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CC, UGC platform integration and customer acquisition


Denise Howell writing at ZDNet has a nice report on IP and the user generated economy at TechCrunch40 about new collaboration services that have affordances for CC licenses, and some that should:

The clips forming the foundation of musicshake creations are all licensed, and the company plans to let users sell their creations, keeping some of the proceeds themselves and kicking some to those providing the clips on which the finished work is built. It would be nice to see musicshake include Creative Commons licensing, but there was no mention of this today.

Two companies who either are or are contemplating offering Creative Commons licensing are docstoc and AOL’s BlueString (mentioned above). docstoc, which blends document storage with sharing and social networking, bakes in Creative Commons licensing à la Flickr, and BlueString’s terms advise users that they “may” have the option to apply a Creative Commons license to what they put on the site.

Good (probably) for docstoc and BlueString. For others, it seems crazy to not build in the option of CC licensing from the beginning (yes, I am biased). First, CC licensing assures “users” (really the creators who make such sites valuable) that the site is not an attempt to turn the creators into sharecroppers. Second, there are real legal issues around UGC, especially collaboratively created media, that CC licenses help to address — and these licenses have been deployed for nearly five years, and benefit from many thousands of hours of international copyright expertise and community input. Third, unless the new service intends to be a monopoly host for its content type (dream on), it makes sense to facilitate the flow of content among services — may the best host win, and if a new service isn’t better on some angle than existing ones, why bother? Fourth, there is no other way to give users access to tens of millions of photos and hundreds of thousands of audio and video tracks to build upon legally — and allow users to actually use their collaborative creations legally outside of your silo, perhaps even inside it.

Somewhat less obviously, CC integration is a cheap customer acquisition strategy, if done thoroughly — meaning CC licenses are exposed in a machine-readable way in HTML, feeds, and custom APIs — i.e., integrated into the platform, not merely the site. My favorite example of this is web-based office software Thinkfree’s integration with Flickr’s CC search. A small organization in Anytown, Anywhere that merely wants to cut costs (mostly by having to not maintain local IT infrastructure — they could save on MS Office licensing by using OpenOffice) starts using ThinkFree. Someone wants to add a picture to a document, and it is very natural to use Flickr’s CC search embedded in ThinkFree to do so. This user is very likely to come away satisfied with a great picture for their document, given the 47 million licensed photos on Flickr. Not only is it likely this user has just been introduced to Flickr, they’ve been introduced in a very powerful way, which would be almost impossible to reproduce with a marketing budget of any size.

Now Flickr (owned by Yahoo!) presumably does have a pretty big budget, and it is already very well known, at least among the digerati (others are more likely to be using a far less cool photo sharing site). A new service probably has next to no marketing budget and is unknown to everyone by definition, making this story even more compelling.

The need for web sites to have “open” APIs has clicked with the masses (of digerati anyway) this year. Hopefully this helps make clear why CC licensing of user created and collaborative content is an important part of such an “open” strategy.

Posted 19 September 2007