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Investigating CC’s welfare impact, the first step

Tal Niv, October 3rd, 2010

CC has recently started thinking more rigorously about its contribution to the world. See the first post in this series for an introduction.

Alright. So a few months back, on my second day at CC, I sat excitedly at a CC desk, opened a new document, and expected myself to outline a general plan for the impact project. Nothing happened. And you can trust me, I was really aching to begin, since by the second, I could see with increasingly radiant lucidity that this project could potentially pave the way for a brand new field of thought, crucially important in terms of the impacts that it can instantiate. After all, a rigorous analysis of the value contribution could expose how effective collaboration and sharing is, and how distinctly important it is to promote it. This in turn could strengthen the creative capacity of the creative communities, on their artists, scientists, educators, learners, content generators, readers through the auxiliary platforms, providing technical and legal assistance.

But I am babbling. The point is that I very much wanted to start, but that found it very difficult. The roadblock, I came to realize, was that I had an essential primary step before me, which was to offer an initial description of the CC enterprise, one which would be manageable enough for effective evaluation. CC, after all, is a varied enterprise, which operates on many levels to promote its goal of promoting the creative commons. Where the analyst really starts sweating, is the point it becomes clear to her that on each level, CC contributes to welfare in a way that must be taken into account, and that these levels are inextricably interrelated. Or in other words, the contribution on one level, promotes the contribution stemming from the others and so on and so forth.

So after carefully analyzing what CC actually does, I came up with a three-part categorization of the range of CC activities. This categorization is based on size really, and I came up with it thinking about what CC does through a contribution lens. First, I thought that every time someone uses a CC-tool, a license or a mark, a range of advantages, potential and actual, is being accrued. Then, I thought that the support of a platform of tools creates a set of advantages, potential and actual, in its own stead and on a slightly higher level. Second, I thought that CC, by its very existence as an institution is promoting a set of advantages on a more macro level, by virtue of offering institutional support. Thirdly, it seemed to me that there is a way by which CC is operating as a pure power in the even higher space of how cultural enterprises take place, trying to nurture the existing motivations to share and to collaborate into standard practices in each of the communities which it supports.

To recap, what I am offering is to think of CC as an enterprise operating on three separate spheres, each with its distinct, although definitely not independent, value contribution. The first is the contribution to transactions between actors in the creative fields, the second is the institutional contribution and the third is the contribution in the normative field.

The idea is that this can serve as the baseline for analysis, a fundamental categorization which lends itself to further sub-categorization, by field, by activity, by actor and by CC tool, but that doesn’t lose track of the way all of these tie into the one primary goal.

To say just a little bit more about each:
1. transactional contribution
The transactional contribution: the fields in which CC operates are fields where many actors of many different types are operating. The ability of these actors to collaborate is, therefore, very sensitive to costs of search, of recognition and of cooperation. CC, by offering a range of legal and technical tools, is equipping these actors with legal and technical capacities to reduce these costs substantially. In some cases, the reduction is so meaningful as to permit an enterprise to take place, and in other cases, it just makes it better. Relatedly, the availability of tools and platforms might promote the introduction of new entrants to the fields, which in turn varies and augments the range of collaborative enterprises of all types. Under this proposed analysis, CC’s transational contribution ranges between micro advantages created by each usage of the tool, and a slightly higher level contribution which is instantiated through the existence of the full platform of tools.

2. institutional contribution
Many Economists have pointed out that the efficiency of modern markets is promoted by the existence of a stable and certain legal framework. CC is clearly operating within the Intellectual Property framework to enhance it, relying on its own institutional framework, in a way that facilitates the optimization of social production markets.

3. norm contribution
As an organization, which is active in the space of creation and its regulation, CC influences it by weighing in on the evolution of its norms. There is a distinct difference between this and the other two spheres of contribution; What through the lens of the other two spheres appears as an independent factor existing as the environment to which CC sets itself to contribute to, is under the third pillar the actual target that it sets out to influence.

Again, this is not to say that when it comes to value creation these categories are clear-cut. In fact, there are constant cross-influences between the spheres of operation which impacts greatly CC’s contribution under each. For example, a shift in the norm space directly influences the extent of the reliance on the CC institution in the different social markets, and the ensuing benefits that can be derived through usage of each CC tool. In addition, an institutional move increasing the certainty of the collaborative legal Intellectual Property environment increases the benefits stemming from each usage of a CC tool, and in turn facilitates a normative move in the direction of a tighter community of cultural actors inside the different fields. I could go on and on.

Still, the fact that the value areas are co-dependent does not suggest that the categorization is faulty nor that it is ineffective. Instead, interdependency is the attribute of a clear goal which is being pursued using more than one strategy. Yet importantly, there is nothing mandatory or essential about this categorization. In fact, it is just one out of numerous possible ones. What speaks in its favor is its clarity and the fact that economic analysis has developed to analyze contribution of each type, micro-transactional, transactional and institutional at least, if not the contribution of changes in the normative playing-field.

However–and this is important–this categorization may not be the most effective for value analysis. There definitely can be other categorizations, ones that may be more true to the depiction of the CC enterprise, and that may even be more prone for evaluation. In other words, if you have any thoughts, please share them with us–having us all think about this is part of the point.

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