Free? Open? Content? Expression?

Mia Garlick, May 1st, 2006

In the software world, the concepts of “free software” and “open source” have defined meanings. With the development of licenses governing content, the terms “free content” and “open content” have become commonly used but without clear definitions. An initiative has been started by Erik Möller and Benjamin Mako Hill to define what “free content” or “free expression” (the very word content is itself up for debate in this process) means and which licenses satisfy this definition. There is also a contest to devise a logo that can be attached to works or licenses which are free under the new definition.

The full announcement for this undertaking is here.

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Environmental Information Now CC-Free

Mia Garlick, April 30th, 2006

Earth Trends, a project of the World Resources Initiative, has just announced that it has opted to license much of the content at its site under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. Earth Trends “is a comprehensive online database, maintained by the World Resources Institute, that focuses on the environmental, social, and economic trends that shape our world.”

Earth Trends explains that it made the decision to adopt CC-licensing because “we have always encouraged the replication, modification, and dissemination of the information that you find on EarthTrends. But perhaps that has not been explicit.” Of course, the data that is found at Earth Trends that is not copyrightable can still be freely used and reused (although they, of course, appreciate the recognition).

This is a great decision that should assist in enabling us all to learn more about the state of our planet, which will hopefully motivate us all to do something about improving it. For more information about how Creative Commons licensing interacts with databases and data, check out the Science Commons Database FAQ.

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More Flickr/CC reuse

Mike Linksvayer, April 27th, 2006

Last November Steve Jurveston documented use of one of his photos on the Charlie Rose Show in accordance with the CC Attribution license used for the photo. Now Jurveston writes that some of his photos on Flickr have been used in a travel guide:

When I
started posting photos on flickr, I never thought they’d be anything
but curiosities…. geek stuff and macro shots of bugs.

I was happily surprised to see that 6 of my photos will be in a new Hawaii Travel Guide by Schmap. They use CC licensed photos from flickr to enhance their maps.


Photo by Steve Jurveston licensed under CC BY. This is one of the photos used in the travel guide.

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Amazing entries at the Crammed Discs Remix Contest

Eric Steuer, April 27th, 2006

The Crammed Discs Remix Contest at ccMixter only began accepting submissions yesterday, and we’ve already got a few incredible entries. A couple of early faves: “Psychedelic Hospital” by Lipo (also known as NOMANSLAND on ccMixter) and the “Sanidade” remix by Foundation IV.

Calling all producers: you’ve got about a month left to enter the fray! Visit ccMixter to download audio source files from Cibelle, DJ Dolores, and Apollo Nove (all offered to the public for free under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license), and use them to make your own remixes. Nine winning tracks will appear on a Crammed/ccMixter remix project to be sold online through digital music stores. For more information, please see our press release.

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Reopening the Sundman files

Mike Linksvayer, April 27th, 2006

Gonzo SF novelist John Sundman was an early adopter of Creative Commons and of publishing books on the web before Creative Commons existed. About three years ago I read his first two books, Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices (both highly recommended) and intended to interview him shortly after. The interview didn’t happen (entirely my fault), but with serialization of The Pains now is an opportune time to reopen the Sundman files…

Three years ago you licensed two books under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license, now you’re serializing a third, The Pains, under the current version of the same license. As a repeat user, how has Creative Commons and this license worked for you?

The biggest consequence of my using the Creative Commons license has been the change in my own head.

In 1999, in what was a relatively rare move at the time, I put the first 13 chapters of Acts of the Apostles, in HTML, up on my website wetmachine. This was a teaser, about one third of the book. If you wanted to read the rest of the story, you had to buy the book from me. This strategy worked very well. I was a totally unknown, self-published author, and within a few months I was getting book orders from everywhere. Michigan! Florida! Saskatchewan! Korea! Sweden! Singapore! I was so paranoid about “losing sales” to people who would read the whole book online that I didn’t even have the sources on a machine that was connected to the Internet.

In 2002, I put the first bit of Cheap Complex Devices online in HTML, and made the PDF of the whole book available for five bucks. This was an honor system, no DRM, and I was nervous about it. I sold about a hundred such licenses, which was a pretty easy way to earn $$.

Then I went to Etech in 2003 and found out about Creative Commons, and impulsively in the spirit of the moment, I put the complete sources to both books up. I actually did this while at Etech, with the help of Rusty Foster, of Kuro5hin fame.

Already my thinking had started to change. Whereas before I had been concerned about “canabalizing” sales of my books (and ebooks), I had started to become more concerned with creating a wider audience. I saw what Cory Doctorow was doing, self-promotionwise, and it was clear that he was a rising star. Now, I love Cory and his books, but I don’t think they’re any better than my own, so I had to ask myself “why him and not me”? And part of the answer, in addition to his incredible work ethic and outgoing personality and sheer volume of output, was that he was giving his stuff away, and even encouraging people to mash it up. “Mashing up” was and still is considered “ripping off” by lots and lots of people — I used to be in that camp — and so his way of looking at things was a challenge to me. But the results were good for him, and besides, it looked like fun.

People continue to download my books and they continue to buy print copies. I assume that having the free PDFs has contributed to my overall sales rate of printed books, but I have no way to test that hypothesis. It’s not like I’m getting rich off of this hobby, by the way. In a good year I make a few thousand bucks. I could probably make more money with a lemonade stand. But I’m certain that having the books available has made them more visible, and has made self publishing at least plausible, and more fun. People assume self-published books suck, and I used to spend a lot of energy defending myself to cynics and skeptics. But when your books are completely available for free online, you don’t have to spend any energy at all trying to convince people that you are a legitimate writer. And now Cory Doctorow has initiated this meme that I’m a “gonzo SF novelist.” Hey look, I’m a rock star! That’s kind of neat.

The reason I like the Creative Commons “no derivatives” license is that I think at least one of my books would make a great movie, and it would piss me off no end if some big corporate studio were to get rich off of it and not compensate me. I don’t like big media companies, in general. So Creative Commons makes me feel like I’m not totally naked in that respect. (Not that I think that was a likely development, but one never knows, does one?)

Nowadays I don’t spend any energy at all worrying about how to “protect” my investment in writing. I just don’t think about it. Rather, I think about how to make more of the opportunities afforded by today’s technology. I’m pretty old fashioned in a lot of ways and I’m not of the gee-whiz camp that a lot of your readers are. I’m more of a technoparanoid than a champion of the future. But I figure that I’m not going to stop the tide, so I might as well have some fun surfing.

Thanks for that very informative answer. I hate to be a pain but there’s an obvious followup. The “no derivatives” part of the license is a blanket prohibition on derivative works (excepting fair use of course), including noncommercial “mash ups.” The noncommercial provision by itself prevents big corporate studios (or anyone) from making money with your work without first negotiating with you. Usually people use a “no derivatives” license because they don’t want their message changed or in the interest of artistic integrity. Could you expand on why you chose “no derivatives” or perhaps consider switching to a license that allows derivatives as Cory did after a year? :-)

For the time being I think I’ll leave as is for three reasons:

1) Because the artwork is copyrighted to the artist, Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming, I don’t want to offer a blanket release on rights to my part of the book lest there be any confusion about that. He and I have not worked out how we feel about modifications to “the-thing-as-it-is”. Also, because the roll-out is incremental and so forth, I’m exploring new territory. Therefore I want to control some of the variables.

2) In the case of a translation into a foreign language, I would at least like to discuss the approach with the translator. Especially since that’s a case that naturally lends itself to financial
transactions. I do point out that in the cases where I’ve been approached for translation rights to Acts of the Apostles, I have given them, with no charge. I don’t know if the translations ever appeared, although I do know a translation into Russian was at least begun.

3) I’m lazy and don’t want to bother updating the website, or even thinking any more about this, before you post the blog entry.

I’m especially sympathetic with the third reason given that it’s taken me three years to conduct this interview. Thanks again for the informative answers and good luck with The Pains serialization!

Check out John Sundman’s books on

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Summer of Code student proposals open May 1

Mike Linksvayer, April 26th, 2006

As previously announced Creative Commons is participating in Google’s Summer of Code as a mentoring organization. Please visit our summer of code ideas page and if you’re a student, start working on a proposal.

An over-the-top ideal proposal would include support for RDFa, remixing, and affordances for educational and worldwide (not just wealthy regions) use. Ability to release under an open source license and incorporation of some Creative Commons affordance are necessary. However, a solid proposal is far more important than buzzword compliance. Please read Google’s Summer of Code Student FAQ and advice from past participants as you create your proposal. Good luck!

Coincidentally Chris DiBona, Google’s Open Source Programs Manager, will be speaking at the next CC Salon San Francsico on May 10, two days after the SoC student proposal submission period ends.

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The Only Way To Spend World IP Day

Mia Garlick, April 26th, 2006

April 26, 2006 has been designated by WIPO member states as “World IP Day.” The aim of the day is to “to raise awareness of the role of intellectual property in our daily lives, and to celebrate the contribution made by innovators and artists to the development of societies across the globe.”

The theme of this year’s event is “the power of ideas as the seedbed for innovation and creativity.” As we all know, ideas – at least in copyright – are not subject to protection and hence why they can form the seedbed for innovation and creativity – because they can be borrowed and shared and freely disseminated around the globe. A list of events taking place around the world is provided here. One event which was omitted from this list is the event which took place last night, a gathering in Second Life to discuss the topic “21st Century Creativity in a Copyright World: How Can the Potential Be Realised?”.

It was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion – including the forced shut down of Richard Neville’s satirical site pretending to be that of the Australian Prime Minister apologising about the Iraq war, the American Edit shut down, the trials and tribulations of securing podcasting licenses from British music rights societies — among other topics.

Really, is there any better way to acknowledge World IP Day than surrounded by people dressed as avatars dressed as green men and devils, and fire hydrants and post boxes? (…and don’t you just hate it when you avatar blinks in photos)

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The Dream of a Virtual European Digital Library – Will CC Licensing Play a Role?

Mia Garlick, April 24th, 2006

The European Commission is investigating a digital libraries initiative that “aims at making European information resources easier and more interesting to use in an online environment.” As part of a background paper, the Commission discussed the range of technical, legal, operational and financial challenges such an initiative would encounter and specifically noted that Creative Commons licenses provide an example of “[v]oluntary sharing of content that can have an important place in shaping the common information sphere.” (at p13)

As part of its investigation into the feasibility of a virtual European Library, the Commission conducted an online consultation which had questions ranging from topics such as digitisation and online accessibility, orphan works, public domain materials and digital preservation issues. Creative Commons submitted comments, as did some 200 other organizations. CC licensing was mentioned in as many as 60 different comments.

The Commission has now released an overview of the results of its online consulation in English, in French and in German. Creative Commons licensing is mentioned in the overview as one of the suggested measures to enable accessibility to copyrighted materials whilst also respecting the legitimate interests of the author and as a means to render more transparent and widely known the availability of public domain and other material to facilitate its subsequent use.

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The Wombat Speaks

Mia Garlick, April 21st, 2006

Zenigma, BY 2.0

Had fun presenting in Second Life last night…great crowd with interesting questions…there was quite a rush to get the CC-Ts at the end which was a fun choas and several people made their way over to the CC donation jar (which wasn’t even at the event location) & $420 linden dollars were donated to CC – thank you!!

As with all things SL, it was a collaborative effort with Joi & his team providing the venue (thank you Aimee for donating the colosseum build), Alex & Jen assisting at the CC end with technical issues and preparing for the event, Liana for being patient with our newbie questions about SL and James for generating interest with his publicity (which attracted Boing Boing’s attention!!).

James has already posted a brief report about the event and there are (of course) photos posted to Flickr here and here. Slides are here. Transcript should be ready by Monday, if anyone is interested.

If you missed this event or liked it and want to participate in future ones, join us in SL again at Pooley for a seminar on World Intellectual Property day at 2pm (East Coast Australia time) on Wednesday 26 April 2006 (for some of us it will actually be the day before World IP day because Australia is so far ahead in so many things, including time (we wombats have to support our peeps)). The discussion will include copyright, fair use, blogs, mash-ups, parody, and much more. Participants will include Brian Fitzgerald and Nic Suzor from the CC Australia team, Richard Neville and Dean Whitbread from among others.

Update: Thanks to James, the transcript is now available here.

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Copyright-free images lead to a fun animation

Mia Garlick, April 21st, 2006

So the the American Institute of Graphics Arts (AIGA for short) and the U.S. Department of Transportation released a set of 50 universal symbols “copyright-free” online. The symbols are “designed for use at the crossroads of modern life: in airports and other transportation hubs and at large international events.” They are intended to be clearly legible from a distance and comprehensible to people of different ages and cultures.

Iain Anderson took these images and produce a digital short called “airport”, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. As Iain says “I’m especially happy to see many blogs in different languages linking to airport, especially as that was the idea. I mean, the symbols were meant for international word-free understanding, it only makes sense that the animation should be word-free and universally understandable too.”

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