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How a News Outlet Used CC BY to Help Its Journalist

Open Journalism

A key principle of the open movement is that the power of information relies on its accessibility. As researcher and activist Bushra Ebadi expressed to us recently, “Access to information is intrinsically tied to the right to know and the right to exist.”   

We often receive stories from around the world illustrating how Creative Commons (CC)  licenses have unlocked critical information, giving voice to those who have been silenced or marginalized.

Recently, we learned that Russian news outlet Meduza used the CC BY license in a campaign to help free journalist Ivan Golunov by raising awareness around him and his work. We decided to reach out to Meduza via email to learn more. Editor in chief Ivan Kolpakov’s responses are below. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Why did Meduza decide to license Ivan Golunov’s work under CC BY?

Meduza’s investigative reporter Ivan Golunov was arrested on June 6, 2019 in the center of Moscow. From the very beginning, we understood that our reporter was being persecuted because of his work. The people who we believe were behind his arrest are probably characters from his articles (for example, Golunov is famous for his anti-corruption investigations). Very quickly we realized that the smartest answer to this attack was to put Golunov’s work into the spotlight as much as possible. So, a couple of days later, we licensed all of Ivan Golunov’s work on Meduza—more than 100 articles—under a CC BY 4.0 license.

What was the result of that decision? 

The result was incredible. Hundreds of Russian media outlets republished Golunov’s pieces. Including national newspapers, lifestyle magazines (including Men’s Health Russia, GQ and Glamour), niche websites (e.g.,, feminist websites, regional press outlets, etc. 

I think it was the first time in the history of Russian media that one journalist’s articles were published at the same time in every outlet. It was an important part of this unprecedented campaign of solidarity with Golunov that began among journalists, and later became more widespread, including the general public. 

The result? The system gave in: Ivan Golunov was released on June 11, 2019.

Do you think this application of a CC license is a useful case study for other news outlets? 

I do. It’s an amazing example of solidarity among journalists, and works perfectly to counter external threats—even when those threats are very powerful. It’s also a good reminder of the role of mass media: To find what’s hidden and to spread it widely. 

At Meduza, we believe that freedom of information and the free distribution of information are key conditions for achieving positive changes in society. It’s hard to find a better illustration of this idea.

Learn more about this story and Ivan Golunov’s work here

Posted 05 November 2019