From CC’s New CEO: Working Towards Our Shared Future

Catherine Stihler

It is an honor to be joining the Creative Commons team on the eve of its 20th anniversary year.

For nearly two decades, this organization has worked to make the world a more open and equitable place.

When CC first launched in 2001, I was a recently-elected Member of the European Parliament at a time when copyright and access issues were beginning to receive attention.

But throughout my 20 years as a legislator, directly representing over five million people in Scotland and delivering change for over 500 million Europeans, I took on the task of championing digital policy issues including copyright reform, citizen privacy and data protection, and improving public access to digital tools.

As I reflect, we today find ourselves in a very different world. And as I look to the future, I know the work of CC has never been more important.

We have the opportunity to play a leading role in the global fight to remove obstacles to the sharing of knowledge and creativity.

This matters because of the pressing challenges facing us, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak human and economic devastation across the globe.

Inequality is on the rise, and injustices have been exposed.

The tragic killing of George Floyd sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, while there have been pro-democracy protests in several countries, including in Belarus only last week.

CC stands with those grieving and protesting against injustices, and with those fighting for justice, representation, and equality around the world.

The challenges and the crises we have witnessed during this extraordinary year have raised legitimate questions about power and privilege.

Who has access to knowledge in our unequal society?

We know that too often it is the hands of the few, not the many, and access is often denied to women, people of color, LGBTQI communities and people from the global South.

We have a role to challenge power and privilege, and the solution to that is to open up access and share knowledge.

During the coronavirus crisis, we saw some progress being made.

Paywalls came down, and research was shared. The race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 demonstrates why rapid and unrestricted access to scientific research and educational materials is so vital.

It’s a shame that it took a global pandemic to realize this, but I hope the lesson has now been learned.

Yet for every step forward there is also a step backwards.

Some nations have imposed restrictions on the right to information and not all have reinstated them.

And too much knowledge remains out of reach, with museum and library doors still shut in many countries, and digital access not available for so many.

Breaking down barriers is not easy.

Take the example of the National Emergency Library, designed by the Internet Archive to make over 1.3 million e-books available for checkout, free of charge during the pandemic.

A consortium of four publishers filed suit and the library was forced to close. This demonstrates the challenges that remain.

But there is also hope.

I have been a longstanding champion of the need to unlock digital access to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity for everyone in society.

I’m excited by the opportunity to make a difference.

The work of CC has already proved crucial during this devastating pandemic. The Open COVID Pledge has made it easier for universities, companies, and other holders of intellectual property rights to support the development of medicines, test kits, vaccines, and other scientific discoveries.

And we have worked to make publicly funded educational resources openly licensed to help the public access reliable, practical information.

There is much more to do.

Our world faces an uncertain future and it is vital that open access policies are adopted by organizations and governments.

Technological advances have brought many people closer together, and yet also pushed too many apart.

Our mission is to build a shared future for all, and I can’t wait to get started.