our intervew with founder/CEO Scott Belsky as well as explore the Behance Network itself.

Excerpt from See . Saw Series by L Filipe dos Santos | CC BY-NC-ND

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