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Creative Commons & the Sharing Web

 Creative commons

We've just passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the first collection of Creative Commons licenses, established by the non-profit Creative Commons organisation to facilitate a "simple, standardized way to give the public permission to share and use your creative work — on conditions of your choice". 

In the decade since that release the free and easy-to-use licenses have been expanded and improved, and their usage and application has grown exponentially. Hundreds of millions of creative works are now licensed under the system which has expanded to a network of affiliates that support and promote CC activities in over 70 jurisdictions around the world.

Creative Commons licenses work alongside copyright, and are important to the sharing web since they provide a framework to support creative re-use of content, and expand the available range of creative works upon which others can legally build and share. And in a world where everything is a remix, building on the work of others is a fundamental form of innovation and creativity. Such a framework provides a great foundation for a community built around sharing and constructive practices like attribution.

Flickr has long shown how to make mass adoption of CC easier, and YouTube, Google+, Slideshare and Soundcloud all support the CC licensing system, giving users flexibility to license their content as they see fit, and making it easy to create defaults under settings options.

Yet, as Ryan Singel wrote about over Christmas, some some of our largest and most popular social networks do not support Creative Commons. Facebook (and now Instagram) in particular, is focused on creating defaults set to share openly, but with most of that sharing happening within Facebook. There is no option for users to license their content for creative re-use, and settings for sharing are instead governed by complex, multi-page terms of service which no-one reads (two Carnegie Mellon researchers published a paper earlier this year that suggested that it would take 76 work days to read all of the privacy policies that an average Internet user encounters in a year).

In fairness, Facebook are not alone in not supporting CC, but with the huge volumes of content that are shared on the service every day, it's worrying that we are learning sharing behaviours set around defaults that don't encourage constructive re-use and voluntary attribution. 

Anil Dash recently wrote about the web we lost, lamenting the apparent drift from some of the core attributes that underpinned the heady early days of the sharing web. Surely one of the best ways in which we can rebuild the web we lost, is to encourage universal support for the one system that stands the best chance of providing users with a degree of flexibility and protection around their content and creative work, whilst establishing a sound foundation for communities built around constructive sharing.

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