Commons News

#cc10 Featured Content: John Wilbanks on GlaxoSmithKline

Elliot Harmon, December 8th, 2012

John Wilbanks

John Wilbanks / Nick Vedros / CC BY-SA

In celebration of Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary, we asked various friends of CC to write about the role that open licensing plays in their fields. Today, John Wilbanks shows how the world’s largest pharmaceutical company made a big step in malaria research by sharing its data openly.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is perhaps not the first name most think of when they think of Creative Commons. Large pharmaceutical companies aren’t always the avant-garde commoners.

Yet in 2010, GSK made an amazing move. They took a set of 13,500 chemicals that their internal screens had shown to be active against malaria and put them in the public domain under CC0. They also made sure the data were technically available by depositing the set at a government data repository.

This isn’t how it’s usually done in the pharmaceutical industry, needless to say.

But something beautiful has happened in the intervening years. Something that is totally natural to those of us who live and breathe the commons, something mindboggling to those who don’t.

The data are being used to try to find a cure for malaria. By people who would otherwise be locked out of the process. A nonprofit foundation invested in a lab to take some of the compounds forward for investigation. They’re working together in an open lab notebook. And now 400 of the best candidate drugs are available as a “malaria box” that anyone can request to work on their optimization.

It’s still a long way from a cure for malaria. Drug discovery is hard, mainly because we don’t understand biology well enough to predict what’s going to happen with most compounds when we put them into practice. Our bodies are too complicated for the businesses trying to cure them.

But this is a methodological revolution: deploying the commons as an organizational structure to deal with that complexity. And it was driven, in the beginning, by the moment that the world’s largest pharmaceutical company became a commoner.

Compounds of Interest in Update
Compounds of Interest in Update / Matthew Todd / CC BY-SA

John Wilbanks currently runs the Consent to Research project (CtR), a massive clinical research study in which people take the data they can gather about their own health and donate it for computational analysis. Mr. Wilbanks is also one of the founders of the Access2Research petition. As part of CtR, Mr. Wilbanks is a Senior Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Research Fellow at Lybba, and supported by Sage Bionetworks. Mr. Wilbanks has worked at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the World Wide Web Consortium, the US House of Representatives, and most recently Creative Commons. Mr. Wilbanks also started a bioinformatics company called Incellico, which is now part of Selventa.

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CC10: Day 2

Jessica Coates, December 8th, 2012

On day 2 of CC10 we focus on what makes CC more than just a bunch of licenses – our community.

We give a long over-due introduction to Creative Commons for those who haven’t met us yet, with a favorite resource from one of our global volunteer affiliates: CC Qatar presents Meet Creative Commons. At the same time, we discuss CC’s geek-cred with Josh Wattles, adviser to one of our oldest artist communities – deviantART – and we examine how a simple licensing decision can create community around a work, with Gautam John of Pratham Books.

Most importantly, today we get our CC10 community parties started. Not 1, not 2, but 3 separate birthday events are happening around the world tonight. CC Berlin brings us keynotes, talks, interviews and a DJ, in a party themed around the success and impact CC has built over the past 10 years. Meanwhile CC Belgium is rebooting itself with a showcase of Creative Commons artists and projects. And finally, CC Headquarters has its own party in San Francisco, where CC staff, Board and community members will participate in interactive exhibits, live remixing (brought to you by Global Lives and Dublab) and general good-cheer. We’ll have a tweet wall at the event – so if you want to be part of it, just tweet us your birthday wishes after 5pm San Francisco time tonight.

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#cc10 Featured Content: Gautam John on Annual Haircut Day

Elliot Harmon, December 7th, 2012

In celebration of Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary, we asked various friends of CC to write about their favorite CC-licensed content. Today, social entrepreneur and Pratham Books new projects manager Gautam John writes about two children’s books that took on lives of their own, thanks to CC licensing.

On the 17th of November, 2008, we took one small and very tentative step into the world of the commons and released six of our books under a very restrictive CC BY-NC-SA license. And that point, the entire Creative Commons universe was exciting and held much possibility but was, simultaneously, a vast unknown for us. Initially, our books were used by the One Laptop Per Child project in Nepal and that in itself was a wonderful outcome for us.

Annual Haircut Day

Over the course of the next year, we engaged with our community and with the wider world of open content and Creative Commons licenses and realised that the license we chose was far too restrictive for the content to have any real community-driven impact and we settled on the CC BY and CC BY-SA licenses as our new defaults. While we were sure that making these our default licenses was a good choice, we weren’t entirely sure what the outcomes of such a decision would be. In hindsight, we are very very glad we made the choices we did.

Looking at two of our more popular books, Annual Haircut Day and The Moon and the Cap, we were amazed that they have been read, in just two languages, via one single online channel (Scribd), more than 35,000 times. While these numbers were stunning, they were only the start of an amazing journey that they took all thanks to Creative Commons licenses.

Soon, we started to receive community translations of these books in languages that we would never have published in (German, French, Spanish and Lojban), and in languages that we would have wanted to publish in but could not (Assamese, for example). It didn’t stop there. We were amazed when a national radio station decided to make studio quality audiobooks out of these two books and a few others in many many Indian languages and make them available under an open (if slightly more restrictive) license, and specifically make them available to the visually impaired community in India. We began to wonder where this would go and soon we heard from Bookshare who had converted these books (and others) to formats specifically for the visually impaired – DAISY and Braille books.

At which point, we thought that this was fantastic that we had achieved a degree of inclusivity that would not have been otherwise possible and thought it to be a closed chapter. But as things go, the community was just beginning. Next up was a series of applications based on these books for the iPhone and iPad, for Android devices, for Intel devices, and even for Windows Phone 7! It goes without saying that none of this would have been possible for us using a traditional licensing model and it was Creative Commons licenses that made it all possible.

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#cc10 Featured Platform: deviantART

Elliot Harmon, December 7th, 2012

Throughout the #cc10 celebrations, we’ll be profiling online platforms with Creative Commons integration. I reached out to Josh Wattles, longtime copyright lawyer and advisor in chief at deviantART, to get his perspective on how artists online use (or don’t use) CC licensing.

deviantART is a massive community, with members ranging from young amateurs to well-known professionals. Josh told me that about 5% of uploads each day are CC licensed, which translates to about 1450 individual artists. Altogether, there are 15-16 million CC-licensed artworks on dA.

Josh explained me that in a lot of ways, deviantART grew up alongside filesharing. The first artworks shared on dA were skins for mp3 players. Josh — himself a longtime copyright lawyer who’s worked with the EFF and LimeWire — told me that he always saw CC licensing as a natural fit for the dA community. Or as he put it, “When it first started, Creative Commons was part of your citizenship on the Internet if you were a geek.”

I also asked him to recommend some favorite CC-licensed works from the deviantART community. A few of them are sprinkled throughout this interview; the rest are in this gallery.

How did deviantART make the decision to implement CC licensing options? Was the community asking for it? Was there any pushback?

Some of the members of deviantART community first suggested that we implement it. But it was Mia Garlick [former general Counsel of CC] who was really responsible for driving it.

We had her at the first (and last) deviantART conference in 2005. She gave a talk, and it was really well-attended and straightforward. She said, “All this is is a license, you’re not dedicating anything to the public domain, all you’re doing is giving the public a license for reuse. Pick a license if you want to use it, and if you don’t want to use it, don’t.”

And so, in the submission process, there was an opportunity to select a CC license. We did no additional messaging beyond that implemetaiton. It just seemed like the right thing to do, and so we did it.

Do you think that visual artists are more reluctant to share their work openly than musicians or other types of artists?

It’s more complicated or visual artists, because there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s easy for a musician to say, “With the exception of tracks that I license to some record company, everything I do I’m just going to keep out there as open and available, because that will drive people to my venues for concerts.”

For a visual artist, let’s say you create a work on commission. You might not be at liberty to make the decision to license it under CC. On some level, the person who commissioned you has an opinion about what the distribution pattern for the work should be. There’s immediately a category where you can’t apply a default practice. And you can’t even apply a default practice under the ctegory of commissioned work, because each type of commission is different.

deviantART excels at providing every artists, regardless of their level, with a platform in which to communicate with each other, work with each other, and request work from each other. And people request all kinds of stuff. They say, “I want a little avatar that looks like a pony, and I’ll give you 50 virtual points for it,” which amounts to slightly over 50 cents. In that interaction, it would be silly to say to the person you gave the pony to, “Now you have exclusive rights for the entire internet and the world.” The intention of the parties in that situation is that you can go off and draw a pony for someone else. On the other hand, the guy who draws the ponies isn’t going to put it up as a free file for everyone to use, because he just got paid 50 cents for one, and maybe someone else wants to pay 50 cents for it. It’s a more complicated decision path.

On the other hand, CC is a brilliant way to ensure wide-scale distribution of content on the internet. I advise artists that some portion of their work should clearly be available for that kind of distribution, just on a promotional level. It’s useful to have some portion of your work out there, but it’s going to take a fairly sophisticated artist with a fairly sophisticated business purpose and model to see the rationale of that and the efficacy of it.

Since deviantART implemented CC licensing, have you seen community’s attitudes about sharing change?

There’s always been a lot of sharing, but it’s not necessarily under a CC license. When someone puts their works on Facebook or Tumblr, there’s a de facto sharing going on with an implied agreement about how they’d like their work to be reused. It would be great if there were a CC license attached to it, to establish a benchmark of the rights that the person is trying to convey by putting it on the internet.

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CC10: Day 1

Jessica Coates, December 7th, 2012

Welcome to the very first day of Creative Commons’ 10th birthday celebrations!

Over the next 10 days we will be celebrating CC’s first decade with activities, events, tweets and competitions. As well as dozens of real world parties, we’ve set up a dedicated CC10 website as a hub for all things birthday. Each day on this site we will be showcasing highlights from the CC community – some of our favorite users, platforms and resources. Like an advent calendar, these featured items will be ‘revealed’ as each day of the CC10 website goes live, along with the events for that day and following days, and other exciting announcements and materials. You’ll be able to navigate backwards to previous days using the dates at the top of the page.

We kick off our CC showcase today looking at the world of CC and text, with a blog post from one of CC’s longest running and most vocal supporters – Cory Doctorow. Cory introduces us to one of his favorite CC-licensed works, Rudy Rucker’s Wetware books, which he calls “the finest high-weirdness of the golden age of cyberpunk.” We also bring you an interview with Taylor Pipes of Scribd, a digital document sharing platform with more than 25 million texts, an amazing 80% of which are CC-licensed. And finally, we give you all (or at least those of you who speak Swedish) a primer on the CC licenses, what they mean and which is best for you, with CC Sweden‘s Välj rätt licens! poster.

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CC10: A party on every continent!

Jessica Coates, December 6th, 2012

As you know, any second now we’ll be officially launching CC’s 10th birthday celebrations. But the party has already started for our global community.

Over the course of the 10 days of CC10, more than 25 events celebrating CC’s first decade will be held around the world, on every continent except Antarctica (we’re working on that one). These global events are arguably the most important part of our CC10 celebrations, as they are hosted by and bring together our community, the people who make CC happen. Most are being run by our local affiliate teams, although a few are run by other friends of CC, like the Dunedin Linux Users Group or the Auraria Library in Denver. They include all kinds of events in all kinds of places – from a teachers’ breakfast in Stockholm to a Conference and Cocktails in Nairobi. CC HQ is having it’s own party on 8 December here in San Francisco, with speakers, DJs and fun activities – but we are completely overshadowed by the dozens of parties happening in the rest of the world.

We think the first party (there are so many it’s hard to keep track) was a film screening in Aalborg on 13 November hosted by CC Denmark and KinoPlatform. Between then and now we’ve had parties in Costa Rica (you can see photos of it already up in our CC10 Flickr group). Between then and now we’ve had New Zealand, Venezuela and, just last night, South Africa – and there are many more in the coming week. The final event that we know of during the CC10 week will be a party at the Global Congress on IP and the Public Interest in Rio de Janeiro, on 15 December (beating Korea, Oman and Paris by its timezone). But even that will be trumped by CC Japan’s Anniversary Party in Tokyo on December 22.

So hop over to our CC10 wiki page to see if there’s a party near you.

For all those hosting a CC10 event around the world, CC’s CEO Cathy Casserly has this message.

Want to hold your own CC10 party? There’s nothing to it. Just get a few friends together and listen to some CC music, watch some CC films, or read some CC books – or better yet, share, remix and recreate them. Then add your party to our events wiki, putting “CC10″ in the event type, and it will automatically be copied to our CC10 website and spread throughout our network. And for good measure, let us know by emailing You can download all the CC10 logos and everything else you might need for promotion from our wiki.

Correction: CC Denmark was incorrectly marked as being 13 November – it is 13 December.

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#cc10 Featured Platform: Scribd

Elliot Harmon, December 6th, 2012

In celebration of Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary, we’re writing about various platforms that host CC-licensed content. Today, we’re featuring document-sharing site Scribd.

Most people reading this are probably quite familiar with Scribd. It’s an easy, reliable place to publish documents and presentations. A lot of professional publishers use it, including our friends at Pratham Books. One thing that’s neat about Scribd is its embed feature: you can insert documents into a website, just like YouTube videos or Flickr photos.

I asked Scribd content and community manager Taylor Pipes to recommend a few of his favorite CC-licensed works on Scribd, and I also asked him a few questions.

Street Photography an eBook by Alex Coghe

How much of the content on Scribd is CC-licensed? Has that number stayed constant or changed since you implemented CC licensing?

Most of the content published on Scribd is CC-licensed, as we encourage authors to use CC licenses when possible. We’ve seen the number of CC-licensed works on Scribd grow by over 100% year over year. While our library encompasses over 25 million documents, 20 million of them have been uploaded utilizing the Creative Commons license.

Have there been any unexpected results to CC licensing on Scribd? People reusing each other’s documents in surprising or unusual ways?

Probably the most powerful result of CC licensing has been the proliferation of embedded Scribd documents around the web. We have more than 10 million Scribd document embeds now, and many of those are from bloggers or other independent writers. Because of Creative Commons licenses, these bloggers are able to integrate the content of these works on Scribd into their own writing.

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig

Since Scribd launched, have your community’s attitudes toward sharing changed?

We’ve definitely seen an increase in user understanding and awareness of the sharing now possible with social media. Authors have realized that allowing users to remix and re-publish their content is a great way to help their content go viral and get distribution around the web. We are in an entirely different place with publishing, which is truly astonishing. The amount of change and disruption that has occurred in the last few years is a testament to the radical innovation stemming from mobile. We feel quite strongly that our work, especially with CC-documents and publications, is helping to write a new chapter in publishing.

Taylor’s favorite CC-licensed works on Scribd

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#cc10 Featured Content: Cory Doctorow on Rudy Rucker

Elliot Harmon, December 6th, 2012

In celebration of Creative Commons’ tenth anniversary, we asked various friends of CC to write about their favorite CC-licensed content. Today, blogger and science fiction author Cory Doctorow writes about the CC-licensed novels of one of the original cyberpunks.

Rudy Rucker’s Wetware books: the finest high-weirdness of the
golden age of cyberpunk

Rudy Rucker is one of the modern heroes of science fiction, one of the original cyberpunks. The early cyberpunks only had a few writers who could be meaningfully called punks — writers like John Shirley and Richard Kadrey — but there was only one who could truly be called cyber: Rudy Rucker. Rucker is a mad professor, a mathematician and computer scientist with a serious, scholarly interest in the limits of computation and the physics and mathematics of higher-dimension geometry.

The Ware Tetralogy

But that’s just about the only thing you can describe as “serious” when it comes to Rucker. He’s a gonzo wildman, someone for whom “trippy” barely scratches the surface. His work is shot through with weird sex, weird drugs, weird brain chemistry, and above all, weird science.

The Ware Tetralogy is comprised of four novels written between 1982 and 2000, and I gobbled them up as they came out. They describe a future dominated by intensely weird and eerily scientifically plausible self-modifying cluster organisms that use evolutionary algorithms to bud offspring, rising to contend with humanity for dominance of the Earth and its envrions. They also get very, very high. On math. And they screw. A lot. Not like weasels. Not, in fact, like anything. Because Rudy Rucker is NOT LIKE ANYTHING.

Rucker is a tremendously prolific writer and editor who is publishing some of his finest work today (I’ve got his latest, the independently published Turing and Burroughs sitting at the top of my to-be-read pile as I write this). But the Ware books remain at the core of what I think of as the fiction that shaped who I am as a writer and thinker. And they’re available as a free, CC-licensed download (PDF).

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Africa’s First 3.0 Licenses!

Aurelia J. Schultz, November 30th, 2012


Uganda_16 / Matt Lucht / CC BY

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Creative Commons 3.0 Uganda licenses. Since joining the Creative Commons family in March of 2011, the Ugandan team has been incredibly busy: hosting the African Regional Meeting, pulling together petitions for the Pan-African Intellectual Property Organization, and spreading the news about CC licenses. While doing all these great activities, they’ve also completed one of the last 3.0 ports.

The licenses are available through the license chooser, and like all of our licenses, are intended for use anywhere in the world. The Uganda 3.0 licenses are important as the first 3.0 licenses in Africa and one of the last 3.0 ports before the launch of the new 4.0 licenses.

Creative Commons would like to extend a huge thanks to the whole CC Uganda team; The National Book Trust of Uganda (NABOTU); the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD); and especially to Primah Kwagala for leading the porting team.

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Paul Brest Named Creative Commons Chair

Cathy Casserly, November 29th, 2012

Read the full press release. (PDF)

I’m delighted to announce that Paul Brest has been elected chair of the Creative Commons board. Paul will begin as chair in December, coinciding with CC’s tenth anniversary celebrations.

Throughout his career, Paul has bridged the worlds of law, philanthropy, and academia, most recently as president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and, before that, dean of Stanford Law School. He’s widely recognized as an expert on constitutional law, problem solving and decision making, and philanthropic strategy, having written books and taught classes at Stanford on these subjects.

I can’t think of a better choice than Paul. He has that rare combination of strong instincts and the knowledge and rigor to back those instincts up. He’s the leader we need to carry CC into the next decade.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to recognize Joi Ito for his years of service as chair. During Joi’s time as chair, he’s helped CC grow as an organization, both in global influence and in its relevance to a changing technology landscape.

Please join me in thanking Joi and welcoming Paul.


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