Peer 2 Peer University co-founder and director Philipp Schmidt (see our posts on P2PU, a cutting-edge open education project) has written an excellent post on his Sharing Nicely blog about supporting our Catalyst Campaign:
Today Creative Commons launches their catalyst campaign – brother to the recently announced catalyst grant programme. I like how they connect the two – funding their work AND raising money at the same time. On one hand, they offer small grants for projects that further their vision, and with the other hand they politely ask for donations to support it. It creates a connection between the donation and the purpose of that donation, even if it’s a very loose connection.
Well put — though in this campaign, the connection is very tight, 1:1 — the funds we raise go directly to the small grants.
However, the reason for highlighting Philipp’s post here is that he raises several important points that anyone who cares deeply about Creative Commons may be interested in. The first is simply that CC is crucial infrastructure that must be supported:
CC’s work is a very important foundation of a lot of the open content / commons movement – and I don’t think it’s easy to raise the funds necessary to support it. Hal Plotkin asked this question after his keynote at the recent OCWC Global conference. How should and can something that provides an important, but not very glamorous (my words, not Hal’s, with apologies to my lawyer friends at CC) enabling service be supported financially? Funding for infrastructure is difficult to raise. It’s a little bit like raising money for TCP/IP or HTTP. Everyone will agree that it’s important and we all benefit from having it – but we all hope that someone else will pick up the tab. We rely on that friend of a friend who got rich on stock options, sold his company, or house – or simply inherited a lot of money.
Having grown up in a social democracy that offers high-quality infrastructure and services to (almost) all of its citizens, my immediate response is that infrastructure should be paid for by the state from tax income. I personally would welcome a small part of my tax payments to be used to support important infrastructure projects that enable free flow of knowledge and information. Even more so, now that I live in a country where access to knowledge is scarce and expensive. I believe such would be an excellent investment in future development and well-being of all citizens.
The problem with writing blog posts about topics like this is – you end up getting stuck in a dilemma. I have now explained that I think CC’s work is important, that I suspect many people fail to support it, and that the government should consider doing so. However, pending major adjustments in the political landscape of South Africa, that doesn’t really help anyone. So I went ahead and donated a little money to CC today.
Please join Philipp. But it’s ok to consider infrastructure glamorous, because it is. You’re with a cool crowd. That realizes the Internet breaking is extremely anti-glamor.
Gratuitous infrastructure glamor shot: Ponte estaiada Octavio Frias – Sao Paulo by Marcosleal / CC BY-SA
The benefit of donating is the perceived authority to ramble on a little bit longer, and say a few things about what CC are doing what I think could be improved. In order to do that I think its worth looking at the licences as a service (or even a product) that has to be sold to a particular audience and designing it in order to provide maximum value to that audience. What I mean by that is that there is a tendency for organizations to turn inwards – and in the case of CC that means pay more and more attention to the opinions of legal experts – rather than listen to the customers who don’t understand the legal details, and in most cases don’t give a rat’s hat. Here is what I’d like to see:
I would like to see fewer licences and fewer versions – but more certainty that the licence will hold up in court. I believe simplicity beats choice and legal finesse.
It’s absolutely worth looking at Creative Commons licenses as products that serve customers, and without doubt any organization that turns inwards, ignoring what its customers desire from its products is doomed. This isn’t what Creative Commons does.
Most users of Creative Commons licenses may not care to understand the legal details (but you can bet that many policymakers and the legal departments of institutions do), but their desire to see the licenses hold up in court requires that someone does — that’s Creative Commons’ job, and it requires paying attention to the opinions of legal experts — we must make the licenses work not just for a particular audience in a particular jurisdiction, but across many domains and globally. The strength of our legal resources — on staff, an amazing affiliate network, board, and pro-bono — is what allows most users to rationally not give a rat’s hat about the legal details involved.
So the listening to the opinions of legal experts is crucial, but so is listening to users. Philipp’s request for more simplicity, especially in the form of fewer licenses and versions therof, is not uncommon. Creative Commons is doing alright here — especially considering potential user requests for more narrowly targeted licenses are at least as common. Here are some examples of doing well:
- In a little over four years from its launch late 2002, Creative Commons released four versions (1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0) of its core licenses. In the last nearly three and a half years, no new versions have been released — and none will be for some time. A version 3.x was briefly discussed in late 2007 due to concerns brought up by Wikipedians; instead of rushing a new version, we listened very carefully and took a number of steps, none legal, to assure Wikipedians that CC would be an excellent steward of the license used by Wikipedia — with the successful result of Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites migrating to CC BY-SA as their main content license last year.
- In 2004 CC launched two sets of specialty copyright licenses — sampling and developing nations. None have been launched since then — and sampling and developing nations were retired in 2007.
- The CC0 public domain waiver, launched last year raises the bar for generality of CC tools — it was designed to be universal from the beginning so that porting to different jurisdictions is not desired — and demonstrates the value of legal expertise — making a public domain dedication work globally (our first attempt launched in 2002 only targeted U.S. law) is no small task.
- Since the launch of Creative Commons there has been little “license proliferation” for content (arguably there has been de-proliferation, as the pre-CC pioneers have recommended or facilitated using CC), surely in large part due to CC’s demonstrated competence.
It’s also worth noting that while CC has and does listen very carefully to particular audiences, maximizing value for any particular audience is not good enough. Maximizing the global value of the commons requires a focus on interoperability — furthered by both getting legal details right and non-proliferation.
Suggestions regarding how we do do even better encouraged. Philipp concludes with:
I would like to see CC separate its core business (the licences) more clearly from other programme areas and especially things that fall broadly into the fostering of “creativity (cultural, educational, scientific and other content) in the commons”. This separation should include budgets – so that donors can choose what activities their money ends up supporting. Don’t get me wrong, I think creativity should be supported, and probably in a fairly vague and flexible way, but I think part of the funding challenge for CC is that people, especially those who are making small donations, are comfortable funding the licences but might not be as comfortable with CC using their donation to foster “creativity”. That applies to me for example.
Supporting creativity in a vague and flexible way would be massive mission creep for Creative Commons. Even supporting the creation of CC-licensed works is out of scope, and the Catalyst Grants description of fundable work specifically calls this out. However, we do a significant amount of work that could be characterized as communications, education, marketing, advocacy, evangelism, business development, tool building, etc. to support license adoption. This is crucial work for Creative Commons to do for the licenses are much, much more valuable with massive adoption. There’s more useful work to do here than we can do directly — thus our priority on developing our affiliate network and other means of scaling Creative Commons’ impact without adding substantially to our core cost structure. That’s fundamentally what the Catalyst Campaign and Catalyst Grants are about — raising a little bit of money to spur capacity for growing CC adoption massively beyond what CC can do directly.
Supporting Creative Commons (and our current Catalyst Campaign in particular) is much more highly targeted than “supporting creativity” — but there isn’t a bright line between “funding the licenses” and funding work done to support and promote the licenses. I would argue there shouldn’t be. The licenses are great products that requires support and promotion to realize their potential — like any great product. Creative Commons is a small organization, and among our small staff, most have overlapping duties that support the licenses in multiple ways. We do work hard to deploy our limited resources in the most scalable way possible. We also understand that the licenses are critical infrastructure that must be kept up and defended even if funding dries up, so we do make contingency plans for such scenarios.
Hopefully this addresses some of Philipp’s excellent and reasonable concerns. Again, specific suggestions for how we can do better are strongly encouraged! Now please join Philipp and his colleagues at P2PU in supporting this work!1 Comment »
The Software Freedom Law Show, Episode 0×16 contains numerous bits of interest to CC geeks and is well worth a listen. The show’s hosts, Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center, discuss among other things:
- How the GFDL turned out suboptimally — a key point is that developing good public licenses is very hard, the the GFDL was one of the very first for software documentation or other non-software works.
- The migration of Wikipedia and sister projects from GFDL to CC BY-SA, successfully completed this June.
- The importance of public license stewardship by mission-driven nonprofits — Bradley Kuhn’s writing on stewardship has been noted previously on this blog.
- The license used for the show itself, which is CC BY-ND.
- A promise to talk about the public domain and specifically CC0 in a future episode. Looking forward to it.
One quick addendum to the show, in which the hosts wonder if CC has a public versioning process. The answer is yes — see a a list of CC blog posts over the course of development of our 3.0 licenses. The next, eventual versioning will be even more public and rigorous, just as the GPLv3 had a development process far more in depth than that of any public software license that preceded it.No Comments »
We will present a proposal for dual-licensing all Wikimedia projects currently using the GFDL, by January 15, 2009. It will be published on the foundation-l mailing list. This proposal will be discussed and revised through open community discussion, leading to an open vote among all active Wikimedia contributors (to be defined using similar criteria as the Board elections). If a majority of community members favor migration to CC-BY-SA, it will be implemented.
This follows the enormously important November 3 move by the Free Software Foundation to enable FDL-licensed wikis to migrate to CC BY-SA. For more background and why this is so important for free culture, see our post on the FSF’s move.
FSF president and free software movement founder Richard Stallman has since written an open letter on the matter. Excerpt:
If a wiki site exercises the relicensing option, that entails trusting Creative Commons rather than the Free Software Foundation regarding its future license changes. In theory one might consider this a matter of concern, but I think we can be confident that Creative Commons will follow its stated mission in the maintenance of its licenses. Millions of users trust Creative Commons for this, and I think we can do likewise.
This is a great honor for Creative Commons, and a debt of trust we are compelled to uphold. We hope the Wikimedia community will come to the same conclusion. Regarding maintenance of CC BY-SA licenses, see our Statement of Intent, also cited by the Q&A linked at the top of this post.
For a more general take on license stewardship, please see Bradley Kuhn’s post on The FLOSS License Drafter’s Responsibility to the Community, prompted by Stallman’s letter:
The key quote from his letter that stands out to me is: “our commitment is that our changes to a license will stick to the spirit of that license, and will uphold the purposes for which we wrote it.” This point is fundamental. As FLOSS license drafters, we must always, as RMS says, “abide by the highest ethical standards” to uphold the spirit that spurred the creation of these licenses.
Far from being annoyed, I’m grateful for those who assume the worst of intentions and demand that we justify ourselves. For my part, I try to answer every question I get at conferences and in email about licensing policy as best I can with this point in mind. We in the non-profit licensing sector of the FLOSS world have a duty to the community of FLOSS users and programmers to defend their software freedom. I try to make every decision, on licensing policy (or, indeed, any issue) with that goal in mind. I know that my colleagues here at the SFLC, at the Conservancy, at FSF, and at the many other not-for-profit organizations always do the same, too.
CC does not create software licenses (we recommend existing excellent free software licenses, such as the FSF’s GNU GPL), but these are words to take to heart as closely as possible.No Comments »