December 21, 2006

Creative Commons gets new chairman; Lessig to continue as CEO

Author: Mayank Sharma

After four successful years of revolutionizing how content is shared in the real world, Lawrence Lessig, founding chairman of Creative Commons, announced his retirement as chairman of the board last week. Lessig passed the CC torch to Joi Ito, a venture capitalist from Japan.

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization and is known for its Creative Commons copyright licenses. "We provide free licenses," Lessig writes, "that mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share the work, or remix the work, or both share and remix the work, as the author chooses." On the popularity of CC, Lessig says that, "within a year of launch, there were more than 1,000,000 link-backs to our licenses (meaning at least a million places on the Web where people were linking to our licenses, and presumptively licensing content under those licenses)." In June 2006, this figure had grown to about 140,000,000 link-backs. "We have hit a stride, and more and more of the net marks itself with the freedoms that Creative Commons helps secure," says Lessig.

Lessig is happy to be replaced by Ito, calling him the "perfect next chairman." "The key to our success now," he says, "is to fit this project within an overall economy of creativity. We want to support and protect the sharing economy; we also want to build tools that would help support crossovers into the commercial economy. That will take the sensibility and insight that Joi has demonstrated in his whole career."

"The decision [for Ito to step up] was made at the last board meeting", Mia Garlick, general counsel of Creative Commons, says, "so that CC can have the benefit of Joi's leadership and to lessen Larry's load whilst still having his vision, insight and involvement as CEO. Joi has already contributed considerably to Creative Commons with his experience and insights on the "sharing economy" and his tech and industry background."

Ito recaps the growth of the CC licenses since his involvement. "When I joined the board in 2003, the licenses had been launched and the movement already had a great buzz of activity and goodwill around it. At the time, some products like Movable Type had already integrated Creative Commons licenses, but for the most part, CC was a movement of like-minded people with a vision. Since then, Creative Commons ... has become a standard feature in major search engines, Web services, software tools and content libraries."

Lots to do

Ito is looking forward to his new role and duties at CC. He has a list of tasks on his agenda -- apart from fundraising, which Ito says "is always a priority."

At the top of his list is "building out the ccLabs to trial and showcase innovative new tools that CC is working on, prior to their final release." One of their current projects is a Freedoms License Chooser, for people who are confused with the various freedoms and restrictions that make up the CC licenses.

Another top objective is to work on "commercial rights licensing so that CC artists can utilize the CC licensing infrastructure to (hopefully) make money." This will be possible through the Metadata Lab and the DHTMl License Chooser. "What the Metadata Lab demonstrates," Lessig says, "is a particular example of a much more general facility that we will enable very soon. Using our licensing engine to add the appropriate metadata, users will be able to specify rights or applications beyond those specified in the license itself. Those rights, or applications, might include commercial rights or things people can buy, other CC licenses."

Focusing on the licenses themselves, the board will also be "finalizing version 3.0 of the CC licenses," says Ito, "to ensure that our licenses remain current and relevant to the communities they serve." The drafts of the new versions were posted for discussion in October. Ito will also be "working towards FDL compatibility so that projects like Wikipedia can be remixed with CC BY-SA [attribution and share alike] licensed content."

The project will also continue their work on building a Canadian public domain wiki to improve ease of identification of works that are in the public domain in Canada. Lessig had outlined this as one of the planned projects in 2006.

Ito also supports maintaining CC's presence in Second Life, an online virtual world, where Lessig and Ito made last week's announcement. "Aside from being fun," he says, "it encapsulates so much of what CC is trying to promote: a digital platform in which people can get creative and easily express themselves without burdensome technical and legal frictions."

Support the Commons

Support the Commons is CC's annual fundraising campaign. "The response to our first fundraising campaign [last year] was fantastic," says Garlick. "We exceeded our target and were able to successfully demonstrate to the IRS that we are a publicly supported charity. Given this was the first time we had asked our community for assistance, we were humbled by the strong response we received.

"The response this year to our second campaign has been even stronger and more diverse. What has overwhelmed us this time around has been the innovative ways our community has come together to support us and our mission. One example is the person who donated the proceeds of an auction of a historical domain name on eBay."

CC, on its part, is employing an innovative fundraising model that utilizes the very media and new mediums of distribution that form part of "user generated content" and participatory culture. "We have uploaded several of our short videos to Revver, a video-sharing platform that uses Creative Commons licenses to help creators make money from their work. Revver attaches a short ad at the end of each video; when a viewer clicks on the ad, Revver splits the resulting ad revenue with the video's creator. Revver is generously giving Creative Commons 100% of the money our videos make through the end of our fundraising campaign on December 31, 2006."

Through Revver, CC has raised approximately $950. That might seem nominal in the face of the $300,000 goal, "but the implication", Garlick says, "is that roughly 300 people have viewed and clicked on the ad at the end of the videos. So that means that hypothetically there are 300 people out there that have either been introduced to CC or their knowledge of CC is that much more cohesive."

Garlick also shares plans to launch a portal where community members can upload their CC-licensed videos directly to CC's account if they want to help support CC with the generated revenue.

So how do the organization plan to use the money it raises? Garlick says, "CC has a history of spending a low percentage on administration in order to support and grow our various programs. Over the past year we have been working diligently expanding both our legal and tech tools based on feedback from the community and exporting the philosophy of the commons." Apart from the programs on Ito's agenda discussed earlier, the money, says Garlick, will be used on some new program areas they hope to initiate or grow, including "building a stable 'free culture' infrastructure, adding tangible support to authors, extending the base we've already built and expanding our work in education.

"We are hopeful of reaching this year's target. Currently, we have raised just over $205,500, so we have less than $95,000 to go and 10 days to do it in. If anyone reads this before the year's end and wants to support Creative Commons' work, please feel free to contribute however much you can."

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