Commons News

Creative Commons’ First Ever Africa Convening

Jessica Coates, July 10th, 2012

Creative Commons Africa Convening 2012
Creative Commons Africa Convening 2012 / Ibtihel Zaatouri / CC BY

On June 26-27, Creative Commons hosted a historic event — the very first meeting of its community held on the African continent, the CC Africa Regional Convening 2012.

Held in Entebbe, Uganda, on the shores of Lake Victoria, the meeting brought together nearly 50 volunteers from more than 15 countries to discuss Creative Commons and its role in Africa, with a particular focus on open education and digital media. It was ably by hosted CC’s Ugandan affiliates, the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) and the National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU), with the support of the Macarthur Foundation as the major sponsor.

Attendees included representatives of Creative Commons’ communities in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tunisia, and South Africa, as well as representatives of government, education, academia, private industry, and CC’s peers in the broader open community. Also in attendance were members of CC’s international community, including Renata Avila from CC Guatemala and Naeema Zarif of CC’s Lebanon community, who presented on work their communities have been undertaking that could be replicated in Africa.

Catherine Ngugi of OER Africa
Catherine Ngugi / Ibtihel Zaatouri
CC BY

The meeting was styled primarily as a discussion forum, with the majority of time spent meeting each other, learning about open activities across the continent, discussing priorities for the future of CC in Africa, and planning collaborative projects in the region. However, it also included a number of important presentations, including an introduction to Open Educational Resources (OER) and their role in Africa by Catherine Ngugi of OER Africa, and a closing address by Mrs. Mercy Kentaro Kyomugasho of the Uganda Intellectual Property Office on why governments and communities need to be aware of open culture.

The primary outcome of the meeting was a list of priority topics, priority projects, and proposed activities for CC’s affiliates and the broader African community to pursue. Priority areas of work identified during the meeting included open educational resources, government adoption of open policies, and health initiatives, while proposed activities included a touring bus promoting open projects and the creation of a centralised African repository of CC materials. These outcomes, and other resources from the meeting, can be found on the meeting’s wiki page.

In all, the convening was a resounding success, and a great starting point for CC’s Africa community to grow and work together. We thank all those who attended, and look forward to seeing some of the exciting initiatives planned during the meeting become a reality.

Creative Commons Africa Convening 2012 crowd
Creative Commons Africa Convening 2012 crowd / Ibtihel Zaatouri / CC BY

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Meet our new Counsel, Communications Manager, and Director of Strategic Partnerships

Jane Park, July 6th, 2012

Recently, three awesome people joined the CC team, including Kat Walsh (new CC Counsel), Elliot Harmon, (new CC Communications Manager), and Sara Crouse (new CC Director of Strategic Partnerships). You’ll be seeing their names pop up often in email exchanges, at events, and on this blog.


Kat joins us with an extensive background in the free culture and software communities. She has been a board member of the Wikimedia Foundation since 2006, where her focus is on legal and community issues, and she was previously a policy analyst at the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy. Kat has a BA from Stetson University and a JD from George Mason University. In her secret double life, she is a classical musician, performing on bassoon and viola.


Elliot has worked in the non-profit sector for eight years, mostly in the arts and technology. He has a degree in English and theatre from the University of South Dakota and a Master’s in writing from the California College of the Arts. When he’s not thinking about CC’s communications strategy, he’s often thinking about cooking, poetry, or music. He also wrote this recent CC post on how support for Open Access to science research is growing.


Sara also joins us with a background in free culture. From 2008-11, Sara was Head of Partnerships & Foundation Relations for the Wikimedia Foundation. Previously, she worked in development for Cambridge in America; and at several non- and for-profit ventures based in New York City. Sara is on the board of the Global Lives Project. She has a joint Masters in Journalism and French Studies from New York University, and a B.A. in French and English Literature from Georgetown University. Most days, Sara can be found attempting diplomatic negotiation on behalf of open knowledge, crafting with words, or inventing easier ways to do things at the office. Otherwise, she is likely hiking, cooking, reading, or out and about in San Francisco; most always with her dogs.

Please join us in welcoming our new team members. We hope to do great work in furthering openness together.

You can read more about each of them, and the rest of the Creative Commons team, at our staff page.

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CC News: Help Us Build a School of Open

Elliot Harmon, July 5th, 2012

Stay up to date with CC news by subscribing to our weblog and following us on Twitter.

Help Us Build a School of Open

The School of Open is a collaboration between Creative Commons and P2PU (Peer 2 Peer University). Its aim is to provide easily digestible educational exercises, resources, and professional development courses that help individuals and institutions learn about and employ open tools, such as the CC licenses.

Why build a School of Open? Universal access to and participation in research, education, and culture is made possible by openness, but not enough people know what it means or how to take advantage of it. We imagine artists, educators, learners, scientists, archivists, and other creators improving their fields via the use of open tools and materials.

Participate in our upcoming events and find out how you can get involved with the School of Open.

Read more.


Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom
Holger Motzkau 2010 / Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
CC BY-SA

Honoring Elinor Ostrom

A collective sigh of sadness went around the Creative Commons community last month when we heard that Elinor Ostrom passed away. Elinor is greatly admired for her pioneering studies on the governance of common-pool resources (the Commons) and collective action across the fields of economics, social science, politics and policy.

Her seminal book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, was published in 1990; however, Elinor’s work on common property began in the 1960s. Her studies showed that “ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources,” and resources held in the commons may reduce potential over-use or under-investment, and so enable sustainability. At the time of publication it debunked the conventional thinking that ‘common-pool’ finite resources required ‘top down’ regulation or private ownership to maximize their utility and prevent depletion.

Read more.

Please Help Us Free Bassel, Open Source Developer and CC Volunteer

On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location.

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-born Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.

Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him.

Read more.

In other news:

  • Attention musicians: it’s time for the fourth annual Free! Music! Contest. Enter your CC-licensed works and celebrate free music.
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Support Grows for Open Access to Science Research

Elliot Harmon, June 29th, 2012

PeerJ Founders Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt
PeerJ Founders Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt / Duncan Hull / CC BY

In their excellent Washington Post opinion piece, Matt Cooper and Elizabeth Wiley suggest that federally funded research should be freely accessible over the Internet. They argue that when students lose their access to academic databases after graduation, society doesn’t get the same benefits it could from that research:

Students’ library cards are a passport to the specialized knowledge found in academic journal articles — covering medicine and math, computer science and chemistry, and many other fields. These articles contain the cutting edge of our understanding and capture the genius of what has come before. In no uncertain terms, access to journals provides critical knowledge and an up-to-date education for tomorrow’s doctors, researchers and entrepreneurs.

But should that access cease at graduation? Or would you rather a graduating medical student, perhaps your future doctor, be able to keep up with the latest advances? Would you rather an ambitious graduate student feel comfortable leaving the academy to found the next Google, knowing she still has access to the latest insight in her field and is able to build upon it?

Cooper and Wiley’s organizations — the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students and the American Medical Student Association, respectively — joined Creative Commons and many other allies in support of a petition on Whitehouse.gov for free access to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research. The petition quickly reached its goal of 25,000 signatures, sending a clear message that it’s time for the government to rethink open access policies.

Meanwhile in Britain, the Minister for Universities and Science recently commissioned a study on how the UK could adopt open access for publicly-funded research. Dame Janet Finch and her team released their findings last week, championing in particular the “gold” route to open access.

But how do the publishers themselves fit into the discussion? Some are actively exploring open access publishing models. This month, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt unveiled PeerJ, a new kind of peer-reviewed academic publisher. Contributors pay a $99 lifetime membership fee, and all articles are licensed CC BY. Funded by Tim O’Reilly, PeerJ has been getting a lot of attention in the mainstream press.

Coincidentally, science publishing stalwart Nature has also adopted the CC BY license, through its open access component Scientific Reports. Previously, researchers could choose whether to license their works BY-NC-SA or BY-NC-ND. Starting July 1, they’ll have the CC BY option as well. Nature’s Jason Wilde explains the decision to drop the required noncommercial stipulation:

There has been much debate about commercial reuse on open access articles […] We believe in offering our authors choice. And we now know some authors will want to choose CC BY, not least as a result of new funder mandates. Unlike Nature Communications and our other titles, Scientific Reports does not have established revenues from commercial reprints or licensing, making it an economically viable proposition.

With governments, publishers, and the public all rethinking ways to make research more freely accessible, the climate seems right for a major shift toward open access.

Related: First Thoughts on the Finch Report: Good Steps but Missed Opportunities (Cameron Neylon)

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2012 Paris OER Declaration

Cable Green, June 29th, 2012

Ms. Catherine Ngugi and Letuimanu’asina Dr. Emma KRUSE VA'AI
Ms. Catherine Ngugi.. and Letuimanu’asina Dr. Emma KRUSE VA’AI / Mariana Bittencourt / CC BY

Through the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and in full partnership with the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), UNESCO hosted the 2012 World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress last week to:

  • showcase the world’s best practices in OER policies, initiatives, and experts;
  • release the 2012 Paris OER Declaration calling on Governments to support the development and use of OERs; and
  • celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2002 UNESCO Forum that created the term “OER.”

I am pleased to report UNESCO member States unanimously approved the “Paris OER Declaration” (pdf).

This Declaration is the result of a yearlong process, led by UNESCO and the COL with regional and online meetings and final negotiations at the Congress. The Declaration recommends UNESCO member States:

    a. Foster awareness and use of OER.

    b. Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).

    c. Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER.

    d. Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks.

    e. Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials.

    f. Foster strategic alliances for OER.

    g. Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts.

    h. Encourage research on OER.

    i. Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER.

    j. Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds.

The Declaration will now be delivered to UNESCO’s Director General. She will submit the Declaration to the UNESCO Executive Board on October, 2012. After the UNESCO Board approves the Declaration, it will go to the General Conference for final approval. While it is important to note a “Declaration” is a non-binding UNESCO instrument, a UNESCO declaration does “set forth universal principles to which the community of States wished to attribute the greatest possible authority and to afford the broadest possible support.”

OER Congress resources

Bravo to all who helped move the world to this moment! So many open advocates traveled to the regional meetings and to the Congress. Your contributions and work with your governments led us all to this successful outcome.

Lawrence Lessig’s Keynote (added 27 July, 2012):

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Please help us Free Bassel, open source developer and CC volunteer

Joi Ito, June 29th, 2012

What open means to you
Bassel / joi / CC BY

On March 15, 2012, Bassel Khartabil was detained in a wave of arrests in the Mazzeh district of Damascus. Since then, his family has received no official explanation for his detention or information regarding his whereabouts. However, his family has recently learned from previous detainees at the security branch of Kafer Sousa, Damascus, that Bassel is being held at this location.

Bassel Khartabil, a Palestinian-born Syrian, 31, is a respected computer engineer specializing in open source software development, the type of contributions the Internet is built upon. He launched his career ten years ago in Syria, working as a technical director for a number of local companies on cultural projects like restoring Palmyra and Forward Syria Magazine.

Since his arrest, Bassel’s valuable volunteer work, both in Syria and around the world, has been stopped. His absence has been painful for the communities that depend on him. In addition, his family, and his fiancée whom he was due to marry this past April, have had their lives put on hold.

Bassel Khartabil has been unjustly detained for nearly four months without trial or any legal charges being brought against him. — freebassel.org

This is our statement of Support to Bassel, his family and friends.

Creative Commons supports efforts to obtain the release of Bassel Safadi, a valuable contributor to and leader in the technology community. Bassel’s expertise and focus across all aspects of his work has been in support of the development of publicly available, free, open source computer software code and technology. He pursues this not only through his valuable volunteer efforts in support of Creative Commons, but in all of his work in the technology field. Through his efforts, the quality and availability of freely available and open technology is improved and technology is advanced.

Please help us #FREEBASSEL by signing the support letter at freebassel.org.

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Help us build a School of Open

Jane Park, June 28th, 2012

Some of you may have heard about a School of Open, especially if you follow us on Twitter/Identi.ca/Facebook, or if you’re already a part of the P2PU community and follow their blog. Whether you have or not, the School of Open is still very much a concept, and one which we invite you to join in building.

What open means to you
What open means to you / johndbritton / CC BY-SA

What is School of Open?

The School of Open is a collaboration between Creative Commons and P2PU (Peer 2 Peer University). Its aim is to provide easily digestible educational exercises, resources, and professional development courses that help individuals and institutions learn about and employ open tools, such as the CC licenses.

Why is CC doing this?

Also known as,

What problem are we trying to solve
What problem are we trying to solve? / johndbritton / CC BY-SA

Several reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Universal access to and participation in research, education, and culture is made possible by openness, but not enough people know what it means or how to take advantage of it. One solution: peer learning on what “open” means and how it applies to you, powered by mentors and learners like you, self-organized into study groups which themselves leverage existing “open” learning materials. We imagine artists, educators, learners, scientists, archivists, and other creators improving their fields via the use of open tools and materials. Eventually, we’d like to offer certification around “open” skills that result in the spread of openness.
  • The CC community has often expressed a need for more community/communications support regarding best practices, explanatory materials, help generally in convincing entities (whether GLAMs, IGOs, governments) to use CC and other open tools. The School of Open is a great place for this.
  • Community members have also expressed priorities regarding open advocacy and policy activities. The School of Open could be one venue for open advocates to work together to develop and provide these resources.
  • In regards to content that Creative Commons itself will develop: We want to provide better education around CC tools, and we would love community appropriation and adaptation/translation of these resources.

Working with P2PU

School of Open leverages P2PU’s active peer learning platform for developing courses, challenges, and study groups. The P2PU community has been a part of the open education movement since 2009 and promoted openness to the education sector. P2PU ran a number of successful courses on licensing for educators, which will become part of the School of Open. All peer-produced resources on p2pu.org are defaulted under CC BY-SA, the same license as Wikipedia.

School of Open is hosted on the P2PU platform, but courses will also link out to other websites and use a variety of social media tools. We want people to use (open) tools they are already comfortable with. The School of Open is the umbrella under which all of these activities are to take place, a landing spot for those who want get involved but follow different tracks.

Multiple Languages

You should feel free to develop materials in your native language, especially since we want education around openness to reach all cultures and sectors of society. Depending on interest/demand, the P2PU platform may incorporate additional languages (current user interface already translated into Spanish, Swedish, and Mandarin), or as mentioned above link out to the tools/resources that are being run in your language.

What is CC doing on School of Open now?

Essential elements of a School of Open
Essential elements of a School of Open / johndbritton / CC BY-SA

Jane Park (that’s me) is transitioning to be Project Manager in education at CC. A major component of my new position is to establish School of Open in collaboration with the CC, P2PU, and related open communities. First thing is to lay a road and skills map for School of Open, and seed the School with a few core resources and courses. Imminent events include:

  • Berlin, Germany (July 2012): School of Open month-long workshop as part of the P2PU pop-up office. Jane and P2PU community members will start mapping and developing some key components of the School. An evening hands-on event will be held Thur, 26 July in Berlin that is open to the public. You’re invited (RSVP here). If you’re nearby, please join us!
  • Helsinki, Finland (September 2012): OKFestival’s Open Research and Education track includes an “Open Peer Learning: School of Open and School of Data” workshop to engage the OKFN, CC, and European open communities. Will take place Wed afternoon, 19 September before the CC Europe regional meeting to allow CC affiliates to participate.
  • Palo Alto, CA, U.S. (October 2012): School of Open and Open Policy Institute convening to get key funders and representatives from the various “open” sectors on board and involved, eg. open policy, open licenses, open GLAM, open data, open science, open education, etc.
  • CC affiliate regional meetings (various): discussion and/or workshop on School of Open at these meetings (led by CC Affiliate Coordinator Jessica Coates)

Get Involved

In addition to participating in one of the above events, feel free to:

  • Sign up for announcements.
  • Check out the very alpha landing page, which also has the sign-up link
  • Read more about the origins
  • Add to this pad your ideas for the resource, course, or challenge you want to help create
  • Register for a P2PU account and create a test challenge, or just poke around
  • Email me and let me know what you did, or tell me how you want to get involved: janepark [at] creativecommons [dot] org
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Creative Commons Licensing in the World of Philanthropy

Andrew Blanco, June 26th, 2012

Having been here at Creative Commons for a couple of weeks now, I’m excited to share what I’m working on this summer as a Google Policy Fellow.

A quick introduction: I’m currently a graduate student in Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University. Before moving to Northern California, I lived in the Boston area where I worked at the Learning Games Network (LGN), a nonprofit spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade. While helping to develop a foundation-funded Open Educational Resource (OER) project at LGN, I came to appreciate the possibilities that open licensing can offer innovators in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors.

The project I’m working on during my ten weeks here focuses on the use of Creative Commons licenses in the world of philanthropy. Our goal is to provide best practices that will help foundation leaders implement open licensing policies and ensure that the work they fund is available for others to build upon. This follows in the footsteps of last year’s Foundation Funding: Open Licenses, Greater Impact, published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society as an updated version of its 2009 report, An Evaluation of Private Foundation Copyright Licensing Policies, Practices and Opportunities.

As the title of the Berkman Center’s update suggests, open licensing can be thought of as a force multiplier in the context of grant-making. Sharing the digital outputs of philanthropic investments under open licenses makes their reuse easier and increases their potential impact. If grantees produce documents, materials, or other content that could be applied in different settings or remixed in unanticipated ways that offer further social benefits, why not lower the barriers to these possibilities by automatically granting others permission (i.e., open licensing) to pursue these additional uses?

While a few foundations require or encourage their grantees to use open licenses in their work, this is not yet a standard practice. Some highlight their philosophies regarding open licensing, like the Shuttleworth Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, while others mandate specific licenses for selected programs or projects, like the Next Generation Learning Challenges initiative that’s funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

Creative Commons encourages philanthropic funders to help lead the way for greater use of open licensing within the nonprofit sector. To learn what works and develop best practices, we’re reaching out to foundations that have already incorporated open licensing into their grant-making processes, analyzing existing policies and the documents used to communicate them, and talking with others in the field to better understand the challenges to broader adoption. Our final output will be sample copyright licensing policies for foundations that want to establish new expectations for sharing the intellectual works they fund, while also preserving flexibility for those instances where reserving more rights might still make sense.

If you’re a staff member at a grant-making foundation and would like to learn more about this project, please contact us at info@creativecommons.org.

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Vote now for your favorite Why Open Education Matters video

Timothy Vollmer, June 25th, 2012

We’re happy to see so many great submissions to the Why Open Education Matters video competition. You can now view all the qualifying videos and vote for your favorite. The goal of the competition is to raise awareness of Open Educational Resources (OER) and solicit short, creative videos that help explain what Open Educational Resources are and how they can be beneficial for teachers, students, and schools everywhere around the world. The competition closed on June 5.

Our panel of judges is currently reviewing the entries and will choose the first ($25,000) and second ($5,000) prizes. The winner of the Public Choice Award will win $1,000. Click on a video to view it, read the voting instructions, and vote. Public Choice Award voting will end July 11, 2012. We hope to announce all the winners on July 18, 2012. Good luck!

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The (somewhat) latest developments in open data

Jane Park, June 21st, 2012

Some of these developments may be dated by a month or more, but we want to make sure they are on your radar by pointing them out here.

Several open data portals have launched, including a Brazilian Open Data portal powered by the open-source data cataloguing software CKAN (run by the Open Knowledge Foundation – OKFN). The Ministry of Planning in Brazil worked with the OKFN to develop the portal, cultivating citizen participation through an open and transparent development process. Furthermore, the portal itself carries a default license of CC BY-SA. Since its May 4 launch, the portal has grown and now hosts 79 data sets and 893 resources. As noted on the OKFN blog, “the portal is part of a larger project called the National Infrastructure Open Data, or INDA. The general idea of INDA is to establish technical standards for open data, promote training and support public bodies in the task of publishing open data. This entire process is done through intra-government cooperation and cooperation between government and citizens, always aiming to achieve a real platform for open government.”

You should also take note of the Open GLAM data portal. This portal also runs on CKAN and is a hub for open data sets from GLAM institutions, aka Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums. The datasets are licensed under various open licenses, and some with no rights attached thanks to the use of the CC0 public domain waiver.

Nobel Prize 2009-Press Conference KVA-30
School of Data logo / okfn / CC BY

In addition to open data portals, open data initiatives like the School of Data and the Open Data Institute are taking off. The School of Data is a collaboration between the OKFN and the Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to “create a set of courses for people to learn how to do interesting things with data, from beginners to experts.” In late May, the School of Data held a week-long kick-off sprint in Berlin with a virtual component, which I participated in by helping to start an open data challenge with virtual colleagues. The challenge is still in development, and once completed it will be a part of the School of Open as well as the School of Data. You can help to build it at the P2PU platform.

The kick-off yielded a great foundation for many other data tracks as part of the School of Data, which you can read about here.

The Open Data Institute is an initiative by the UK government to “incubate, nurture and mentor new businesses exploiting Open Data for economic growth” and to “promote innovation driven by the UK Government Open Data policy.” £10m will be invested over five years by the Technology Strategy Board, a non-departmental public body. The UK government has published its implementation plan as a pdf online. You can learn more at The Guardian article from last May.

The data-driven economy is also a hot topic within the EU, with the emergence of a data session at the European Commission’s 2nd Digital Agenda Assembly taking place today and tomorrow. The workshop will “explore the potential of data, some of the most promising economic and business aspects involved, and discuss how policy for data and our investment in R&D can better address the challenges of businesses and the public sector and further support innovative business development.”

Lastly, to put all the current activity around data into perspective, is a thoughtful article by the OKFN’s Jonathan Gray on “What data can and cannot do.” The Guardian article reinforces the point that data, while valuable, when divorced from context and without interpretation, is not very effective. He encourages us to “cultivate a more critical literacy” towards data:

“Data can be an immensely powerful asset, if used in the right way. But as users and advocates of this potent and intoxicating stuff we should strive to keep our expectations of it proportional to the opportunity it represents.”

Essentially, opening up data is just the first step — and arguably, a necessary step to ensuring that data can be reused, contextualized, and interpreted in meaningful ways.

To learn more about how CC tools may be applied to data, see our landing page and FAQ on data.

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