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Creative Commons @ 5 years

Lawrence Lessig, October 1st, 2007

Five years ago this December, we launched Creative Commons. At a party with music by DJ Spooky, and video endorsements by John Perry Barlow and (the late) Jack Valenti, we began to implement a gaggle of legal hacks to let the copyright system better reflect the views of many artists, authors, educators, and scientists. Some of those ideas bombed. But the core flourished — far beyond the wildest dreams of any of us back then. We have taken the insight of the Free Software Movement, and made it real in the space of culture, science and education. There is now a language to signal the freedoms creators support, and a set of legal and technical tools to make those freedom stick.

In the five years since our launch, we have grown up fast. In 2004, we incubated an international movement supporting the ideals of the Internet and cultural freedom (iCommons). This year we spun that organization out as an independent UK-based charity. In 2005, we launched a project to support a commons within science (Science Commons). This year Science Commons launched the Neurocommons, an e-research project built exclusively on open scientific literature and databases, and the Materials Transfer Project, an extension of the ideas of the commons to physical tools such as gene plasmids and cell lines. And just two months ago, we announced a significant grant that has enabled us to launch a project focused on learning and education (ccLearn). There is now a staff of over 30 in four offices around the world, supporting thousands of volunteers in more than 70 local jurisdiction projects around the world, who, in turn, support the millions of objects that have been marked with the freedoms that CC licenses enable.

Our work so far has provided a legal infrastructure to support what our chairman, Joi Ito, calls the “sharing economy.” It recognizes that in addition to the amazing creativity of authors and artists who want to sell their work, there is amazing creativity by scientists, teachers, authors, artists and the rest of us who simply want to share our creativity. CC has provided this economy of giving an infrastructure to support that giving. We have enabled a platform that makes the choice clear, and literally millions of creative works have been offered on that platform.

But this year we have added one more important layer to our tools. Building upon our metadata architecture, we have added a simple way for creators to both share, and profit from the creativity that they share. This is the CC+ project. An artist, for example, can release her work under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial license, but then, using the CC+ infrastructure, enable those who want commercial rights (or anything else beyond the freedoms granted in the license) to link to a site that can provide those other rights. In this way, CC now helps support a hybrid economy of creativity. We provide a simple platform to protect and enable those who want to share; and we’ve built a simple way to cross over from that sharing economy for those who want to profit from their creativity.

This December will also mark my fifth year leading CC, first as Chairman of the Board, and now as CEO. It has been wildly more amazing and more difficult than I ever expected. It is extraordinary to see the success of a powerful and successful team. Yet it is extraordinarily difficult to feel the constant obligation to make sure the organization continues to have the financial support it needs to keep the work going.

I will continue to devote every hour I can to supporting the work of CC. Though my academic focus has moved beyond copyright — see http://lessig.org/blog/2007/06/required_reading_the_next_10_y_1.html — I remain committed to this organization, and to its success. I will remain its CEO. But my primary aim now is to put Creative Commons on a solid financial footing, to guarantee the next five years at least. That security will begin if we can meet the goal we have for this campaign — $500,000.

Over the next few months, we will share five stories by five prominent members of the CC community. They will give you a fuller idea of where we are, and where we are going. But as we have done for three years now, these missives have a mission. We want them to inspire you to support us again.

If you’d like to receive these via email, visit http://creativecommons.org/about/lessigletter.

Please enjoy the story of CC @ 5. And please help us secure another 5 at http://support.creativecommons.org/donate.

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