Growing the Commons

Thanks to Cat Johnson at Shareable for making me aware of this. Ryan Merkely, CEO of Creative Commons, has written a series of blog posts about sharing and growing the commons. As you know, if you’ve followed my blog, Creative Commons is all about giving the creators of cultural goods a way to use their copyright to share their work under their own terms. You know that I have published my work, Green Comet and Parasite Puppeteers, under a Creative Commons Attribution and Share-Alike license (CC-BY-SA.) This license means that you can take those stories and do whatever you like with them, including re-releasing them, as long as you give attribution to me, the original creator (BY) and you share your version in the same way (SA.) My reward is in the sharing, and in seeing people enjoy and expand upon my work. Unfortunately, unless people take the time to tell me they’ve enjoyed it or used it to further their own creativity, my reward is largely theoretical. Ryan Merkely and Creative Commons are planning on making it more tangible.

Here are some quotes from Cat Johnson’s article:

We’re now faced with the most restrictive copyright laws in history, not to mention that much of the world’s scientific knowledge is locked behind paywalls.

Recently, numerous medical publications opened up papers related to the Zika virus. It was an acknowledgement from the medical establishment that openness leads more quickly to solutions.

“What if we were to say, ‘Let’s open cancer,'” (says Merkely.) “What if we opened up all the research that relates to this work? Let’s shine a bright light on this disease that we’ve allowed to hide in the shadows and behind paywalls, and crush it with innovation. What would that look like?”

Merkely’s blog posts are here, here and here. And here is an article that he contributed to the Globe and Mail in September 2015. Very brief summary: Sharing does not expect compensation, as in the so-called sharing economy. That is a transaction, not sharing. In true sharing the return is to the reputation of the sharer, and in the gratitude of the receiver. So the receiver gets the immediate benefit of whatever is shared. And the sharer gets long-term benefits: reputation, gratitude and the stimulation of more sharing as their gift is paid forward.

This is good, and it appears to be enough. After all, there are already over a billion works being shared under a Creative Commons license. But Creative Commons is planning to make it even better. In the welter of information that we live in today, a creator’s work is easily lost. While the people benefitting from the sharing might want to reward the sharer, it’s too easy for it all to get lost in their hectic daily lives. So the creator can be left in a partial vacuum, with little or no feedback to let them know how their work is received.

Ryan Merkely says that Creative Commons is going to work toward “ensuring that the legal, technical and policy infrastructure we create is designed to foster cooperation and sharing.” They want to make the Internet sharing-friendly. They want to make the works in the commons “easy to discover and curate, to use and remix,” and to make the creators “feel valued for their contributions.” To do that, Creative Commons should “do more to offer tools, education, advocacy, and community-building.”

For the next 3-5 years CC will focus their efforts on three things: discovery, collaboration and advocacy. Discovery means making the commons more usable. CC works need to be found, and then easily used. This means, for example, search, curation, meta-tagging, analytics and one-click attribution. Collaboration means just that. Developing ways for users of the commons to work together. Advocacy means CC continuing to use their position to grow and improve the commons.

Sharing is not about Uber or Airbnb. It’s about creators sharing their work, and the recipients being able to show their gratitude. It’s about growing the commons, and rewarding those who help it grow.


About arjaybe

Jim has fought forest fires and controlled traffic in the air and on the sea. Now he writes stories.
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