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.3 Comments »
Mike Carroll was a practicing lawyer in Washington DC when the idea of openly licensed copyright landed on his desk as a pro bono project. “It was going to be a central repository of content, where we had the copyright and would openly license it to others,” he says. After a group brainstorm led by Larry Lessig at the Harvard Berkman Center in May 2001, the lawyers decided to scrap the central repository idea and create licenses that others could use freely. Shortly after that, Carroll was invited to join the board of the organization that would soon become known as Creative Commons.
CC quickly evolved from an idea that artists were skeptical about—why would any creative person be willing to give up control?—to something that proliferated across state borders and disciplines.
“The Internet is global, and we knew we would have to grapple with the complexities of international copyright and that we would add science to the mix,” he says. “But the pressure to do that came much faster than we expected. In short order, we had to organize a pretty sophisticated operation on a limited budget to engage with the international network of support for the Creative Commons idea.”
Still, Carroll says, there are challenges ahead. “We are offering tools as a solution to a problem that not everyone knows they have.” For one thing, awareness about what open content is, and why making it legally open matters, is still a bit hazy for some. The good news is that some web sites have seamlessly integrated CC into their functions, like the Flickr search engine. The challenge is to engage with the continuing evolution of the web to make sure adopting CC is easy and natural.
“We care deeply about not getting locked into things that can’t evolve as the web evolves. If it were easier to find reliable CC content, that makes using CC licenses more attractive. We’re trying to keep the web open in an interoperable space—but it’s not just the technology. It’s the values embedded in our technical choices.”
Those values—openness, flexibility, sharing—are a part of Carroll’s life both professionally and personally. Carroll is now the Director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University. In conjunction with Creative Commons, he has worked for years with the library community to promote open access to the scholarly and scientific journal literature on web. He also serves on the National Research Council’s Board on Research Data and Information to address issues such as data sharing among scientists, and he’s a Fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
He’s also a hobby musician who sometimes gets together with other copyright lawyers to jam. “I’m one of those musicians [that loves] to play to the crowd,” he says, in the same spirit of an organization dedicated to helping other creators share.
Support the organization Carroll has been a part of from the very beginning by donating to Creative Commons today.2 Comments »
The first website CC board member Caterina Fake ever made was a fan page for Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov, her favorite writer. “When I first went online around 1993-1994, every site was just something people had just put up–pictures of their cat, or a marble collection, or Bob Dylan discography. It was just strangers making cool stuff and sharing it online. The Internet was premised on this culture of generosity.”
But as the web grew, so did the rules about copyright and ownership of content. And somewhere along the way, this culture of generosity got lost in lockdown. That’s why, within six months of co-founding Flickr in 2004, Fake made sure that users could upload their photos to her rapidly expanding photo-sharing site with CC licenses. “Flickr is very much a platform for this culture of generosity to take place,” she says. “Creators should be able to choose to make their work available. If they have no interest in the ridiculous restrictions copyright is imposing on people, that should be okay.”
Today, Flickr has over 167 million CC-licensed photos, making it one of the largest repositories of freely shareable images in the world.
In the summer of 2009, Fake started Hunch, a website that builds a “taste graph” of the Internet. Users respond to questions like: “Do you like your sandwich cut vertically or horizontally?” and “When flying, do you prefer a window seat or an aisle seat?” The data collected goes towards finding random correlations on web users and providing recommendations on magazines,TV shows, and books. It’s all part of what Fake is most passionate about, what she calls participatory media.
Fake has been a supporter of sharing creative content from very early on. Before she was even thinking about founding successful web companies, Fake was a painter, sculptor, and writer. “I’m a big proponent of people having the ability to express themselves and be part of a culture that supports creative work,” she says. “I believe everyone who wants to make a living off their work should be more than welcome to do so. And those who do not should also have the ability not to be constrained by copyright.”
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When Molly Van Houweling ran Creative Commons back in 2001, she was the only staff member, working out of a small office on the third floor of the Stanford law school building. Her work there was mundane but critical: taking off from the pivotal meeting among the founders at the Harvard Berkman Center earlier that year, the once-advisee of Larry Lessig was doing paperwork and drafting the legal language that would become the foundation of Creative Commons.
Van Houweling worked with the founding team to settle on the idea of making machine-readable licenses for creative works and to begin designing the infrastructure and drafting the legal language for these licenses. “We received some skeptical responses from people and didn’t do a lot of market testing to guarantee adoption, but moved forward based on the creativity that we were sensing and observing on the Internet.” The free software movement of the 80s and 90s also suggested that there was a market of creativity not motivated by the traditional copyright model of selling things under exclusive rights. From the beginning there was a wide range of CC adopters, including Boing Boing, PLoS, Magnatune, and the MIT OpenCourseWare project.
In the summer of 2002, she handed off the executive director role to Glenn Otis Brown and moved to Michigan to teach law. She has since continued to champion CC by promoting our “some rights reserved” approach at conferences and teaching the principles of CC to her classes.
Today, Van Houweling is a law professor at UC Berkeley, where she teaches classes about copyright and intellectual property. She always starts her classes by explaining the traditional justifications for this body of law–the fear that some creativity might not happen if the creators were not protected from having their work copied and distributed in a way that prevents them from reaping their investment. But she also encourages them to think about how sound this argument is when looking at the bigger picture. “As students have become more familiar with models like CC and the explosion of creativity on the Internet, it’s become easier for them to see the limits to this explanation of copyright protection.”
Creative Commons has influenced her life in other ways, too. Van Houweling is a competitive bicycle racer–she’s the reigning champion in Northern California and Nevada in the women’s individual time trial event and the 2010 winner of the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic stage race. “It’s a big thrill for me when the pictures taken of me are CC licensed,” she says. “Some of the best pictures of me from Mt. Hood were taken by [MetaFilter founder] Matt Haughey and have been used by local papers and on the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic web site.” She’s also an avid traveler who likes to take pictures of food and drink that she encounters on her journeys, and was delighted to find that one of her CC-licensed Flickr photos was used in several Wikipedia entries to illustrate a Spanish herbal brandy. “My creativity was never motivated in a way that had to do with copyright, and it’s much more rewarding now that people don’t have to ask for my permission.”
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Meet Creative Commons board member Jimmy Wales. You probably know him best as the founder of Wikipedia. Here, he talks to us about the importance of Creative Commons, why fundraising is hard, and his crazy travel schedule.
Why are you on the CC board?
As the founder of Wikipedia, I am very aware of the importance of thoughtful licensing regimes for creators of content who want to share it with others. We live in an era in which it is really easy for people to share knowledge. Without a legal framework that allows them to do so in the ways that they want, we won’t realize the full benefits of this era.
Why do you support CC and why do you use it on your sites?
I have always been a fan of CC’s approach as a “middle way.” For a long time, we were stuck in a debate about copyright that focused only on two categories of people: the creators who want to maintain their work under traditional copyright, and the “pirates” who want to steal that work and undermine it. What was lost in that dialogue first became obvious in the world of free, open source software: many people are creators but aren’t interested in, nor helped by, traditional copyright. CC recognized that the solutions being created in the world of software had broader applicability to culture.
What, in your opinion, are the challenges that lie ahead for CC?
Billions of people benefit in some way from the work of Creative Commons, but I fear that it is too often overlooked because the work is by nature free of charge, and because it is “infrastructure.”
At Wikipedia, we are able to fund-raise directly from small donors because we are huge, public, and visible, and our community builds something that everyone uses every day. With Wikipedia, we can always know that there will be lots and lots of $30 donors from the heart and soul of the Wikipedia donor community. It’s harder for Creative Commons.
I’m a donor to Creative Commons, and I encourage other people to be donors as well. Creative Commons will always have a smaller group of donors, but one that digs deeper because they know how important the work is.
I know you mentioned below that you travel a lot… what’s your daily life like? What are you traveling for? We’d love to get a glimpse of a day in the life of Jimmy Wales!
I’m writing to you from a plane, of course. :) I’m not so sure I can explain a “typical day” for me because every day is different. I’m on my way home to Florida now, and then next week I’m off on one of my maddening multiple-continent journeys.
I’m about to do this:
I count 5 changes of continents in there… in 9 days!
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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.”
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