We’re thrilled to announce a $15,000 gift from Squidoo, the popular publishing platform that allows you to create and share content with the world. So why are they supporting CC? Seth Godin, Squidoo’s Founder says:
Creative Commons is doing something incredibly difficult and valuable: they are changing expectations. Before CC, the default mode for everything was to lock it up, forever, in a way that cripples the community. With CC, the new default is to share unless there’s a good reason not to. And sharing is our future.
We couldn’t agree more. Join Seth in supporting CC and making sure fair sharing is our future.
At the beginning of this year we announced a revised approach to our education plans, focusing our activities to support of the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement. In order to do so we have worked hard to increase the amount of information available on our own site – in addition to an Education landing page and the OER portal explaining Creative Commons’ role as legal and technical infrastructure supporting OER, we have been conducting a series of interviews to help clarify some of the challenges and opportunities of OER in today’s education landscape.
One major venue for the advancement of OER is through the development and support of businesses that levage openly licensed content in support of education. Eric Frank is Founder and President of Flat World Knowledge, a commercial publisher of openly-licensed college textbooks. We spoke with Eric about faculty perceptions of open textbooks, customization enabled by open licensing, and the future of “free online and affordable offline” business models.
Why did you start Flat World Knowledge and how did you decide to approach this business using open content?
My co-founder Jeff Shelstad and I come out of a long history in textbook publishing. We left a major textbook publisher because of what we perceived as exceedingly-high dissatisfaction levels among the primary constituents in that market—students, faculty and authors. These groups were scratching their heads wondering if the print-based business model was going to be able to serve them going forward. When we began thinking about how to build a new business model, we didn’t actually know that much about open educational resources and open licensing. We started to bake a business model based on bringing prices down and increasing access for students; giving faculty more control over the teaching and learning experience; and providing a healthier and more sustainable income stream for authors. And then we started to meet people in the open community. We spoke to Open Education scholar and advocate David Wiley (and Flat World’s Chief Openness Officer) who said, “It’s funny, you sound a lot like me, except we use different words.” This pushed us a little bit further. Ultimately, through a very pragmatic approach to solving real problems that customers were facing, we arrived at this open textbook model.
The cost of textbooks is something that’s very tangible to students. Flat World Knowledge recently released information that 800 colleges will utilize Flat World open textbooks this fall semester, saving 150,000 students $12 million in textbook expenses. And, the Student PIRGs’ recent report A Cover to Cover Solution: How Open Textbooks Are The Path To Textbook Affordability found that adopting open textbooks could reduce textbook costs by 80%–to $184 per year, compared to the average of $900. Beyond the important outreach on cost savings, what are the primary questions you hear from faculty and students around “open”?
For the most part, when the average faculty member hears “open textbook,” it means nothing to them. In some cases, it has a positive connotation, and in other cases, it’s negative. When it’s negative, the primarily concern is one of basic quality and sustainability. Faculty question the entities making these open textbooks, and wonder whether the textbooks could be worth their salt if they’re available for free under an open license. And of course, they confuse ‘free’ and ‘open’ all the time. “If it’s free,” educators say, “It can’t be good. What author would ever do that?” Sometimes we see the opposite problem, such as when people know a little something about the publishing ecosystem and say, “It’s too good to be true.”
Through our marketing programs, we spend a lot of time educating faculty that we are a professional publisher, and that we focus on well-known scholars and successful textbook authors. We start by talking about what’s not different from the traditional approach: we sign experienced authors to write textbooks for us, and we develop the books by providing editorial resources, peer reviewing, and investment. The end product is a high-quality textbook and teaching package. There’s a real focus and emphasis on quality. What we change is how we distribute, how we price, and how we earn our revenue. We walk faculty through this process and let them know that ‘open’ is just about loosening copyright restrictions so that they can do more with the textbooks. We explain that free access is about getting their students onto a level playing field. We explain that affordable choices is about making sure students get the format and price that works for them. Once faculty understand these things and are reassured that we have a quality process in place, and that we are a real and sustainable enterprise that will be around to support them in the future, then it all starts to come together. We have to overcome either a total void of knowledge, which we prefer, or some other baggage that they carry into the conversation.
Customizability of digital textbooks is a key feature of Flat World Knowledge, enabled by the open license. How do teachers and students use this feature? And, how is Flat World’s approach to remix different than other platforms and services that allow some adaptability of content without actually using open content as the base?
Of course, the license itself carries its own rights and permissions. People are able to do a lot more with open content than they can with all rights reserved materials. We keep building out our technology platform so that it ultimately enables faculty to take full advantage of that open license—to do all the things that educators might want to do to improve the quality of the material for their own purposes. Today, the most popular customization is relatively simple. For example, educators reorganize the table of contents by dragging and dropping textbook chapters into the right order for their class, and delete a few things they don’t cover. This is easy and helps them match the book to their syllabus.
Then you move into exploring other areas. For example, instructors may want to make the textbook more pedagogically aligned with their teaching style. In that case, a teacher might integrate a short case study and a series of questions alongside the textbook content. Teachers may want to make the references and examples more relevant to their students by using the names of local companies. Timeliness is certainly important—something happens in the world and educators want to be able to integrate it into their teaching materials.
Educators have different teaching styles and approaches too. An adopter of one of our economics textbooks swapped out some models for other economic models that he prefers to use. An adopter at the University of New Hampshire added several chapters on sustainability and corporate social responsibility into an introduction to business book. Now, he’s teaching the course through his prism and from his perspective. These are the kinds of things that people want to be able to do. The critical thing for us is to make the platform easy to use so that customizing a book is as effortless as opening up a Word document, making some changes, saving it, and delivering it to students.
Regarding how our approach differs from other platforms and services because we begin with openly-licensed content, at one level, the ability to take something and modify it is largely a technology question. We go further, and allow people to edit text at the word level. You don’t see this sort of framework in other services because most of the time you’re dealing with the all rights reserved mentality. Most authors sign up to write traditional textbooks with the understanding that, “This is my work and you can’t do stuff with it.” I think the first big difference is when the author says, “I want people to be able to do stuff with this.” Having authors enter into a different publishing relationship by using open licenses allows us to go much further with the platform. That said, there’s nothing really stopping another company from doing this with some kind of unique user license.
We see other benefits of open access when we think about outputs. You might be able to go onto a publisher’s site and make modifications to a text, and maybe even integrate something that’s openly-licensed on the Web. But ultimately, it’s going to get subsumed into the all rights reserved framework, and won’t propagate forward, so no one else can change it. And generally, these digital services are expensive and access expires after a few months, so the user no longer can get to the content. Things like digital rights management and charging high prices for print materials are fundamentally business model decisions around dissemination, but they’re important.
I think the other big difference is what can happen away from the Flat World Knowledge site. Somebody could arguably come in and take our content and do something with it somewhere else. We’re not locking it down and saying, “The only thing you can do is work with the content on our site, and only use our technology.” We happen to make it easy to do this sort of thing on the Flat World site, but the open license allows others to use the content away from the original website. This leads to many more options that aren’t possible with content that is all rights reserved or served under a very unique license.
Flat World Knowledge licenses its textbooks under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. What were the considerations in choosing this license? How do you see the role of Creative Commons in open textbook and open education?
One of my pet peeves about this community that we’re a part of is the frequent and sometimes contentious debates over licensing. The principle of enabling a range of licenses recognizes that copyright holders have different objectives for their creations. I have my objectives and you have yours, so we may choose different licenses to reach those objectives. That’s perfectly fine. This is the way the world should be. For us, the choice of a license was very much predicated on building a sustainable commercial model around open. We invest fairly heavily with financial resources, time, and intellectual capital to make these textbooks and related products something that we think can dominate in the marketplace. If we didn’t use the non-commercial condition, in our view, we’d be making all the investment and then someone else could sell the content at a dramatically lower price because they didn’t make the initial and ongoing investment. The non-commercial condition is the piece of the model that enables us to give users far more rights, to provide free points of access, and protect our ability to commercialize the investment we made. The ShareAlike clause ensures that this protection continues forward.
Our decision to use this license also relates to authors. The sustainability and financial success argument starts with the people who have the most value in the market: the authors who create the books. Our discussions with authors always include a financial component. They want to know how we are going to capitalize on this venture. Authors want to do good, but they also want to earn income and be fairly compensated. When we explain our model and how the licensing works, they feel very comfortable.
Last month Hal Plotkin released the paper Free to Learn: An Open Educational Resources Policy Development Guidebook for Community College Governance Officials. That document suggests that community colleges are uniquely positioned to both take advantage of OER opportunities and to become pioneers in teaching through the creative and cost-effective use of OER, including through the adoption of open textbooks. How are Flat World’s approaches different in working with universities as opposed to community colleges? What are the differences in terms of the benefits and challenges to faculty, students, and administration within each institution?
This is a great question, but it’s a little hard to answer, because we must consider another variable—the book itself. Sometimes a book is aimed at a community college course and demographic, and sometimes it’s aimed at a four-year research university. For example, our Exploring Business book has a big community college market, while our Introduction to Economic Analysis title out of Caltech has very much a top-50, Ph.D.-granting institution market. So, this confuses things a little bit. That said, I think it’s fair to say that there is generally a correlation between where the financial pain is greatest (which tends to be at community colleges and state institutions) and where the faculty are closest to that pain (where teaching is their primary emphasis, and they spend more time with students). This is where we see the greatest pull for this solution. There’s less of a pull from wealthier demographics and/or with faculty who spend more time doing research than teaching. While there’s more ideological and intellectual understanding of the value of sharing on the research side, pragmatically, the financial pain tends to be on the community college side.
In the recent First Monday article, A sustainable future for open textbooks: The Flat World Knowledge story, Hilton and Wiley suggest that in testing Flat World’s textbook model (“free online and affordable offline”), nearly 40% of students still purchased a print copy of the textbook. And Nicole Allen mentioned in our interview with her that the research of the Student PIRGs shows that “students are willing to purchase formats they value even in the presence of a free alternative.” So, print materials are not going away overnight, as long as the resources can be tailored in ways that teachers and students want to use them. But, as powerful digital technologies offer so many new ways to interact with educational content, how do you foresee the distant (or near) future in which print-on-demand may no longer be a core part of your business model?
We agree with the findings in those reports that print is going away more slowly than pundits proclaimed it would. We’re totally committed to what I think of as platform agnosticism. We never want to be in a position of having to guess which technologies or trends will win or lose. Part of our solution was to build a very dynamic publishing engine which could take a book—which is really a series of database objects and computer code that gets pulled together—and transform it through computer software programs to a certain file format. Today, one format goes to a print-on-demand vendor to make a physical book; another is an ePub file to be downloaded to an iPad or other mobile device; another is a .mobi file for a Kindle. We can afford to be on the leading edge and make formats available that may have low penetration today. And if they grow faster, we’ll be there with a salable format for those devices that will proliferate.
The most important improvement we can make to learning outcomes across our society right now is access. People sometimes ask me, “Isn’t the textbook itself a dead paradigm?” I tell them no, because billions of dollars per year are spent on textbooks. Right now you could create a really killer learning product, and I could take the one that’s already being used by millions of people and make it much more accessible. Enabling greater access is going to have much bigger short-term impact. Going forward, improvements in learning outcomes beyond access will come from things that aren’t content. They will come from experiences—whether it’s an assessment I take and get immediate feedback to inform a specific learning path, or whether it’s a social learning experience in which I’m dropped into a community of learners with a challenge and we draw upon each other to come up with solutions. Content supports those things, but isn’t as important in some ways as the experience.
Our view of the world is to get into the market where there’s pain today, establish a large base of users, and then keep evolving the product to be an increasingly better learning tool. That will inevitably take the form of integrating more unique services that can’t be copied. That’s the long-term goal for us, and probably critical for any business operating in the digital medium, to be financially successful. Kevin Kelly, the technology writer and founding executive editor of Wired, said it best: “When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.” I believe that.
What does a successful teaching and learning environment implementing the power of open textbooks and OER “look like”? Do you have any lingering thoughts — worries, hopes, and predictions?
I don’t worry too much because if we keep our finger on the pulse of what people want to do, we’ll figure it out. One potential danger is the expense of providing this abundance of integrated tools, formats and options for users. It’s easy to imagine the expense of systems that incorporate things like an assessment engine built on adaptive learning and artificial intelligence to guide users to the best resource, all the while connecting them to other users to foster a richer learning experience. This has the potential to be very expensive, and ratchets up the imperative for players in the open community to help figure it out.No Comments »
Founding board member Hal Abelson was an advocate of Creative Commons from before the organization even existed. He was a grad student in the 60s when people starting buzzing about computers. “They cost several million dollars at the time,” he says. “My first thought was, this computer thing is great, you can turn kids loose on it.” Now a Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, Abelson has always advocated widely and deeply for sharing on the Web. In the early 80s, he published a book about the Logo programing language after spearheading its first implementation for Apple. He created free software before the Free Software Movement even existed. And in 2002, he started MIT’s OpenCourseWare program, which offers teaching materials from MIT classes for free. It was the first large corpus published under a CC license.
Abelson’s latest venture is Google’s App Inventor for Android, an interface that lets anyone visually design games, educational apps, text tools, and other fun products easily. “It should be natural that you can take your cell phone and build a mobile app for your friends on it.” He notes that people tend to experience technology as consumers rather than creators; this, he believes, has the potential to shift.
One of the greatest challenges facing CC, Abelson points out, is parsing the complex, non-intuitive legal language of copyright into something that everyone can use and relate to. “When we started CC there was the Internet, but people could not use it according to the law. Now we’ve built this enormous, wonderful technical infrastructure of communication sharing and reuse, but our institutions are still in gridlock. There’s a tremendous discrepancy between the law and people’s behavior. In order to make it really okay for people to reuse and remix material from another web page, using CC licenses has to be easy. The legal concepts in copyright just aren’t intuitive—they don’t align with the reality of the things people think about.”
Nonetheless, Abelson is optimistic and excited about the future of sharing. “Creative Commons is the foundation of open sharing on the web. Almost everybody uses CC every day. They may not think about it, but they do. We’re able to come together in a way that was never ever possible. To me, that’s what changes humanity.”
Join Hal Abelson in showing that you care about Creative Commons by donating to CC today.No Comments »
Last week, we interviewed Ton Roosendaal, head of the Blender Institute, on his new open animated short film called Sintel. (Blender is an awesome open-source 3D creation suite, and the Institute is the studio that creates content like Sintel that employ amazing Blender-enabled techniques like smoke simulation and volumetrics.)
The film was made possible with crowdsourced funding from thousands of online supporters and, since it was released on YouTube a month ago, has gotten over 1.8 million views. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s your chance!No Comments »
I’m pleased to introduce Mitchell Baker, the next of our exceptional CC Superheroes to tell you in her own words why she supports Creative Commons and why you should too. As the leader of the Mozilla Project, she is responsible for organizing and motivating a massive, worldwide collective of employees and volunteers who are breathing new life into the Internet with the Firefox Web browser and other Mozilla products. Here is her story. Join Mitchell in supporting Creative Commons with a donation today.
“Creative Commons fills a vitally important role in building an innovative and creative society. Creative Commons provides an easy way for people to choose to collaborate in creative activities, complementing the default settings of copyright law. I hope you’ll join me in supporting Creative Commons.
Imagine you take two photos. You’d like to restrict use of the first photo as much as possible — you don’t want anyone to post it anywhere, or to use it or to alter it. Maybe this is because you think it’s a good candidate for selling, maybe because it’s personal and you don’t want anyone else to use it, maybe because you think it’s perfect as is and would be diminished if anyone changed anything about it. The other photo you feel very differently about. You’d like to see what people might do with it. Maybe you’d like to see it distributed widely with your name attached to enhance your reputation, or so people come to you to buy other photos. Maybe you think it would be good set to music or included in slideshows, or maybe you’d like to see how people might alter it.
Figuring out how to get maximum protection for the first photo is easy. One simply does nothing — in most countries a creative work is automatically subject to default copyright law. If one wants to emphasize this one can add a copyright notice, but this is not required. Maximum restriction is the default.
Figuring out how to let other people build upon one’s creative work is actually much harder. In fact, without Creative Commons there is no easy way to do so. Creative Commons provides a clear, effective way for each of us to choose to share our creative work when we want to, dramatically reducing the barriers to voluntary sharing. It provides legally enforceable mechanisms that live happily alongside the default of maximum restriction of copyright law. Creative Commons empowers creators to choose how our works are used and shared as well as protected.
The ability to share our creative works easily is an important complement to the traditional ability to restrict their use. It’s important for individuals and it’s important for society. There is no doubt that the voluntary sharing of effort can produce immense civic, social, and individual value. Voluntary collaboration, based on shared resources, shared data and shared creative work provides new tools for solving complex problems. By making voluntary sharing easy, Creative Commons provides new avenues for individual choice and human interaction.
Mozilla embodies this idea, as do vast portions of the Internet. Mozilla relies on voluntary collaboration to build individual empowerment into the structure of the Internet. We use a Creative Commons license for many of our materials. Creative Commons licenses have a similar spirit to the Mozilla Public License, which allows software innovators to release their creations to the public to be built upon, expanded, and improved in ways that we never thought possible. Creative Commons makes it easy to extend this idea beyond software to other creative content. We support Creative Commons financially as well.
If you haven’t tried sharing some of your creative work, I invite you to try it. Next time you need a photo for something, search your favorite photo sites for CC licensed work. Add some of your own. Share some of your music and see what comes of it. Consider a donation to Creative Commons. Be open to openness.”No Comments »
In my former post I spent quite a few words trying to explain where I believe CC should and shouldn’t venture looking for the proper metrics that will efficaciously represent its contribution to welfare. The bottom line was that what seems like the ultimate decision is to look to the direct contribution of CC to Quality, Quantity and Variability measures. I now intend to elaborate a little on this approach.
The first thing that is important to mention is that Quantity, Quality and Variability ought to be measured across the different fields in which CC operates, for example, in art, in OER, in UGC. Second, that QQ&V should be measured under the different value pillars (transactional, institutional, norm) and third, as they pertain to both productive and consumptive use. By productive use, I mean the sense by which CC complements the quality, the quantity and the variability of active, creative, collaborative endeavors and by consumptive use I refer to the sense in which CC promotes passive use of existing creative enterprises, by expanding access to them and by increasing the efficiency of consumption.
The contribution to Quantity is probably the easiest to explain. It means just one thing by way of method: counting; how many new works are being created thanks to CC’s activity? (productive), how many additional passive uses are there? (consumptive) and how many distinct new creators, collaborators and consumers are added? These can then be naturally specified by pillar of contribution (again: transactional, institutional, norm), by field of activity, across fields, by use type and by user type.
Quality has both an internal and an external meaning: By internal quality of a work we mean to refer to the works’ level of excellence in terms of its own field, which in itself is a complex measure that judges the value of the work itself. The external quality measure refers to the level of contribution of the work to the promotion of a collaborative environment and is therefore tied to both the productive process of the its creation and to its consumptive uses. In terms of purely consumptive uses, quality refers to the advantage which consumers are able to extract from the work itself.
The variability parameter is set to measure internal and external novelty as it is induced by CC. Internal variability means the creation of new types of works within a field, whereas external variability pertains to the dynamics of the creation of new fields of activity. The aspect of variability is very much related to the innovation literature that often analyzes the status and dynamics of growth in terms of the accumulation of new products.
But our job doesn’t end here, because it is not just changes that CC induces in the measure of quality, quantity and variability that ought to be calculated; in fact, crucial to the value assessment is the consideration of change rate. Since the rapidity of value accumulation is in itself a substantial aspect of the contribution level.
Now, the next immediate step ought to be defining metrics, per field, for each of these three attributes, quantity, quality and variability. But, as we’ve become accustomed to, there are still several complications that need to be dealt with:
- CC is operating in numerous fields. In order to be optimally effective, it must rely on cost/benefit analysis which will suggest to it how to best divide its own resources.
- CC is a comprehensive framework which creates value spillover effects across fields.
- CC’s fields of operation are not clear-cut fields in the sense that some works are hard to categorize. For example, basic science and OER are far from being distinct fields and of course, user generated content comes in all “flavors”. And since CC sets itself to promote these interdisciplinary collaborations they are essential and weighty parts of the value it creates.
- Often, CC’s contribution will be in creating altogether new fields of activity. It is important not to lose track of those by putting too much emphasis on inter-field benefits.
Now it seems to me that the pitfalls introduced by #2-#4 may be bridged by considering the contribution to collaboration, or to the mode of creation and consumption that is more heavily based on sharing. Or at least that’s the belief I choose to stick to. Firmly. Yet, when it comes to pitfall #1, that one really seems to require the second order estimation of the contribution to welfare of the actual field, or a predefined preference ordering which relies on other underpinnings. At any rate, it transgresses the scope of the estimation project.
So, for example, we can think of the contribution to collaboration using these attributes: When it comes to quantity, effective will be more participants in each CC’d creative enterprise, in comparison to non-CC’d enterprises, as well as more distribution of the CC’d work when it comes to the consumptive measures. From the internal quality perspective, what is judged is the level of the cooperation according to the promotion of the creative spark through the shared mode of creation. From the external quality perspective, a high-quality collaborative work would be replicated more than others, and create collaborative energy which will carry over to other enterprises. When it comes to the potential contribution to variability, what is judged is the extent to which more types of collaborative efforts are being fashioned, both within and across fields.
CC’s contribution to art can serve us as yet another example. If we think in quantity terms, we can measure the number of new CC creations, the number of new CC artists, the number of new types of artists, and the extent of distribution of CC creations, from the perspective of consumptive use. When it comes to quality, the level of the relative internal excellence of the CC’d artwork can be measured, as well as its external impact on other creative sites. Quality measures for consumption will encompass its effectiveness, in terms of the impression that it is capable of making on consumers. Variability, in art, will be set to measure the relative innovativeness of the CC artistic enterprises, both within existing genres and in the cultivation of new ones.
And I could go on and on to CC open education enterprises, to the CC’d basic science enterprises as well as to distinct cases of CC’d user generated content, but the point is probably clear by now. The basic idea is that these measurements are all the output we need, because having calculated them, we ought to be able to go on to scrutinizing CC’s contribution on any desired level. For example, once we know how art is affected by CC, through the measures of quantity, quality and variability, anybody could translate that into how art’s contribution to welfare is boasted.
Does that all make sense to you? Let us know, we’ll appreciate it.1 Comment »
Qatar’s Supreme Council for Information and Communication Technology, ictQatar, is among the many governments making waves by promoting openness and Creative Commons. During the welcome address at last weekend’s Digitally Open conference in Doha, the ictQATAR’s Secretary General Dr. Hessa Al-Jaber announced that “all future ICT Qatar projects will be open source, and we aim to use these solutions throughout the government. Open Source should be the solution for every government initiative.” She listed a range of domains where openness would benefit Qatari society, including education, medicine, and the arts. “Being open can even be considered a moral obligation. I am excited about the potential this country has,” Dr. Al-Jaber explained.
Governmental bodies around the world are adopting Creative Commons licenses and signaling to their constituencies that these works can be shared in simple, interoperable ways. Just this week, the current Portuguese President Aníbal Cavaco Silva released his official photostream under CC BY, while also posting a CC BY-licensed announcement to run for re-election on SoundCloud.
New Zealand recognizes that reuse of government copyright works by individuals and organizations may have significant creative and economic benefit for the country. To harness this potential and enable greater access to public sector works, the enacted NZ Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework standardizes licensing of copyrighted works by State Services agencies by using Creative Commons licenses and recommends the use of ‘no-known rights’ statements for non-copyright material. The Dutch government also demonstrated a great degree of leadership when it instituted CC0 as the default copyright policy of the Dutch national government’s unified website, which contains the websites of all the ministries. All content on www.rijskoverheid.nl is available without restrictions unless noted otherwise.
Creative Commons applauds these initiatives and looks forward to working with key governmental institutions such as ictQatar and others to pioneer further efforts. To foster original Arabic content and improve education and innovation, ictQatar pledged to establish policies that encourage open source solutions in governmental IT and oversee a major national digitization effort to release Arabic-language content under Creative Commons licenses. These are just a number of initiatives agreed upon during the Digitally Open conference as part of a vision to strengthen the voice of the region.
Furthermore, thanks to the generous support of ictQatar, many CC Affiliates and community members traveled to Doha to participate in the second CC Arab World regional meeting. A summary of the meeting will be published shortly, including information about the region’s roadmap and consensus-driven translations of key CC terms into Arabic. You can contribute feedback to the roadmap when published, and importantly, please consider donating today to Creative Commons to support the licensing infrastructure that many governments and other important institutions and creators rely upon.No Comments »
We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve met wikiHow’s challenge to match the next $4000 donated to CC’s fundraising campaign in just three days! THANK YOU to all who donated and had your gift automatically doubled by wikiHow, the world’s largest and highest quality how-to manual!
By joining wikiHow in supporting CC, you’re confirming their belief that CC is a cause worth caring about. According to wikiHow founder Jack Herrick, “wikiHow is all about enabling people to share and learn: Our contributors share their knowledge with us and then we bring their expertise to the largest possible audience. This works so well because of Creative Commons. Supporting this organization ensures that the tools to share and build upon knowledge will be maintained as the electronic age continues to evolve.”
If you didn’t have the chance to take part in the challenge, you can still help us meet our $550k goal by donating today and showing the world how much sharing means to you.No Comments »
MacArthur Foundation / CC BY
Elspeth Revere is the Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Foundation has generously supported CC since our founding in 2002. Join MacArthur and help keep CC going strong by making a donation today.
Can you give us some background on the MacArthur Foundation?
MacArthur is one of the nation’s largest independent foundations. The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.
With assets over $5 billion, MacArthur will award approximately $230 million in grants this year. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.
The Foundation was established in 1978. Last year, it made 600 grants for a total of $230 million.
What is your role there?
I am Vice President in charge of Media, Culture and Special Initiatives. We have three ongoing areas of work. The first is in public interest media, where we support public radio, documentary films, deep and analytical news programs, and investigative reporting. The second is support to over 200 arts and culture organizations in our home city, Chicago. The third is institutional support to help strengthen nonprofit organizations that are key to the Foundation’s grantmaking fields so that they will exist and be effective over the long term. In addition, we conduct a changing set of special grantmaking initiatives that are intended to be short-term and responsive to a particular problem or opportunity.
The MacArthur Foundation is a private foundation (not a corporate sponsor) that supports Creative Commons – what was the motivation behind this generous giving? What is it about CC that you find important?
In about 1999, MacArthur began exploring the question of how the digital revolution would impact society and the issues that the Foundation cared about and what a Foundation like MacArthur could do to help people understand and shape this phenomenon for the overall good. We held a series of consultations and some of the people who later became founders of Creative Commons, including Larry Lessig and Jamie Boyle, talked to us about both the promise of technology to unlock information and make it widely and easily available, and the concern that digital tools could also be used to limit the public availability of information. They, and others, helped us to understand that copyright laws, originally intended to regulate industry, were increasingly regulating consumers and their behavior — and this was even before blogging, podcasts, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and all the other sharing tools that we now rely on.
In 2002, MacArthur began a six year funding initiative on Intellectual Property and the Long-Term Protection of the Public Domain. Our first grant to Creative Commons was made that year. It was an exemplary organization for us to support because we were looking for new models of thinking about intellectual property in a digital age. All told, we have made 4 grants totaling $3.15 million to support its work. And Creative Commons has become a successful tool for sharing information in the arts, sciences, governance, and education throughout the world.
What is the link between the MacArthur Foundation and CC? Do you use our tools in your work? Or are our tools more applicable to your grantees?
MacArthur policy calls for openness in research and freedom of access to data. We encourage our grantees to explore opportunities to use existing and emerging Internet distribution models and when appropriate open access journals, Creative Commons licenses or other mechanisms that result in broad access for the interested field and public. While we do not insist that grantees use Creative Commons licenses, we do suggest their use when appropriate and practical.
What do you see as CC’s role in the broader digital ecosystem? How does CC enable the MacArthur Foundation and its grantees to better innovate in that space?
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Sintel poster by Blender Institute / CC BY
Sintel is the Blender Institute’s third “open movie”. Could you describe what “open movie” means to the Blender Institute?
Oh… many things. First, I love to work with artists, which goes much easier than working with developers! And making short animation films with teams is an amazing and very rewarding activity. With this large creative community of Blender artists, the financial model enables it even; not many short film makers have this opportunity.
But the practical incentive to do this is because it’s a great development model for Blender. Putting artists together on a major challenge is the ultimate way to drive software like Blender forward. That way we can also ensure it fits ambitious targets weeding out the ‘would be cool features’ for the ‘must need’ ones. And it’s quite easier to design usability with small diverse teams, than have it done online via feedback mechanisms, which easily becomes confusing with the noise of hundreds of different opinions.
It’s also a fact that the Blender Institute was established for open movie projects, so for me (and the Blender Institute) it means our core business.
Blender Institute projects have a rare but heavily developed intersection between free and open source software (Blender the software and its developer community) and free culture (the films the Blender Institute produces). How related and similar are these worlds?
I don’t consider myself much related to “free culture” really, and certainly not in the political sense. For Blender projects it’s just a natural way to deliver it in open license like with [the licenses provided by] CC. We want our users to learn from them, to dissect our tricks and technology, or use them for other works. And not least: to allow everyone who works on a project to freely take it with them; as a portfolio, or companies who sponsor us who need demos or research material. So in that sense we are free culture!
But each time I meet people who work in this field, it’s mostly theorists, not practicists. so I’m a bit biased [...] people who talk about free culture don’t seem to make it (at least here in the Netherlands, at conferences or meetings). I get regular invitations to talk on this topic. I do it sometimes, but the blah-blah level disturbs me a bit. Free culture is about doing it.
So at the Blender Institute, you have artists working on these works, and you have programmers working on this code. How similar are those worlds?
For Blender, I think we have a great mix, with a lot of cross-overs. Several of our coders started as users, and we involve artists closely in design for tools or features.
This doesn’t always go perfectly, especially when it’s highly technical, like simulation code. But if you visit our IRC channel, or mailing list, or conferences… it’s always a great mix. Maybe this is because 3d art creation is quite technical too? I dunno… not many users will understand how to construct bsp trees, yet they use it all the time.
In general compared to other open source projects, I think we’re quite un-technical and accessible. A big reason for that is because I’m not even a trained programmer. I did art and industrial design. When coders go too deep in abstract constructions I can’t follow it either and can simply counter it with an “Okay, but what’s the benefit for using this?” And when the answer is “It makes coders’ lives easier” I usually ignore it. In my simple world, coders suffer and artists benefit! But one coder can also do some stuff — taking a few hours — that saves hundreds of thousands of people a few seconds in a day. And that’s always good.
What’s the development of a film like Sintel like as in terms of internal development vs community involvement in production? Has that dynamic changed at all from work to work? I partly ask this because some people think “Oh, open movie, they must have their SVN repository open the whole time and just get random contributions from everywhere,” but Blender Institute films don’t tend to work that way.
Right, we keep most of our content closed until release. I’m a firm believer in establishing protective creative processes. In contrast to developers — who can function well individually online — an artist really needs daily and in-person feedback and stimulation.
We’ve done this now four times (three films and one game) and it’s amazing how teams grow in due time. But during this process they’re very vulnerable too. If you followed the blog you may have seen that we had quite harsh criticism on posting our progress work. If you’re in the middle of a process, you see the improvements. Online you only see the failures.
The cool thing is that a lot of tests and progress can be followed now perfectly and it suddenly makes more sense I think. Another complex factor for opening up a creative process is that people are also quite inexperienced when they join a project. You want to give them a learning curve and not hear all the time from our audience that it sucks. Not that it was that bad! But one bad criticism can ruin a day.
One last thing on the “open svn” point: in theory it could work, if we would open up everything 100% from scratch. That then will give an audience a better picture of progress and growth. We did that for our game project and it was suited quite well for it. For film… most of our audience wants to get surprised more, not know the script, the dialogs, the twists. Film is more ‘art’ than games, in that respect.
You also did the sprints this time, which pulled in some more community involvement than in previous projects. Do you think that model went well? Would you do it again?
The modeling sprint was great! We needed a lot of props, and for that an online project works perfectly. The animation sprint (for animated characters) was less of a success. Character animation doesn’t lend itself well for it, I think. There’s no history for it… ehh. Like, for design and modeling, we have a vocabulary. Most people understand when you explain visual design, style, proportions. But for animation… only a few (trained) animators know how to discuss this. It’s more specialist too.
How has the choice of the Creative Commons Attribution license affected your works?
How would it affect our works? Do you mean, why not choose ND (no-derivatives) or NC (noncommercial)? Both restrictions won’t suit well for our work. And without attribution it’s not a CC license.
I did get some complaints why not choose a FSF compatible license, but the Free Software Foundation has no license for content like ours either.
What kinds of things have you seen / do you expect to see post-release of a project such as Sintel?
A lot of things happened with previous films, Elephants Dream and Big Buck Bunny, ranging from codec research in companies, showcases on tradeshows, to student composers using it to graduate. Even wallpaper!
We are working now on a 4k resolution of the film (4096 x 2160). The 4k market is small, but very active and visible in many places. They’re dying for good content. I’m also very interested in doing a stereoscopic ’3d’ version. As for people making alternative endings or shots; that hasn’t happened a lot, to my knowledge. Our quality standard is too high as well, so it’s not a simple job.
But further, the very cool thing of open content is that you’re done when you’re done! A commercial product’s work stress only starts when the product is done. That’s what I learned with our first film. Just let it go, and move on to next.
And at least one “free culture” aspect then: it’s quite amazing how our films have become some kind of cultural heritage already. People have grown fond of them, or at least to the memory of them. It’s part of our culture in a way, and without a free license that would have been a really tough job.
Might there be a Sintel game (Project Jackfruit?) using the Blender Game Engine like there was a game following Big Buck Bunny (Yo Frankie)?
Not here in the Blender Institute. But there’s already a quite promising online project for it.
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