Creative Commons, the organization that enables millions of people to bypass traditional copyright, and openly share or reuse works, is embarking on a new mission to make online sharing more purposeful, and the connections between people more meaningful.

Creative Commons was founded in 2001, when the idea of the Internet as a place for the exchange of global knowledge, culture and creativity was still new. People eager to share their work for republishing and remixing lacked tools to do that in an easy, usable way.

Claudio Ruiz
Claudio Ruiz. Photo by Sabino Aguad (CC BY-SA 4.0).

By 2016, more than
1.2 billion works were “CC licensed” on the Internet, and major platforms including YouTube, Wikimedia and Medium have adopted the licenses as a standard, as have countless cultural, educational, scientific and governmental institutions worldwide.

Except Creative Commons was arguably faltering by other measures. A five-year organizational strategy document approved by the board in 2015 asked whether the commons was really fulfilling its mission of supporting digital creativity and universal access to research and education beyond a high number of licenses.

“Adding a work to the commons is a huge gift, but contributors get very little in exchange, no feedback, no analytics, not even a “like” or a “thank you,” reads the document.

Engaging directly with the communities that have given CC a foothold around the world is key. People like the creators of El Salvador’s first open data portal DatosElSalvador, that shares public information records. Or the translators of African Storybook in South Africa, that offers open access to thousands of children’s books.

In 2013, an international license was released by Creative Commons for the first time. It was a turning point for a community that already included hundreds of volunteers in 85 countries. Until then, the work had centered primarily on the legal translation of licenses. Gradually, the community broadened to encompass more creators, scholars and activists working for local change.

This transition pushed Creative Commons to revisit its core values and think about how to channel the wishes of its community into action.

“We started a bottom-up conversation with the community in 2016,” says longtime network affiliate Claudio Ruiz from Chile, describing a landmark research project called Faces of the Commons that involved 80% of community members in all regions.

“That report was a milestone for understanding the hopes and fears of the community in different cultural and geographic contexts,” says Ruiz.

The outcome was a new Network Strategy and a Global Network Community website and membership application process.

“We are reframing the way Creative Commons values today’s Internet content, and we are giving agency and tools to advocates, activists, artists, librarians, lawyers and general users of the commons, on a global scale,” explains Ruiz.

The changes include an entirely new governance model and an upgraded chapter structure for collaboration. Current network platforms for action include copyright reform, open education resources and galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). If Creative Commons is successful with its new approach, the healthier the Internet will be.

Further reading:

State of the Commons
Network Strategy: the transition towards a new model, Creative Commons Blog, 2017
Faces of the Commons Research, Creative Commons, 2017
Creative Commons 2015-­2020 Organizational Strategy, 2016