@CC: Be Creative for the Commons!

or: A Wishlist for Creative Commons

I had the enormous pleasure of being on a panel with Leonhard Dobusch, Tyng-Ruey Chuang and Kat Walsh on „CC’s Role in the Global Commons Movement“, moderated by Mike Linksvayer. We had roughly one hour and 15 minutes at the CC Global Summit in Warsaw in mid September 2011. Big room, great talks but no time for discussion. 😦
Well, in a way it was ok, because it felt like this would be just the first panel out of many more to come.

Tyng-Ruey from Creative Commons Taiwan accurately pointed out that talking about CC’s Role in the Global Commons Movement means talking about what CC as an organization…

„can still do, and shall do, when not talking about the CC licenses“ (Maintaining and promoting those licenses is what CC-staff usually does!)  because…

„CC licenses are just for copyrightable works, so […] there is a gap between what CC-licensed contents can enable people to do and what people can really do when there is universal access to knowledge and culture.“

Therefore, Tyng-Ruey recommends:

„CC shall move forward to providing universal access to knowledge and culture, and […] this is what the global commons movement is about.“ (see the whole talk)

Getting there could and should imply:

1. Clear advocacy understood as a clear opposition „to actions that obstruct the universal access to knowledge and culture“.

2. Create and support content trusts like Wikipedia and the Internet Archive, because: „A CC-licensed work is a single object, made free by an action from an individual. A content trust […], is maintained by a community of people with practices of sharing.“

3. Live data is big today, it „drives big business, and access to data is essential for our understanding of the world […].So it is very important for CC to work with live or quasi-live data communities like the Open Street Map project.

Three great points!

Kat Walsh shared here insights into the Wikimedia process of turning from a project into a movement, an idea that „owes a lot to Florence Devouard […] She has put the idea of creating a revolution and helping the internet reach its potential.“ Basically, says Kat, …

„when you are reaching over 400 million people, creating a movement means getting all of the people whose lives you enrich in some way to understand how your values already make their lives better, and how adopting themand extending them could improve everyone’s experience.“

Just to summarize some of the main issues she raised on the process of turning from a project into a  movement:

  • „Jimmy Wales: one of the most important things he’s done to enable the movement was get out of the way. […] to step down as chair, take an evangelist role but not formal leadership.
  • the change in mission towards a „broader and more inclusive“ approach: „The mission of the Wikimedia movement is to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally. The collaborative efforts of various groups around the world provide the essential infrastructure and framework for the support and development of multilingual wiki projects …“ (from the new mission statement)
  • the participatory strategic planning process to identify goals to focus on for directed action to „be inclusive, to be diverse, to be welcoming.“
  • the need to redefine „Who’s “we”?“ (a hard question to answer) —-> „We’re not just one community, but many“
  • the need to communicate effectively within the movement and devote more resources to it;

As a result

„Conceiving of ourselves as a movement, not just a project, meant moving from the online world into the offline world. […] trying to be more conscious of the potential of many decentralized organizations. […] When you talk about a movement instead of a project, you stop thinking about the Foundation as the center of everything, because one Foundation isn’t going to scale up. You have to think of how to make your community. Because part of being a movement is that we’re not entirely in control of it anymore.“

In short. The question Kat raised was: Is there a potential for Creative Commons to turn from an organization (which basically maintains CC licenses) into a movement? Excellent question.

I remembered the first plenary of the summit, when Joi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons, said a simple but remarkable sentence, sharing a concern with Florence Devouard:

„The biggest value of the internet is the fact, that we have only one internet.
So it is key to do the right thing.“

That is pretty true. Actually, we not only have „only one internet“, but using it smartly turns out the be one of the key-elements for building fair and sustainable ‚glocal‘ livelyhoods – at least in some parts of the world.

When preparing the last slides of  my short presentation, I wondered: What is the right thing for an Organization proudly labeled ‚creative‘ and ‚commons‘? From a commons activist’s perspective, the answer is easy: Contribute to reproduce the commons, i.e. contribute to social, institutional, technological and legal innovations from bottom up to avoid three things:

  • overuse of limited resources
  • underuse of unlimited resources
  • exclusivity (the everything is mine – approach)

Honestly, I was not really sure if those issues are properly framed by the CC vision and mission:

„to develop, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing and innovation.“ (mission) … „driving a new era of development, growth and innovation“. (vision)

During the sessions of the first summit day I had the impression that CC, the organization, does not really ask: ‚which kind of development they refer to nor growth and innovation what for?‘. For decades now, market-fundamentalist ‚innovation‘, ‚growth‘ and ‚development‘ did not avoid overuse of limited resources, nor underuse of unlimited resources nor exclusive access to both. Innovation and development (without further specification) and especially ‚growth‘ are clearly not the major concerns of a broader commons movement. Enclosures are, ‚commoning‚ is, autonomy and freedom. The question of how to create an enviroment which makes cooperation easy … these kind of things.

As each of my co-panelists, I came to the conclusion, that Creative Commons is the world’s most important ambassador for the commons. As a matter of fact. Leo Dobusch and Kat Walsh used a kind of business language to say the same thing.

„CC is the most visible brand in the space of creating the infrastructure for openness and freedom.“

I also came to the conclusion, that the message of the world’s most important ambassador of the commons does not focus on the commons. (Actually, when I talked to some young CC activist during lunch and raised the issue that it would be important for CC to have and transmit a coherent notion of the commons (at the end of the day it’s „Creative Commons„) I got two surprising  answers: „Does this issue really matter?“ and „I don’t wanna even think about. Seems complicated.“

Complicated! May be, but urgently needed for a future strategy of a CC movement, for „teaming up with local heroes“ of the commons, as Leo Dobusch said and for the visibility and success of a broader commons movement.

Just as Tyng-Ruey Chuang did, I also prepared a wishlist for Creative Commons. It was short and went like this. I would like CC:

  • caring for the history and the essence of the commons
  • being aware of and supportive to commons related movements
  • focusing on self-reproduction of the commons as condition for everybody’s freedom
  • decide for active commons advocacy

And most importantly: Be not only Creative Commons. Be creative for the commons!


PS. The session has been captured in video.. Special thanks to Mike Linksvayer for having made this meeting possible. When and where does it continue?

Photo on flickr: plenary CC Summit 2011 Warsaw, By chiaki0808 CC: BY NC SA

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