CC Talks With: Open Democracy

Mia Garlick, October 1st, 2005

openDemocracy is an online magazine that provides a forum in which global issues relating to politics and culture are debated, many of which do not receive sufficient or sufficiently careful attention by the mainstream media. Its purpose is to “publish clarifying debates which help people make up their own minds.”

Since 2001, openDemocracy.net has published around 2,600 articles written by writers from around the world. Readers include students, journalists, pensioners, policymakers and politicians. A brief review of openDemocracy’s author pages shows that recent authors have included Kofi Annan, Timothy Garton Ash, Janis Ian, Iris Marion Young, Salman Rushdie, George Soros, Richard Stallman and Gillian Slovo. openDemocracy’s website consists of lively discussion forums, in addition to topical articles; it serves as a global network of people committed to making the world a better place.

openDemocracy is based in London and also has an office in New York, in addition to its online presence. openDemocracy recently announced that they will be releasing the majority of their articles under a Creative Commons license as part of their commitment to global democracy. In recognition of openDemocracy’s launch of Creative Commons licensing, Siva Vaidhyanathan, has written a welcoming article outlining the history of the Creative Commons that appears on openDemocracy. Siva is a cultural historian and media scholar, and is currently an assistant professor of Culture and Communication at New York University.

Mia Garlick spoke with Solana Larsen about openDemocracy’s switch to Creative Commons licensing. Solana is a Commissioning Editor at openDemocracy and also heads up openDemocracy’s New York office. She is Danish-Puerto Rican, holds an MA in international journalism from City University in London and is herself a published author.

Creative Commons (“CC”): Can you tell us about the nature of openDemocracy?

Solana Larson of openDemocracy (“oD”): openDemocracy is an online magazine and also more than just an online magazine. openDemocracy is committed to debating global issues and supporting democracy. We provide background on a lot of the issues that the mainstream press skate over. Our authors tend to be the top thinkers, movers and shakers in their field: mainly scholars, journalists, and policymakers, and from across the political spectrum.

Our objective, through our website, is to make difficult or remote issues easily accessible and interesting to anyone, no matter where they live in the world. Instead of making foreign politics exotic, we try to present things in a way that makes it easy to understand. To explain, for example, why an American, a Briton, or an Egyptian should be interested in, say, Brazilian democracy.

We are also committed to facilitating discussions about issues by the people most affected by them. For example, in the run up to the Iraq war, many people would use Iraqi opinion to support their own views. As far as the media goes, openDemocracy was one of the few publishers, if not the only publisher, who set up roundtable discussions between Iraqis themselves. We’re not scared to put people who disagree in the same room. Right now we are looking closely at Iran, and we’ve set up a weblog with writers inside and outside the country to observe the presidential elections.

CC: How did openDemocracy come to the decision that it wanted to apply a Creative Commons license to its articles?

oD: Editorially, openDemocracy has paid a great deal of attention to the legal struggles that led to the development of the Creative Commons, and interviewed both Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond when Napster was still a big story. Intellectually, it was a piece of cake to see that the Creative Commons offers a constructive and democratic solution to a really huge problem. Practically, it was harder to walk boldly into unknown territory. Most of us were more familiar with the print model of thinking, and we reasoned that if people could read openDemocracy articles elsewhere they would have no reason to visit the website.

Initially, we placed older articles behind an archive barrier and charged subscription fees. At first, we let people choose themselves how much they wanted to pay. Later, we set a fixed price. Although many signed up, it wasn’t really sustainable but, more importantly, it just didn’t fit our ethos. When we surveyed subscribers, many said they gave us money because they liked us; not because they wanted to access the archive.

Now openDemocracy is finished with closing off information to the world. The archives have been opened, we only ask for donations now, and we’re encouraging all our authors to release their work under Creative Commons licenses.

Our commitment is to getting ideas out in circulation, and even from a survival perspective it makes sense. We are confident people will read republished articles and be drawn to the source by curiosity. We hope readers will begin to think of us more as a resource for their intellectual or political causes rather than just an online magazine.

CC: As part of switching over to Creative Commons licensing, openDemocracy has gone through the process of approaching many authors of articles that have previously been published by openDemocracy to ask if they were willing to make their article available under a Creative Commons license. What have been the different types of reactions of your authors?

oD: openDemocracy has an archive of more than 2,600 articles. Initially, we’ve only approached the 350 authors from the past year about making their work available under a Creative Commons license. It’s difficult to get responses from everyone when you send a mass email, and people are always changing addresses. But of the 160 or so who have responded 150 have said yes, and that amounts to hundreds of articles. The enthusiasm has been genuine.

We have been surprised by how few of our authors seemed to know about the Creative Commons before we told them about it. It feels like we’ve already done important work simply by telling them about our new policy. They’ve praised, applauded, and thanked us for taking the initiative on this.

When authors have voiced concerns or said no it’s generally been because they’ve already signed away their rights to book publishers, or don’t want to deal with asking permissions. Although, Salman Rushdie opted out for his own reasons (“Sorry to be old-fashioned”). And another author was concerned with moral rights, and how his work could be used in publications that disagree with him. He asked his agent for advice and they decided it was best to stick with what they knew.

We don’t pretend to know what’s right for each individual author. Many of the people who write for us sell books or articles for a living. Just because they agree to the Creative Commons on openDemocracy they may not change their practices otherwise. But it might inspire them to change over in the future.

CC: openDemocracy is asking its authors on a going forward basis to publish their works under a Creative Commons license. Do you have a sense of what the likely reaction will be going forward?

oD: Our focus has been on creating an internal system that would make it easy for authors to opt in to Creative Commons licensing over the Internet before we publish their articles. The Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license is going to be our default license. In special cases we will allow people to go for traditional “all rights reserved” copyright, or, like Siva Vaidhyanathan, to opt for a license that is even more permissive. Siva opted to allow derivative works.

Already we’re setting “free” articles by writers in Mexico, Poland, the Netherlands, Spain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Nepal, Indian, Australia, the UK and United States. The list is even longer. This is a day to celebrate. We’re serious about the need for a Creative Commons and we’re serious about taking it worldwide.

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From LA’s Awesometown to New York City’s SNL

Matt Haughey, October 1st, 2005

Wired News posted an article yesterday covering the story of LA-based comedy collective The Lonely Island. Like most comedians, they spent years trying to get discovered but they did one thing unusual: they posted all their comedy shorts and songs to their extensive website with Creative Commons licenses. Thanks to their licensed music, they soon found other artists began making remixes of their tunes which they also posted.

Earlier this year, they got tapped to create a comedy pilot episode (called Awesometown) for Fox TV, but Fox eventually passed on the show. Instead of letting the show wither on a shelf somewhere, the group posted the full video both cut and uncut. The edgy, quirky short spread like wildfire online and eventually landed all three performers an audition spot for Saturday Night Live (SNL).

Tonight’s episode of SNL is the season debut, featuring all three members of The Lonley Island as part of the show. Andy Samberg will be a cast member, with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer as writers. Creative Commons would like to congratulate Lonely Island and wish them good luck and fun times in NYC.

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Share the Debate About the Future of Canadian Copyright Laws

Mia Garlick, September 30th, 2005

To coincide with Canada’s new round of digital copyright reform in the form of Bill C-60, a new book has been released – ‘In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law’ – online under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 Canada license and in a physical format for CA$50. Bill C-60 has been proposed to implement the WIPO Copyright Treaty and WIPO Performers & Phonograms Treaty, which notably require the introduction of anticircumvention measures and rights management information protections, and the clarification of the rights of ISPS – all important issues for the digital world.

Edited by Michael Geist, the book contains 19 peer reviewed essays, each by a different expert and each analyzing a different issue addressed by the Bill. It will certainly serve as an interesting series of reflections at this stage of debates surrounding copyright and online issues.

It is a great step that a major Canadian publisher is willing set a precedent for its fellow publishers and try Creative Commons licensing.

Of course, the fact that the authors have agreed to donate the royalties to Creative Commons in no way lessens our support for your right to copy and redistribute under the Creative Commons license….

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Gorillas using licenses in the wild

Mike Linksvayer, September 30th, 2005

Not quite, but gorillas have been observed using tools (a category that includes licenses and sticks) in the wild, as described in the widely publicized PLoS Biology paper First Observation of Tool Use in Wild Gorillas.

Congratulations to the Public Library of Science (and the gorillas). This would be a good time to note that PLoS has recently launched PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics, and PLoS Pathogens, adding to the existing PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine, with PLoS Clinical Trials coming next year.

All PLoS journals publish cutting edge research under a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Visit our Science Commons site for more information on open access scientific publishing using Creative Commons licenses.

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Getting a Reasonable IP Education

Mia Garlick, September 27th, 2005

A lecture on Creative Commons will form part of the induction training programme for incoming graduate research students at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, this week. Andrea Rota, who is a member of the Liquid Culture project at Goldsmith’s College, will be giving the lecture on “A range of protections and freedoms for researchers, authors and artists” as part of the scheduled activities for new graduate research students in induction week. Of course, the lecture materials themselves are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license. The induction training programme includes sessions dedicated to copyright and IP issues for research students. This year the Research Office and, in particular, Pádraig O’Connor, worked together with Liquid Culture, a student-led project focused on Creative Commons, to deliver a complementary view on copyright issues besides the traditional “all rights reserved” one.

A welcome initiative bringing balance back into education about intellectual property issues.

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Webzine weekender

Mike Linksvayer, September 23rd, 2005

If you’re near San Francisco this weekend, come over to Webzine 2005‘s independent online publishing workshops, exhibitions, forums, and parties. Nearly all of the events have some relevance to free culture. One highlight is Saturday’s featured speaker, Jacob Appelbaum, who has CC licensed thousands of photos, including a huge collection of post-Katrina photos, via Flickr.

I and Jon Phillips (recent addition to the CC crew; more later) will be present, and will also present on a topic to be announced in the Master’s Lounge. Also catch Webzine co-organizer and Get Creative/Reticulum Rex animator Ryan Junell, if you can.

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The Economist hears no evil

Mike Linksvayer, September 21st, 2005

The Economist magazine September 17-23 edition has a very positive article on Magnatune, Hear no evil (subscription required).

Magnatune has exceeded Mr Buckman’s expectations in music licensing, another side of the business that has played a big part in helping it reach profitability. For non-commercial use, such as a school project, the site allows music to be used under a “Creative Commons” license, a concept devised by Lawrence Lessig, a law professor and crusader for internet freedom. For commercial use, Magnatune makes licenses available quickly and cheaply online. This business is growing at 30%, as Magnatune has become popular with independent filmmakers looking for soundtracks.

The article also contains a key challenge and opportunity for Magnatune, Creative Commons, and the Internet:

Magnatune’s weakness is that it does not have the resources to propel its artists into the mainstream via radio and television.



It will only take one rock star born on the internet, after all, for everyone to pronounce the old model completely dead.

It’s about discovery now.
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The Mexican President Gets It (CC)

Mia Garlick, September 16th, 2005

Leon & Jorge from the CC Mexico team have been working with representatives of the Presidency of Mexico so that some of the Internet radio shows that are streamed and podcast by the Mexico en Linea station are CC-licensed. The Mexican government’s project on open source software is also promoting the CC Mexican team by reciprocal linking. This is a tremendous effort given the CC Mexico project was only started earlier this year. Stayed tuned for announcements of more freedoms & openness in Mexico.

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Critical Evaluation Exercise

Mike Linksvayer, September 15th, 2005

iGeneration, a group blog by University of Western Australia academicsstudents (note that every link is footnoted) has added a post examining the Creative Commons weblog (i.e., the one you’re reading now) to their “Critical Evaluation Exercise” series:

By evaluating the organisation’s blog through the lens of this mission statement, taking into account the interactive nature of the blog structure itself as well as its content, we can attempt to evaluate the way the Creative Commons blog[8] can be situated into debates surrounding participatory culture and digital communication.



The Creative Commons blog provides a touchstone for that which the movement advocates: the democratisation of participatory culture through the provision of easy-to-use intellectual property practices which empower digital media users to freely exchange information, while retaining ownership of their creations.

Basically we provide many cool and relevant links. :-)

In that tradition, and to make up for this self-referential post, a cool and relevant link that doesn’t mention Creative Commons (but should!)–Backyard Filmmakers are Hollywood’s Greatest Fear. Feel that participatory culture!

Update: Tama Leaver sends a correction:

The iGeneration blog is part of a Communication Studies Honours course run at the University of Western Australia and the contributors are still undergraduate students (not yet academics, although I’m sure they enjoyed the promotion in status!)

I’m running the unit and am an almost-academic (ie grad student in the last few months before submission of a doctoral thesis in December), so there aren’t any fully fledged academics involved as such! :)

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Pawtucket Film Festival

Mike Linksvayer, September 12th, 2005

The Pawtucket Film Festival, September 10-23 (Rhode Island, United States) includes several Creative Commons-licensed films. Watch the PFF Online Filmcast provided by Open Network Television. From the press release (PDF):

As a part of the PFF Online, select filmmakers will be making their work available under copyright licenses generated by the Creative Commons giving them a “flexible range of protections and freedoms” to utilize in their digital distribution. Nathanial Freitas, co-founder of ONTV, says, “In the same way digital music is changing the way musical artists share thier work, filmmakers are seeing the value of completely new distribution models that connect them with viewers and demonstrate the trust they share with their audience.”

The first three films available online are all CC-licensed:
Big O by Julie Miller,
Strawberry Fields preview by Kaveh Nabatian and
Sayeh by Kaveh Nabatian, Shannon Walsh, and Nicolas Rutigliano.

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