Paul Stacey


Imagining a Commons Based Music Industry

These past few weeks I’ve been heads down writing up case studies of organizations and businesses across all sectors who have Creative Commons based open business models.

One of the great things about working at Creative Commons is the way my colleagues track and share news related to the work we do. Over the past few weeks music industry news and events have been most thought provoking. I thought I’d use this post to essentially think out loud about how music might work in a commons-based model.

Let me say up front that this is exploratory, out-of-the-box thinking. The start of taking learnings and approaches from the case studies I’m writing about and imagining how they might apply to the music industry. This is not some carefully thought through magic solution but rather an effort at using a few news stories to describe the current state of music as a business and then break free of the current industry model and define how a commons-based alternative might start from with a different set of principles while still generating a livelihood for musicians. Here are recent news items, stories, and initiatives I’m going to draw on:

This past week 160 artists and record labels signed a petition calling for a reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Here’s a copy of the actual petition:

DMCA Petitiion

Its a bit hard to read the small print so I’ve transcribed:

Dear Congress:

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is broken and no longer works for creators.

As songwriters and artists who are a vital contributing force to the U.S. and to American exports around the world, we are writing to express our concern about the ability of the next generation of creators to earn a living. The existing laws threaten the continued viability of songwriters and recording artists to survive from the creation of music. Aspiring creators shouldn’t have to decide between making music and making a living. Please protect them.

One of the biggest problems confronting songwriters and recording artists today is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This law was written and passed in an era that is technologically out-of-date compared to the era in which we live. It has allowed tech companies to grow and generate huge profits by creating ease of use for consumers to carry almost every recorded song in history in their pocket via a smartphone, while songwriters’ and artists’ earnings continue to diminish. Music consumption has skyrocketed, but the monies earned by individual writers and artists for that consumption has plummeted.

The DMCA simply doesn’t work. It’s impossible for tens of thousands of individual songwriters and artists to muster the resources necessary to comply with its application. The tech companies who benefit from the DMCA today were not the intended protectorate when it was signed into law nearly two decades ago. We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests with creators with the interests of the companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment. Its only then consumers will truly benefit.

This has been precipitated by the musicians and their representative labels and societies doing battle with the likes of YouTube and Apple. If you want to read more start with: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/taylor-swift-mccartney-sign-petition-for-digital-copyright-reform-20160620#ixzz4ChmHb9OW

In my work at Creative Commons and the work around open business models I’m very much interested in seeing business models and economic approaches that reward creators. Earning a livelihood as a musician or creator of any type has gotten more difficult. In a digital age where copying is near $0 I’m looking for the artist to get a very large percent of every sale.

Musician stories in Cash Music’s online publication Watt aptly illustrate the challenge musicians face. Stories like Why Am I Doing This to Myself?, Open is Hope, The Career of Being Myself, and many others.

Historically creators have relied on intermediaries to represent them and distribute/sell their creations. These middle intermediary organizations (labels, collecting societies, and now tech companies) have often made riches off the work of creators sometimes at the expense of creators themselves. So I’m all for the artists calling this out and pushing for DMCA Reform that better protects their ability to have a livelihood. Artists themselves ought to be the primary beneficiaries of their work.

In March 2016 SoundCloud, where a sizeable portion of the audio commons lives (they have lots of Creative Commons licensed music), announced their streaming service SoundCloud Go followed by a Twitter investment in June 2016. When it comes to this kind of business model I ask myself the following questions:

  • how is revenue split between the platform and the artist? I’m looking for higher splits to artists.
  • how is the split calculated? I’m looking for a deal that fairly acknowledges the value platform, artists, and users generate.
  • how does the platform factor Creative Commons into their business model? I’m looking for a key differentiation strategy.
  • how much is this about platform valuation and monetization, vs. advancement of creative culture, artists, public access, and the music community? I’m looking for the latter.

The details are so sparse with SoundCloud Go that I don’t get a sense of any answers.

I’m also interested in how SoundCloud Go compares with Spotify, Apple, Google, Tidal, Rhapsody, and other music subscription services on the basis of those questions. One of the things most frustrating is how opaque the actual business models are. There is very little transparency.

In terms of percent split of revenues associated with music streaming it seems the Copyright Royalty Board has been weighing in.

“How does the money get paid to labels and artists?
If the licensee has not cut a direct deal with the copyright owners, it can get a compulsory licenses which comes with a statutory rate as determined by the CRB judges and is paid to SoundExchange, an agency set up to administer payments. Those payments are split as follows: 50 percent to the master rights owner, which are typically record labels; 45 percent to the artist that recorded the music; and 5 percent to musicians, via their unions.”

Notice how 50 percent typically goes to the record label and how labels are typically the rights owner — not the artist.

I find it a bit hypocritical that labels, who have a long history of exploiting creators, are also signatories to this DMCA Reform petition. It seems to me they themselves are examples of “companies who exploit music for financial enrichment.”

I’ve been reading with great interest about British singer and songwriter Imogen Heap who as described here “is building what she calls a “fair trade” music industry that aims to sidestep middlemen like iTunes and Spotify and give musicians more ownership over the money and data produced by their work.”

I like the way her system makes the distribution of revenue completely transparent. Click on the Licensing tab on the site where her song Tiny Human is made available and view the Policies. Splits are transparent and the system flows the revenue directly through to all the musicians involved. I’m especially interested in the way she’s using blockchain to enhance creator autonomy and control over her works, including financial compensation, without the current reliance on third party intermediaries.

As I read all these stories I find myself thinking that everyone is still very much bought in to the idea that music is a commodity, a form of property, consumed by music listeners. This is how our current economy works, but as we’ve seen it results in inequity and siloed distribution of wealth. It anonymizes the relationship between creator and consumer. Rather than tweak this model I find myself wondering, “What might a commons-based solution to the current music industry might look like?”

Here’s a few thoughts on how commons-based thinking might change the model.

The second last sentence in the DMCA petition says, “We ask you to enact sensible reform that balances the interests of creators with the interests of companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment.” Notice how the interests of the public and music listeners are excluded. A commons based model would actually seek to balance the needs of the creators with the needs of listeners and the public.

I know in theory that government and copyright law is intended to act on the publics behalf while ensuring appropriate means of livelihood for the creator. But as this petition so aptly points out the current copyright law fails to do so and copyright legislation and its reform have increasingly been in the interests of “companies who exploit music for their financial enrichment” not in the interests of the creator or the public.

Copyright is based on the idea of personal ownership and property rather than communal shared resources. A commons based approach would see music not as the unilateral fixed work of a single artist but rather as a collaborative work that draws on all music that came before it and evolves through public use, enhancement, and innovation. More listeners, more use, more derivative works, these would not be seen as piracy but as positives.

A commons based approach is reciprocal. While others may use your works the same is true for you — you are free to build your music by innovating and making derivatives of others music. It’s a two-way street.

I really like the way theatre group Howlround, a knowledge commons by and for the theatre community expresses it. “A commons is a place to share the resources you have and take the resources you need. We believe that making art is more than a money game, that ticket sales for a live performance are just one piece of what it takes to claim success in our art form. Access and engagement are our highest values, and everyone, yes everyone, has something to contribute to the learning, the making, and the sharing of art.” Similar to Howlround a commons based approach to music would aim for access, engagement, and mass participation.

A commons based model would embrace the benefits of network effects where every use of the resource generates value not just for the creator but for everyone. A commons-based model would enable and celebrate remix as an integral form of creative expression and innovation, something that generates value to the original creator as well as the public.

A commons-based model for music would fully utilize digital affordances in a fair way. Today music exists in digital form. It is non-rivalrous and non-depletable. If I give you a digital copy of a song I have I still have the song. Digital based resources can be copied, shared, distributed and used at costs which approach zero dollars and at a scale that makes them increasingly accessible to the entire world. Rather than creating artificial scarcity by applying property and copyright law, a commons-based model would accept and build on digital attributes as strengths not weaknesses. The aim is not to curb abundance but to enable abundance.

The DMCA petition treats music as a commodity — an “export” as it says in the opening sentence. In a commons based model music would be seen as more than a commercial transaction. It would be seen as a social interaction involving the artist building community and working together to ensure livelihood and communal use. The public isn’t just a consumer of music — a passive music listener. Music is integral to our lives — we sing along with songs, we learn to play them ourselves, songs get associated with key life events, … Songs quickly enter personal and societal culture where they evolve in ways that advance the field of music. A commons based model would acknowledge and recognize this value. In a commons based model music is a shared resource managed by a community.

A commons based approach to music emphasizes relationship. The current music industry largely severs that relationship. In the current model music is a commodity purchased anonymously. But fans know that a digital copy of the song costs the industry close to $0. They also know that the majority of whatever they pay for a song does not go to the artist but to third party intermediaries. These two factors combined with the lack of any kind of relationship lead to free riding. A commons based approach would focus on music not as a commodity but as a relationship and community. A commons based approach would offer fans a means to pay artists directly and know that their support was going directly to the artist.

The cost of implementing and enforcing the current laws as expressed in things like the DMCA are huge. Digital rights management, content ID systems, digital locks, take down notices, suing fans, and gazillions of lawyers have not been enough. Instead of incentivizing creative works these laws and technology practices curb innovation, creativity, and freedom of expression. What if the money currently spent trying to enforce DMCA was instead spent on commons based models that help artists earn a livelihood?

But just how would a commons-based model provide a livelihood for artists? There are many ways and I urge more serious experimentation and thought around this. I acknowledge it’s not simple as the commons operates in a way distinctly different from the current free market approach. So focusing solely on sales and revenue forces a round commons based approach to fit into a square hole.

The open business models case studies I’ve been working on include three case studies related to music — Amanda Palmer, Jonathan Mann, and Tribe of Noise. All three have created a commons-based model that makes extensive use of Creative Commons while still generating a means of livelihood.

Amanda Palmer has mastered the Art of Asking. She releases all her music and writing under Creative Commons is a model for how commons based music involves community engagement. She’s blazed a trail exploring alternative means of earning a livelihood including passing a hat, crowdfunding through Kickstarter, and Patreon. She has over 7,000 patrons on Patreon who are willing to fund her creation of new songs, film clips/music videos, long-form writing, and more random, unpredictable art-things at over $30,000 per “thing”. She creates about one “thing” per month.

Jonathan Mann built his reputation by writing and Creative Commons licensing a song a day. One of the ways he earns revenue is by writing custom acoustic or produced songs for a fee.

Tribe of Noise is a music platform that bridges both the commons and the commercial. Tribe of Noise helps musicians generate awareness and interest in their music by providing a community platform where they can upload their Creative Commons licensed music. Their platform also includes Noise PRO where musicians can upload music that could lead to a music deal secured by Tribe of Noise.

These are but a few examples. There isn’t just one model for earning a livelihood in a commons based approach there are many models. For more on ways to generate revenue from commons based business models across all sectors see What is an Open Business Model and How Can You Generate Revenue?

Let me also say that I’m not the only one imagining commons-based models for music.

The Berklee Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship recently launched the Open Music Initiative with a mission to: “Promote and advance the development of open source standards and innovation related to music to help assure proper compensation for all creators, performers and rights holders of music.”

Open Music Initiative

In June 2016 Hank Green wrote about his experience and decision to take action by creating the Internet Creators Guild.

 Internet Directors Guild Screenshot

And this past week I spoke with Milosz Miszczynski who is working on business models for Audio Commons.

 audio commons screenshot

While not explicitly just for music I also am deeply interested in the work being done around Commons Collaborative Economies. I think the initial thinking they’ve done to define Policies for Commons Collaborative Economies at European level a great start on something that could benefit musicians and other creators.

 Commons Collaborative Economies

I’m heartened to see the breadth of engagement underway by so many seeking to come up with a new model for the music industry. I’m hopeful that some of these efforts will arrive at a commons-based model for music that acts in the collective interests of the artist, the music community, and the public. I think everyone wants musicians to earn a livelihood.

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A Larger Context & Bigger Transformation

Creative Commons based open business models are part of something larger, a bigger transformation taking place in society and the economy.

This really struck home for me when, in response to our open call for nominations on who we should interview for our book on Creative Commons based open business models, we received tons of suggestions — many of which didn’t use Creative Commons at all.

In checking out all the suggestions we receive it quickly became apparent that “open business models” is a large context within which Creative Commons based open business models are a subset. While all of our interviews have focused on organizations and businesses that use Creative Commons I‘ve really enjoyed getting a deeper sense of this larger context. Understanding the big picture within which Creative Commons based open business models sit is helping me see the bigger transformation unfolding.

I want to share in this post some of things people recommend we explore and the non-Creative Commons based examples of open business models that are part of this larger context. Lets start with a few fun examples.

Jan Gondol suggested I might find BrewDog of interest. Thanks Jan! I do really like this example.

BrewDog215

https://www.brewdog.com

Calling themselves the first crowdfunded brewery BrewDog decided to do something breweries just don’t do — openly release all their recipes. Here’s what they say about their DIY Dog initiative:

“With DIY Dog we wanted to do something that has never been done before as well as paying tribute to our home-brewing roots. We wanted to take all of our recipes, every single last one, and give them all away for free, to the amazing global home-brewing community.

We have always loved the sharing of knowledge, expertise and passion in the craft beer community and we wanted to take that spirit of collaboration to the next level.

So here it is. The keys to our kingdom. Every single BrewDog recipe, ever. So copy them, tear them to pieces, bastardise them, adapt them, but most of all, enjoy them. They are well travelled but with plenty of miles still left on the clock. Just remember to share your brews, and share your results. Sharing is caring.

This is anti-corporate beer writ large; a new way of doing business. For generations, companies have fiercely protected their ‘secret’ recipes — clinging to a classified ideal, yellowing documents nervously hidden away by the founders, keys to the safe around their necks. Is it co-incidental that these same companies are the plodding remnants of another age; desperately clinging to their foundations?

For businesses born in the 21st Century it is all about sharing. Who cares about 11 herbs and spices? Here are 234 beers; our entire back catalogue and those yet to be released.”

From an open business model point of view not only do they give away all their craft beer recipes they’ve also devised a unique way to attract investors with their Equity for Punks Own a Piece of BrewDog pitch. Here’s what it says:

“Brewdog is an alternative small business owned by thousands of people who love craft beer. They are our shareholders, our friends, our community and the heart and soul of our business.

We have a community of over 14,500 equity punk investors, and this is your chance to join them.

In 2010, we tore up convention, turned the traditional business model on its head and launched Equity for Punks giving thousands of people a front row seat to the craft beer revolution.

And now it’s back. Bigger and better than ever.

You can find out more about investing in BrewDog by downloading the prospectus here.”

Unfortunately they don’t have a prospectus for Canada. 😦

But I want to try all the BrewDog beers. 🙂

I like BrewDog’s openness, playfulness, and inventiveness. The benefits for shareholders in the prospectus are especially fun. They don’t use Creative Commons (recipes aren’t copyrightable) but they’ve embraced open sharing as a means of building community and understand the benefits that come with that.

Monique Belair at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges sent me this amazing story on underwater vertical farming.

Greewave

http://greenwave.org/

Winner of the 2015 Fuller Challenge Bren Smith’s TEDTalk tells his amazing personal story. In his Medium article Bren has this to say about the bigger transformation context.

“Our goal is to build a just foundation for the blue-green economy. Saving the seas is not enough. There is 40 percent unemployment in my hometown. I wouldn’t be doing this work unless it created jobs for my people, unless it opened up new opportunities for the 3 billion folks who depend on our oceans to make a living.

For the first time in generations, we have an opportunity to grow food the right way, provide good middle-class jobs, restore ecosystem, and feed the planet.

Our old economy is crumbling. The old economy is built on the arrogance of growth at all costs, profiting from pollution, and the refusal to share economic gains with 99 percent of Americans. But out of the ashes of the old economy, together we are building something new based on new-economy principles of collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs. Because ocean agriculture is still in its infancy, we have the unprecedented opportunity to build a model from scratch, to build from the bottom up an economy that works for everyone, not just a few. We have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of industrial agriculture and aquaculture. This is our chance to do food right.

We addressed the first question of farm replication and scale, not by patenting or franchising — those are tools of the old economy — but by open-sourcing our farming model so that anybody with 20 acres and a boat and $30,000 can start his or her own farm.”

Bren Smith’s identification of the new-economy principles as being about collaboration, community-driven innovation, shared profits, and meeting social needs is very much part of what we are finding with Creative Commons open business models.

We’ve received tons of suggestions that we interview companies that have a open business model based on free and open source software. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how hugely important, popular, and influential free and open source software has become.

We’ve received suggestions that we look at Gimp, Audacity, Synfig, Inkscape, VLC, Joomla, Ubuntu, and many more. As fascinating as these are free and open source software have their own special non-Creative Commons licenses. Given our open business models work is focused on Creative Commons use we’ve not interviewed them. However, I do want to acknowledge that there are many diverse and compelling open business models based on free and open source software and the suggestions we’ve received are great examples of another piece of the larger open context.

I’ve always admired the work of Eric Raymond who defined a taxonomy of open source software business models in his essay The Magic Cauldron (also included in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar). If you have any interest in open business models I highly encourage you to read Raymond’s work.

MagicCauldron

The Magic Cauldron uses clever and memorable descriptors like, “Widget Frosting”, “Give Away the Recipe Open a Restaurant”, and “Accessorizing” to define categories of businesses and the ways they generate revenue. There are lots of commonalities between open source software business models and those based on use of Creative Commons so the reading is well worth your time.

We’ve also received suggestions that we interview businesses that are based on open hardware. Companies like littleBits for example. littleBits mission is “to democratize hardware by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with our platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.” This kind of mission which talks about democratizing and empowering everyone is very much in line with Creative Commons based open business models. It’s a theme that is central to the larger context and bigger transformation I’m seeing. While littleBits licenses its web site with a Creative Commons license the core of their business makes the circuit designs for its modules available via the CERN Hardware License.

One of the signals that a bigger transformation is taking place are the many different licenses in play for making things open. While Creative Commons has become the de facto standard for licensing content to be open others have created licenses for making software and hardware open.

Some licenses attempt to mitigate the traditional economies tendency to extract and exploit. While most of these licenses are not yet in use they are nonetheless fascinating to look at in the larger context. The CopyFair license and the Peer Production License are good examples of licenses in development that try to instil more reciprocity. The Commons Transition organization is developing projects and featuring stories that map out the potential for commons-based reciprocity licenses. All these licenses share a common belief that value and innovation are maximized through open sharing rather than closed hoarding. The larger context includes harmonious use of these licenses to change the default way of operating from closed to open and engage in business in such a way that the benefits of sharing are reciprocal.

The larger context also includes some aspects of the sharing economy. Shareable is doing the best job I know of making evident the social and economic transformations being generated by the sharing economy. And I should be clear upfront I’m not talking about Uber and AirBnB who in my view co-opted the sharing economy term but in fact are examples of traditional approaches that try to maximize extraction value for themselves.

http://www.shareable.net/

Shareable’s list of the Top 10 Sharing Economy Predictions for 2016 are full of examples of the larger context I’m exploring. Everything from platform cooperatives, sharing cities, and combining global open design communities with local production all are part of this larger context and bigger transformation. They all advocate for a shift of value distribution to address economic inequality.

Finally I want to hint at something even bigger that this work has led me to explore — economic transformation. Books like What Then Must We Do, The Ecology of Law, and Postcapitalism all do a great job of describing the historical context of how we came to choose free market capitalism as the ideal form of economy. They describe the social and ecological problems it has produced, and the transformation needed to improve global well-being. As Paul Mason says in Postcapitalism, “The main contradiction today is between the possibility of free, abundant goods and information and a system of monopolies, banks and governments trying to keep things private, scarce and commercial. Everything comes down to the struggle between the network and the hierarchy, between old forms of society moulded around capitalism and new forms of society that prefigure what comes next.”

Creative Commons open business models are part of this larger context, this bigger transformation prefiguring what comes next.

Originally published April 18, 2016 on Medium as part of Creative Commons open business models work.

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Open Business Models – Call For Participation

In our capitalistic world competition for limited resources and profits are the driving forces of business. Social value, environmental value, and other non-monetary forms of ROI are rarely factored in to the bottom line.

But some businesses are incorporating social goals into their operations and adopting triple bottom line frameworks. Some are becoming B Corporations. TedX talks like this one from Jay Coen Gilbert are influencing the thinking of entrepreneurs. And still others businesses are eager to create a business that is not only socially responsible but also modern in its use of digital, and open licensing strategies where the aim is to maximize access, use, and distribution. For many entrepreneurs use of Creative Commons is a key enabler of both social goals and financial success. Startups and existing businesses are exploring new alternative business models using Creative Commons licenses as either an enabler or core component of their business – see the many examples at TeamOpen.

Screen shot of TeamOpen web site.

For every one of those examples there are many others who want to move in that direction but don’t know how. It’s not easy to figure out how to run a business that is both financially sound and socially responsible. It’s not easy to transition business models from strategies that are focused on locking customers in and producing products and services that are not easily copied, to one where you give customers choice and encourage them to copy, modify, and freely distribute your products and services. It’s a big change.

One of the most frequent questions I get in my Creative Commons work is “How do I earn a living, pay the bills, and keep the lights on if I openly license my work and give it away for free?” Underlying this question are deep seated needs to a) be financially compensated for the work we do, b) manage costs and revenue responsibly, and c) not have others unfairly earn income off your work. These needs are matters of survival and social norms we operate under in a society based on capitalism.

This question and others like it come not just from people in the private sector but the public sector too. Here are a few variants of the question.

One public sector variant pertains to sustaining open initiatives that receive special grants or startup funding. When the one-time special funding runs out how does the open initiative sustain itself? What are the models for sustainability?

In the private sector, startups are designing businesses around openly sharing as much of their product and service as possible for free, while at the same time generating enough revenue to operate a business. What are the business models for that?

This is something that really interests me and I’ve written about the economics of open and open business models before – see here and here.

This year, through gracious funding from the Hewlett Foundation, my Creative Commons colleague Sarah Pearson and I, are leading an open business models initiative that aims itself squarely at answering questions like these. We aim to make visible how open business models work and provide tools and strategies for designing and developing your own.

Open for business sign
Building an open source business by Libby Levi licensed CC BY-SA

We want to do this work in a community-based way with all of you. We published a Creative Commons Open Business Models Call For Participation blog post today.

We’re inviting participation in these open business model activities:

  1. Join us in designing, developing, and iterating a set of interactive Creative Commons open business model tools that anyone can use to design an open business model.
  2. Use these open business model tools yourself to generate your own open business model(s).
  3. Share the results of your participation including the open business models you generate.
  4. Provide feedback and recommendations for improving the Creative Commons open business model tools and process.
  5. Partner directly with Creative Commons on developing an open business model for your specific initiative.
  6. Participate in a Creative Commons workshop on generating open business models.
  7. Contribute to a Creative Commons open business models report.

See our Creative Commons Open Business Models Participation Activities document for further details on each of these activities, including specifics for participation, and links to the tools.

As you’ll see in the Open Business Models Participation Activities document we’ve also created a Creative Commons Open Business Models Google+ community as a forum for sharing, participation, and interaction.

We’re just getting started but I’m totally excited about doing this work.
I think its potentially a really big thing and hope you’ll all consider participating in this work to grow the commons through open business models.



The Commons

After years of working with, and for, Creative Commons this spring I had an epiphany. Creative Commons is not just about making things “open” its about building a “commons”.

What, you say? Thats so obvious. I mean really, commons is part of the name.

Maybe so, but my experience is that everyone focuses on how Creative Commons makes things open.  We all talk about Open Educational Resources, Open Access, and Open Data. No one talks about the commons. The very idea that there is a commons has, for the most part, been lost.

All that changed for me this spring. The commons now looms large in my thinking.

So just what is a commons?

One type of commons I’ve been exploring and reading about is the natural resource based commons. The air and water are good examples accessible and shared by all. Other examples of natural resource based commons are Swiss alpine pastures, huerta gardens in Spain and Portugal, and salmon fishing in British Columbia, Canada where I live.

Heather Menzies book, Reclaiming the Commons For The Common Good explores how “commoning”, cultivating community and livelihood together on the common land of the earth, was a way of life for centuries. In her words:

“It was a way of understanding and pursuing economics as embedded in life and the labor, human and non-human, that is necessary to sustain it. It was a way of ordering this life through local self-governance and direct, participatory democracy. And it was a way of knowing, through doing and the sharing of experience through common knowledge and common sense.”

Reclaiming the Commons Book Cover

Reclaiming the Commons is both a memoir and a manifesto recounting Menzies’ exploration of how her ancestors in the Highlands of Scotland managed their commons, the real tragedy of the loss of the commons, and the reemergence of the commons as a vital means of re-enfranchising people as responsible participants in common good governance locally and globally.

Natural resource based commons are not limitless. They are rivalrous and depleteable. The physical form of natural resources mean that if I have a fish and give it to you I no longer have the fish. Natural resources exist in limited supply with removal and use depleting that supply. The physical form and depletability result in competing rivalrous use interests. Natural resource commons require community management to ensure sustainability and equity of use. Water may be a natural resource based commons but many regions live in drought conditions making water for things like irrigation a commons based resource that requires community management.

So just what is a commons?

A commons is a pool of resources, a community that manages them, and the set of rules or agreements by which they are managed.

I used to think of community management of natural resource based commons as being implemented by either 1. government which takes on management of commons on behalf of it’s people, or 2. market based systems where natural resource commons are managed based on supply and demand economics.

But, I’ve been reading the work of Elinor Ostrom who won the 2009 Nobel prize in Economics for her work studying different commons all around the world. Ostrom’s work shows that natural resource commons can be successfully managed by local communities without any regulation by central authorities or privatization. Government and privatization are not the only two choices. There is a third way – management of the commons by the people directly involved and impacted. The physicality of natural resource commons give them a regional locality. The community in that region has the most familiarity, history, and direct relationship with that natural resource commons and is best situated to manage it.

As the book Governing Knowledge Commons points out, “Ostrom’s approach to governance of natural resources broke with convention by recognizing the importance of institutions intermediate between private property and the state in solving problems of collective action. These intermediate institutions, are collective, locally organized, means for governing and making productive and sustainable use of shareable, but depletable resources such as fish, water, and trees.”

Governing Knowledge Commons Book Cover

Ostrom’s work on the commmons is substantial and required reading for anyone trying to understand the commons and how it works. She constructed empirically informed frameworks, theories, and models based on study of real world commons. Here are a few samples of her work that I find useful when thinking about the commons.

Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework reveals the design principles of a commons and provides a structure for analysing the social and ecological interactions of a commons. This framework can be used to model an existing commons and to diagnose problems or explore alternatives.

Institutional Analysis and Development Framework

Ostrom primarily studied natural resource commons. The resources in these commons have specific biophysical characteristics that affect their use. In each case there is a community of users who have an interest in or are impacted by the use of commons resources. Inevitably a set of rules evolve that regulate use within the community usually blending together formal legal rules with social norms. Rules define who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, what they must or must not do in their position, whether a decision is made by a single actor or multiple actors, channels of communication among actors as well as the kinds of information that can be transmitted, and rewards or sanctions for particular actions or outcomes.

Positional rules, determining who is eligible to take a position regarding use of the commons, include:

  • Access: Right to enter defined area and enjoy its benefits without removing any resources.
  • Withdrawal: Right to obtain specified products from a resource system and remove that product from the area for prescribed uses
  • Management: Right to participate in decisions regulating resources or making improvements to infrastructure.
  • Exclusion: Right to participate in the determination of who has, and who does not have, access to and use of resources.
  • Alienation: Right to sell, lease, bequeath, or otherwise transfer any or all of the preceding component rights.

The Action Arena is where the social interactions and decisions about the commons occur. It’s where exchanges take place, rules are made, entitlements are allocated, and disputes resolved. Actors choose from among the available action alternatives based on their own interests and desired outcomes. Individual costs and benefits are weighed against the social costs and benefits of the whole community. In many cases regularized patterns of interaction emerge creating social norms of behaviour and establishing a kind of balance or equilibrium. In a natural resource based commons these social interactions result in outcomes that frequently affect not just the actors and community but the resource system and resource units themselves. Evaluative criteria can be such things as economic efficiency, distributional equity, and sustainability.

The key take-away for me from all this is the principle that the commons can be self governed. The typical binary options of government regulation or market economics are not the only options. If sustainability is the goal then community-based self-governance using common-property regimes might yield better results.

Part of my epiphany this year has been seeing the commons in this new light. Talk of the commons and public good has largely been subjugated by dominant discourse around politics and the economy. But I increasingly see that the commons offers us an alternative way forward, a kind of middle ground balancing the role of government and markets. With the world increasingly divided into haves and have nots, rich and poor, a commons approach that addresses the needs and interests of the public seems like a long overdue and necessary antidote.

Around the world governments are increasingly converting natural resource based commons, historically managed on behalf of the public by the government, into property which is leased or sold to businesses who manage the resources. These governments believe that markets are a better way of managing commons than government regulation.

There is a long ongoing history of taking public commons, separating it off, enclosing it, and privatizing it. This process is called enclosure of the commons. David Bollier’s book Think Like a Commoner talks about enclosure of the commons this way. Enclosure is:

“dispossession of commoners as market forces seize control of common resources, often with the active collusion of government. The familiar debate of “privatization versus government ownership” does not really do justice to this process because government ownership, the supposed antidote to privatization, is not really a solution. In many instances, the state is only too eager to conspire with industries to seize control of common resources for “private” (i.e., corporate) exploitation. Regulation is too often a charade that does more to legalize than eradicate market abuses.”

Think Like A Commoner Book Cover

I’d never really thought about it before but Robin Hood, the popular children’s story, is really a story about the commons. Essentially the king takes pastures, forests, wild game, and water used by commoners and declares them his own private property. Commoners are evicted from the land, fences and hedges erected and the sheriff and his men given authority to ensure no commoner poaches game from the kings land.

Contemporary examples of commons enclosure are numerous. Government agreements allow mining companies to extract minerals from public lands, timber companies to clear cut public forests, oil companies to drill in pristine wilderness areas, and commercial trawlers to decimate coastal fisheries. Management of commons based on market systems tends to result in over exploitation as pursuit of profits and power override public interests.

Natural resource based commons have no human producer. Humans are users only. But there are lots of other forms of commons that humans produce. Highways, roads, sidewalks, and public squares for example. Jonathan Rowe’s book Our Common Wealth – The Hidden Economy That Makes Everything Else Work does a good job of exploring how such public spaces are a form of commons that we share. Rowe expands the commons to include languages, cultures, and technologies. The Internet is a kind of commons. He shows how there is a symbiotic relationship between the commons, the economy, and even our personal and planetary well-being.

Our Common Wealth Book Cover

And then there is the knowledge and culture commons, the creative commons in which I work. There are several aspects of the knowledge and culture commons that make it different from natural resource based commons. One difference is the inherent nature of knowledge and culture. Knowledge and culture are non-rivalrous and non-depletable. If I share an idea or some knowledge with you we both end up with the idea and knowledge. If I sing a song you too can sing it with me. Giving it to you does not mean I no longer have it.

The non-rivalrous and non-depleteable nature of the knowledge and culture commons mean that the rules and norms for community management of knowledge and culture commons can, and ought to, be different from how natural resource based commons are managed. However interestingly the global default is to apply property law and copyright to knowledge and culture commons resources creating an artificial scarcity that makes them more like natural resource based commons. This artificial scarcity is time-limited though as all knowledge and culture resources eventually pass into the public domain the name we’ve given to the knowledge and culture commons.

It’s intriguing to revisit Elinor Ostrom’s models and frameworks and explore how they might be modified to fit with this alternative form of commons. Its a challenge to transition from a model based on scarcity to a model based on abundance. The biophysical form of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital. Digital based resources can be copied, shared, distributed and used at costs which approach zero dollars and at a scale that makes them increasingly accessible to the entire world. The knowledge and culture commons is as much a global commons as a local one.

I’m increasingly seeing the knowledge and culture commons as having two forms; 1. a large global commons comprised of all open and shared creative works, and 2. a local commons made up of curated collection of resources drawn from the global commons that have local relevance and have been customized to fit local needs.

I was delighted to have my early exploration of the commons in 2014, bolstered by the arrival of Ryan Merkley as Creative Commons new CEO. Ryan places a strong emphasis on the importance of building the commons movement and establishing a vast pool of free and open content online: data, academic research, educational curriculum, videos, music, pictures, and more. Under Ryan’s leadership Creative Commons published The State of The Commons. This report succinctly documents the growth of the commons.

Growth of Creative Commons licensed works

It also shows what parts of the world are contributing to the commons.

Global Creative Commons contributions

Ryan also encouraged us to re-examine the goals and work Creative Commons is engaged in and encouraged a re-imagining. The resulting sharing of ideas among my peers was inspiring.

Here are some of the ideas I put forward that reflect my thinking about the Commons.

Creative Commons is currently doing a great job at enabling sharing of creative works.
But we don’t know why people are sharing.
We don’t know what their intent is.

In the context of Elinor Ostrom’s framework Creative Commons has established some great rules-in-use, but we have not put in place a complementary technical component to support the community based social interactions involved in producing and managing the commons.

I imagine a technical component, added to the Creative Commons license, that allows creators to express intent and solicit the support of the open community in achieving it.

Once the why of sharing is known so much more can happen. Each expression of intent is a Creative Commons value proposition statement.

In addition to stating why they are sharing I think it is equally important for Creative Commons to enable the sharer to have a means for saying how others can help them achieve their aim.

Adding technical functionality that allows sharers to seek the help of others in achieving the aim associated with sharing adds a social component to Creative Commons license. We connect creators to each other – for all kinds of reasons.

I imagine it enabling creators to form communities of common interest around openly licensed content collections – for curation, remix, enhancement, additional development, …

I imagine it as enabling the development of creative works that require multiple talents – someone for the video, another person for the audio, musicians, writers, .. Collective content creation through collaboration.

And many other use cases.

I see this as having the potential to migrate Creative Commons from simply being a license that is put on content to an enabler of connections between people. Creative Commons will have not just a content value proposition but a social one.

Given this focus I suggested the following as a area of focus for maximizing impact.

Creative Commons can have the most impact by focusing in on purposeful sharing. A great deal of Creative Commons use is secondary – sharing as an add-on to some other primary function or purpose, sharing as an act of generosity, sharing as an expression of values based on moral principles, sharing in response to mandate.

Much of this sharing lacks an expressed explicit goal, intent, or purpose – sharing with unexpressed, but hoped for consequences. Creative Commons can amplify impact by enabling expression of purposeful sharing and rallying the help of others in achieving sharing goals.

A great deal of sharing and CC use is by autonomous individual users or organizations acting on their own. CC can generate greater impact by creating a mechanism for the formation of social networks and collaborations around CC licensed works. The opportunities Creative Commons is missing are not some sector we’ve ignored but the social dimension of sharing. The formation of social networks of Creative Commons users collectively working together on achieving some shared goal is a missing piece Creative Commons is positioned to enable. Moving Creative Commons use from a form of individual expression of rules and permissions to Creative Commons use as a form of collective action will magnify impact.

Ryan asked us to identify the metric we would track and I said:

My one metric is – User expressed value (or user expressed ROI).
Ask users how their use of CC generates value.

This can be achieved by adding to CC tools a mechanism for expression of purpose, a means of inviting others to join in achieving that purpose, and a method for showing progress and outcome.

CC use generates diverse forms of value.
It can be financial – money saved or revenue earned.
It can reputational.
It can be a gift or altruistic.
It can generate personal value, or generate value for others, or both.
CC value takes a myriad of forms.

CC value is generated through personal and group action.
An individual, a corporation, a government can all generate value through CC use.

The people, stories, and values associated with CC use are inspirational.
User expression of CC value is a mini-human interest story revealing new ways of doing things, new outcomes.

Users know why they use CC and the value it generates.
We should invite them to express the value they are generating.

My one metric is – user expressed value.
From this one metric a diverse range of value will emerge for which additional metrics can be defined.

And finally Ryan asked us, What does winning look like?
Here is how I see it:

I see winning as looking like:

A move away from GDP as a measure of health of a country to “”quality of life”” indicators that evaluate the well-being of a society based more on environmental stewardship, democratic participation in society, equitable distribution of wealth, good health, and contributions to and use of the commons. Winning means Creative Commons and metrics associated with Creative Commons are used as one of the quality of life indicators measuring the economic and social well-being of a nation and the world. Winning means quality of life measures and global well-being inform and affect the decisions and actions of individuals, communities, organizations, businesses, and government. Winning means CC use is a key means of enabling quality of life.

Winning means a change of state from accumulation of personal wealth, personal property, independence and autonomy to shared wealth, shared property, and creative collaboration with others. Intermediate mile posts include a recognition that profit-making pursuits have limited scale and sustainability. Mile posts include replacing or supplementing the use of profit-making practices with commons-making practices for innovation, scale, and sustainability. Winning is not necessarily completely replacing profit-making with common-making but rather a balancing of the two and a symbiotic relationship.

Winning is based on abundance not scarcity. Winning is a move away form the market consumerism economy based on scarcity to a sharing economy based on abundance with Creative Commons being a key enabler. Accompanying this is a surge of participation, creativity and innovation. Individual acts of sharing are as important as government and market forces.

Winning means Creative Commons use solves big global social and economic problems and in doing so leads to growing understanding of the importance of balancing private sector pursuit of profit with the common pursuits building common wealth. Winning means distributed, networked collaborative production builds out common wealth and at the same time reduces the reliance on personal ownership replacing it with shared access and permission to use (within limits). Winning is a form of global activism that benefits all humanity without regard to national boundaries.

There are a lot of ways this can be quantified. Currently sharing is “”off the books”” and not tracked as a means of social or economic well-being. Current societal measures focus on growth as measured by production and consumption. However, the emergence of a “”sharing economy”” brings with it the opportunity to measure sharing in economic and social terms. People are deriving income and other non-monetary rewards from sharing. This manifests itself as a diversification and expansion of suppliers, better usage of existing resources, and a desire to make the world a better place.

Metrics associated with sharing recognize the shortcomings of unlimited growth in an increasingly resource limited world, and the growing inequitable distribution of wealth. Sharing saves money, amplifies participation, creates easy access to goods and services, and leads to more abundance.

Metrics should measure not just the number of resources being produced but the number of people producing those resources and the benefits to both the creator, downstream users, and society as a whole.

I share these ideas not to suggest that Creative Commons will implement them but as a way of showing how a shift of emphasis from “open” to “commons” generates different concepts and strategies.

Focusing on the Commons has led me to see the work we are all engaged in differently. It has been exciting to discover a commons-based alternative to government and market based forces. Going in to 2015 I look forward to balancing talk of the global economy with talk of a global commons. One where everyday citizens can participate independent of government and market pooling their knowledge and creativity as an expression of kindred spirit and for the common good of all.

Joy to the Commons and a Happy New Year all.

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A Systems Approach to Open

In the 1990’s I worked for Hughes Aircraft of Canada developing large scale air traffic control systems for international customers around the world. Air traffic control systems are large, complex, mission critical systems. After extensive requirements gathering and analysis an overall architecture for the air traffic control system was defined including complete hardware and software requirements. Development of something so large required the overall architecture to be broken down into subsystem components which were then distributed to different teams for development. The lead systems engineering team had the responsibility of integrating developed subsystems into the final air traffic control system and ensuring that the overall architecture design and requirements were met.

This kind of approach is called systems engineering. The key characteristics of systems engineering are that it:

  • gathers, analyses and shapes customer requirements into an overall system
  • takes a holistic view that breaks the overall system down into components and integrates developed components together into a whole
  • uses and coordinates an interdisciplinary set of expertise and teams
  • focuses on not just the initial development of the system but its life cycle and iterative improvement over time
  • combines technical and human-centred practices and work processes

The early days of open licensing and open resources were primarily shaped by innovators and early adopters using Creative Commons licenses and creating open resources as independent individuals. What I see now is open moving from an individual activity to a large scale system wide activity similar to systems engineering. As open matures a more holistic approach is being adopted involving many people working together.

Increasingly I see a systems approach to open as being the most strategic and impactful. A systems approach takes a multi-stakeholder perspective, strategically considering all the stakeholders in a value chain and how they can work together to achieve a common goal. This shifts the focus from individual adoption of open practices to system-wide adoption. A system working together can achieve greater impact than an individual.

Let me give a couple of examples.

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit held in Vancouver 16-17-Apr-2014 brought together a wide range of organizations and people who are all collectively working on adopting, adapting, and authoring open textbooks for students. An open textbook is a textbook licensed under an open copyright license (such as Creative Commons), and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers, and members of the public. While online versions of open textbooks are available for free if students want hard copy they can print out their own or order a low-cost print version.

Open Textbook Summit logo

The open licensing of a textbook makes it possible for others to add to, adapt, translate, localize, and otherwise improve it. Everyone has 5R rights to:

Retain: Make, own, and control their own copy of the textbook
Reuse: Use the open textbook in its unaltered form
Revise: Adapt, adjust, modify, improve, or alter the book
Remix: Combine the book with other openly licensed content to create something new
Redistribute: Share copies of the original textbook, revisions, or remixes with others

The BCcampus Open Textbook Summit featured speakers representing a wide interdisciplinary group of expertise including government & institution senior administrators, faculty, students (and here), librarians, authors, publishers, and technologists. This wide representation of multiple stakeholders who all play a role in creating open textbooks is a great example of a systemic approach. Each stakeholder’s involvement in creating and using open textbooks is important but it is the cumulative effect of multiple stakeholders working together that creates the greatest impact.

More about the BCcampus Open Textbook initiative can be found here.
If you want to see examples of open textbooks start here.

One of the great things about the BCcampus Open Textbook Summit was that it brought together not only multiple stakeholders but multiple regional open textbook initiatives. Representatives of open textbook initiatives in California, Oregon, Washington and beyond were all in attendance. This enables sharing and comparing of approaches and lessons learned not just from different stakeholders but from different regional system wide initiatives. Its fascinating, and informative, to hear about the BC open textbook initiative and compare it to the one in California, or Washington, or Oregon.

Inevitably the adoption of open practices requires stakeholders to change current modes of operation, sometimes dramatically so. Change of this magnitude can be disruptive and may threaten traditional roles and responsibilities, business models, and financial structures. A natural reaction to such change is fear, risk aversion, and preference for the status quo.

To generate movement and acceptance I’ve found it important to keep the focus on the shared goal, cause, or issue that open solves. In the case of open textbooks the shared goal is making education more accessible and affordable for students. Having a shared goal as the primary focus make business models, roles, modes of operation and the like secondary to the main goal. When the impetus and value associated with achieving the main goal are big enough, change happens, the system and stakeholders adapt, new models and modes of operation emerge. Adoption of open practices is best enabled when the value proposition of doing so is high.

Open textbooks are one great example of a systems approach to open.

Another example emerged for me in the context of leading an open models working group for the World Bank’s Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). Our task was to generate a range of open models that enhance the scalability and sustainability of food safety. Our primary goal was to show how open practices can support GFSP’s efforts to help ensure safe food, increase food supply chain value, accelerate economic growth, alleviate rural poverty, and improve public health outcomes. This is the big picture goal the GFSP seeks to attain.

Can adoption of open practices help the GFSP achieve this goal? If so, how?

The Global Food Safety Partnership is a public/private partnership representing many different stakeholders including:

  • governments
  • funders
  • regulatory agencies – public regulators, inspectors and managers
  • private sector agri-food processors and manufacturers
  • farmers and producers
  • universities, service providers, trainers and certification bodies
  • international organizations
  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)

This suggests that a systems approach to open is required. It won’t be enough for one stakeholder to adopt open practices. The goals of GFSP are too large for that to be impactful. Achieving the big goals of GFSP requires multi-stakeholder coordinated participation.

One of the significant benefits of open practices is that they open up the opportunity for new stakeholders to get involved and participate. Food storage and cooking at home, the poor, the farmer, the food market seller, the street vendor, these uses and stakeholders are not well represented at the GFSP table. Adoption of open practices opens up the opportunity for them to be involved. If GFSP has a goal of alleviating rural poverty it is essential that they be engaged as active participants.

A systems approach to open offers opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. Multi-stakeholder adoption of open practices generates cumulative benefits for all stakeholders. In a systems approach to open the more stakeholders participating the greater the impact.

Applying a systems approach to open for GFSP considers the role of each stakeholder and what open practices they could adopt that would contribute to the big picture goal GFSP is seeking to realize. Its not a one size fits all approach. Different stakeholders adopt different open practices. Government and funders might adopt open policy that require deliverables produced through the funds they provide to be openly licensed. Providers involved in generating food safety training and learning resources can publish their content as Open Educational Resources. There are many forms of open and a myriad of open practices can be brought to bear on a shared goal.

For the GFSP we defined nine different open practices stakeholders could adopt:

  1. open content (including Open Educational Resources and Open Courseware)
  2. open data
  3. open access (research)
  4. open government
  5. open source software
  6. open standards
  7. open policy
  8. open licensing
  9. open hardware

GFSP Open Model Big Picture

For each type of open practice we provided GFSP relevant examples. Here’s a sampling:

  1. open content – see Digital Green and Food Safety Knowledge Network
  2. open data – the US web site data.gov releases government open data.In 2012, a national annual competition was created as part of the Health Data Initiative to stimulate the innovative use of health data in apps and products. The “Health DataPalooza” is now a sold out event attended by over 2,000 health providers, technology developers, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and community advocates and has resulted in the launch of new products and companies. OpenFDA, providing easy access to public data of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and highlighting projects using these data, will be implemented in September of 2014.
  3. open access (research) – There are a number of open access journals and online publications that provide free and open access to scholarly articles specific to food safety, foodborne illness, manufacturing and processing practices, etc. In 2007 the US National Institutes of Health enacted an open access policy requiring the researchers they fund to make their final, peer‐reviewed manuscripts publicly available no later than 12 months after official date of publication. The number of open access journals is rapidly increasing – the Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 9,000. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) and BioMed Central are two popular examples relevant to food safety.
  4. open hardware – See Open Source Ecology and Farm Hack for examples relevant to food production and food safety. Photosynq is an open research project whose goal is to create a low cost, hand-held measurement device which researchers, educators and citizen scientists can use to build a global database of plant health. A low cost mobile prototype has been developed to replace the large, expensive and stationary equipment that was previously required to measure photosynthesis.

One of the challenges in open work is helping people understand the myriad forms of open and how they work. Defining open practices, along with associated value propositions and examples goes a long way to establishing a common lexicon and a tool box of methods that can be strategically deployed.

All that and more is captured in the GFSP Open Models Concept paper. Feel free to read the whole thing if this interests you. I also want to express deep appreciation and thanks to Theresa Bernardo and Garin Fons who co-wrote this paper with me and to Chris Geith and the World Bank for the opportunity.

Writing the GFSP Open Models paper led me to have a heightened interest in the use of open practices for food related issues. My colleague Puneet Kishor at Creative Commons shared with me another great example – the Open Source Seed Initiative. Linux for Lettuce and The Carrot Hack provide thoughtful coverage of this important development.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

I also recently finished reading Jeremy Rifkin’s book The Zero Marginal Cost Society (highly recommend) which contains a few other fascinating examples including Shared Earth connecting land owners with gardeners and farmers, and HerbShare which is fundraising to develop online, searchable community maps of fresh herbs available for sharing.

Open Source Seed Initiative web site

A systems approach to open combines a wide range of open practices across multiple stakeholders and applies them to a shared common goal. It’s exciting work that not only accomplishes short term goals but sets in place a process that can scale, iterate, and sustain over the long term.

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New Models for a New Year

All I want for Christmas is for the world to be more open.

santaCC
NORAD Tracks Santa by NORAD Public Affairs
Public Domain image modified by Paul Stacey

But I know from my interactions all around the world that most people struggle to understand what open is and its implications.

New open models require a rethinking of traditional models whether they be education models, business models, models of government, models of research, models of publishing, music, or the arts.

And of course new models can be scary. They threaten the status quo, they challenge pre-conceived notions on how things work, and generate fear of the unknown.

So I’ve put on my Santa hat and here, on Christmas Eve day, I’m working on what I think of as a gift for the world – new models for a new year. This is a gift we unwrap together with an open mind. Lets get started.

New open models are significantly different. Understanding them is a gradual process, a progression through a series of steps or stages that look something like this:

  1. Awareness – open models are a new concept most people haven’t even heard of. With new models for a new year I aim to make new open models visible. By making you conscious of them I hope you begin to consider them as options, choices you make in how you do your work and how you live your life.
  2. Responding to and overcoming the fear reaction. Almost everyone initially expresses a great deal of fear over new open models. With new models for a new year I aim to alleviate those fears.
  3. Looking at examples. One of the best ways to understand new open models is to look at real examples. Hearing the stories and use cases of those who have successfully adopted new open models creates a sense of possibility, soothes the fears, and inspires.
  4. Trying it out. Once a certain level of comfort has been achieved you’ll begin to see how you can make use of open models personally. As a gift I hope you’ll play with new models for a new year, dip your toe in and try using something that is open.
  5. Going open yourself. Once you’ve sampled someone else’s open work and experienced the benefits I hope you begin thinking about making your own work open – perhaps initially in a small way but gradually more and more.
  6. Adopting open as a cornerstone of practice. Once you get to this stage you’re in all the way and usually become an advocate of new open mdodels who won’t go back.
  7. Spreading open. If you adopt an open model in one area (lets say Open Educational Resources) you’ll become interested in other areas of openness (lets say open policy, or open data, or open access). You’ll start to see the synergistic benefits of adopting more and more open models. The cumulative benefits of multiple forms of openness are greater than each individually.

I aim to get you to stages 5, 6, and 7. But to get to that gift the wrappings associated with the earlier stages must first be removed. We all unwrap gifts in different ways. I’m going to start in the middle with stage 3 and use examples to work through the earlier stages and to lead to the more advanced stages.

Here are some wonderful examples of people using new models of openness.
Team Open.

Team Open Heading
TeamOpen1

The Power of Open.

Power of Open

New models work for both the public and private sector. Both the public and the private sectors can realize social and economic benefits through open models that cannot be attained in any other way. This is an important part of the gift so lets unwrap both the public and private sector aspects of new open models.

New Open Models in the Public Sector

The benefits of openness are often more readily understood in the public sector. The basic tenet of open models in the public sector is that public funds should result in public goods. The public should get what it paid for. I can see you all nodding. Yes, you say money I pay in taxes should result in goods and services I have access to. Yet, the truth is under current models this is not typically the case.

Lets take research. This diagram shows the current funding cycle for research.

OpenAccessModel

As you can see the public pays for research and then pays again to get access to the results of that research. This limits dissemination, economic efficiency, and social impact.

New open models change that process in subtle but important ways that ensure the public does get access to what it pays for as shown in this diagram.

OpenAccessNewModel

As you can see new open models maximize dissemination, economic efficiency, and social impact.

Governments everywhere are starting to get the picture not only for research but for many other aspects of public sector work. 2013 public sector use of new open models includes:

These are all fantastic in their own right and the Open Government Partnership maps out many more ways governments are pursuing new open models.

In the new year I expect to see new open models spread from single to multiple use cases within these early adopters and more public sector organizations to follow suit. For me the real potential of new open models exists in the combinatorial effect of combining open models. This is “stage 7 spreading open” I describe in my progression at the start of this post. When public sector organizations adopt openness as a new operating principle across all their activities the combined impact will be even greater. Let me give an example.

One of the projects I’m involved with through my work at Creative Commons is the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP). This is a World Bank public-private initiative dedicated to improving the safety of food in middle-income and developing countries.

GFSP

Imagine your public sector organization has responsibilities for food safety. At a very practical level one of the things you’ll need is a training program for food inspectors. Here’s my take on how you could combine multiple means of openness into a whole new approach to putting that training program together.

Step 1: Open License Existing Resources: As a publicly funded agency over the years funds will have been invested in a wide range of standards, competency frameworks of skills and knowledge inspectors require, training manuals, curricula and other resources. As with the research example we saw earlier typically these resources are held all rights reserved with no public access. These legacy resources can all be shared openly by digitizing them and licensing them with a Creative Commons license. This one activity alone, which essentially costs zero additional dollars, leverages and makes available for reuse a large body of existing resources and begins to fulfill your obligation to give the public what it paid for.

Step 2: Adopt an Open Policy: As a publicly funded agency adopt an open policy associated with all future funding grants you award. In this open policy require deliverables from funding awards be openly licensed and made available digitally to the public. (There are lots of existing model policies you could use to create your own open policy including: US Department of Labor’s TAACCCT grant policy and the California Community Colleges Board of Governors Chancellors Office policy)

Step 3: Open License by Default: Adopt a Creative Commons CC BY license as default. This license makes all content (such as curricula developed by developers, marketing and student recruitment resources, etc.) shareable with the public that paid for it. Commercial use of the resource is allowed. The resources can be reused, revised, remixed and redistributed allowing all interested parties to utilize it. Resource use requires attribution be given to the developer.

Step 4: Require Open Educational Resources: Base long term strategy for scaling and sustaining the food inspectors program on Open Educational Resources (OER). This enhances speed of updates, distribution, localization, and translation. It also significantly reduces costs for design, development, delivery, and participation.

Step 5: Use Open Design & Open File Formats: Require developers of the food inspectors training program to make use of existing OER as much as possible when designing and developing training programs. Emphasize the importance of developing all resources and OER as digital resources using open file formats to ensure they are editable and modifiable.

Step 6: Build Open Development Networks: Facilitate matchmaking between those looking for OER and those that have OER. Food inspection is a global need. Build a network of developers who all collectively work on shared food inspection OER they have a mutual need for and coordinate development of new resources across the network.

Step 7: Design for Open Pedagogy: Adopt teaching and learning methods that leverage the open nature of the learning resources and the open web (both resources and social networks). This includes connecting trainees to people and resources on the open web and having students actively modify and improve training materials.

Step 8: Open Delivery: Open up delivery to wide range of service providers who qualify in part based on their expertise in the above and a proven ability to use educational technology.

Step 9: Open Repository: Create a repository on the web, open to all, where openly licensed resources associated with the food inspectors training program are kept. Establish repository librarian like role for managing the collection of resources, ensuring they are appropriately tagged with meta-data (use Learning Resource Meta-data Initiative LRMI), and for curating collections of resources for multi-purpose use.

Step 10: Open Marketing and Recruitment: Develop (and openly license) marketing resources that recruit participants based on the unique value add (including cost/time savings and quality) associated with a food inspector training program that uses open models.

Step 11: Open Analytics: Openly publish a set of analytics/data that define program success. (Analytics could be associated with learning, completion, costs, networks, …) Openly license (using CC0) and transparently report out analytics/data on an ongoing basis.

Step 12: Open Access: Publish any research results that come out of studies done on the food inspectors program and the analytics using Open Access (OA). Provide free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of research articles for anyone, webwide. This can be done using open access research journals (the golden road of OA) or through archiving articles in open repositories or on the open web (the green road of OA).

Step 13: Open Community: Build an open community around the training including students, developers, suppliers, graduates, … Engage open community in contributing to improvement of the training program, and formation of local, regional, national, and international partnerships.

I know this is a very specific example. But I hope it conveys something of the spreading open thinking that can come to bear on traditional practices. Combining open policy, open educational resources, open access and all the other forms of openness described above increases the overall impact and benefits associated with the approach. Limiting adoption of openness to just one small area also limits impact.

Perhaps by now you’re going OK, I see how new open models can be useful in the public sector but I’m in the private sector how do open models work for me? How can I use open models and still make a living?

New Open Models in the Private Sector

New models for a new year is one of those gifts with multiple presents inside. This is a gift that just keeps on giving. We’ve unwrapped new open models in the public sector, lets look at examples in the private sector. I’ve grouped these examples by industry sector. At the end of each example I’ve provided, in italics, a mini description of how they earn revenue.

Images

Nounproject
The Noun Project: The Noun Project is a platform empowering the community to build a global visual language of icons and symbols that everyone can understand. Icons are designed and contributed by designers from around the world. All icons are licensed using Creative Commons and free to use as long as attribution is given to the creator. Pricing and money comes in to play if you want to use the icons without giving attribution.

flickr
Flickr: Flickr is one of the largest photo management and sharing platforms in the world. Flickr lets you store, sort, search and share photos online. Flickr provides Creative Commons license options right from within the platform. Many Flickr users have chosen to offer their work under a Creative Commons license, and you can browse, search and download their photos under each type of license. At http://www.flickr.com/creativecommons you can see the more than 280 million Creative Commons licensed photos users have contributed. Use of Flickr is free but each user is given a maximum limit of 1 terabyte of storage. If you want more than that you have to pay. If you want your photo collection to be ad free you have to pay for a Ad-free subscription account. Flickr also provides printing services for a fee.

pixabay
Pixabay: On Pixabay you may find and share images free of copyrights. All pictures are published under Creative Commons public domain deed CC0. Sponsored images are shown to finance Pixabay and to provide a choice of professional photos. Sponsored images cost money.

Jonathan Worth, a professional photographer explains how open benefits photographers; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/8623680/How-the-Power-of-Open-can-benefit-photographers.html

Music

jamendo
Jamendo: Jamendo offers more than 350,000 free music tracks licensed under Creative Commons, all available for streaming and unlimited download without ads. It allows the public to discover thousands of artists of all genres who have chosen to distribute their music independently outside the traditional system of collecting societies. Jamendo artists can choose to join the Jamendo PRO service that allows them to sell commercial licenses of their music for professional uses, such as music synchronization for audio-visual productions or broadcasting in public spaces. You can search for music on Jamendo using the CC Search tool or directly on the Jamendo web site.

ccmixter
ccMixter: ccMixter is a community music site featuring remixes licensed under Creative Commons where you can listen to, sample, mash-up, or interact with music in whatever way you want. One out of six uploads to ccMixter are used in a YouTube video, Flickr moving image, podcast, compilation album and thousands of other places all over the web. ccMixter is ad free and free to creators and listeners. Funding is generated through sales of memberships to artists clubs giving you an inside access and experience with the artist including access to things like Digital-LPs, CD-quality downloads, private blogs and other unique things you can’t get anywhere else.

soundcloud
SoundCloud is a social sound platform for people to create and share music and sounds. Recording and uploading sounds to SoundCloud lets people easily share them privately with their friends or publicly to blogs, sites and social networks. Many SoundCloud songs and sounds are licensed with Creative Commons. Use the url http://soundcloud.com/creativecommons to see SoundCloud sounds and songs licensed with Creative Commons. Certain features of the Platform are only available to registered users who subscribe for a “Pro” or “Pro Unlimited” account. These paid accounts provide extensive stats such as count plays, likes, comments, downloads, who’s playing your sounds and where they are.

musescore
MuseScore: MuseScore: provides free and open source software that allows musicians to quickly create sheet music. They also provide a space where you can share your sheet music and comment on others. MuseScore lets people share music under all rights reserved or openly license their music using Creative Commons licenses. For a fee you can get a “pro” account where you have unlimited storage, detailed stats on how popular your scores are, and no ads.

Jonathan Coulton: a professional musician who uses open business models. See The New Music Biz: Cracking the Code to Online Success video explaining how he does this.

Books & Manuals

boundless
Boundless: Boundless is building an innovative learning platform by curating the world’s best open educational resources in 20+ subjects and delivering interactive learning tools to college students. Students at thousands of colleges are ditching expensive textbooks and discovering Boundless Learning Technologies that go way beyond traditional books. Boundless textbooks are available for free download as a .pdf. Boundless makes money from advertising embedded in the free, online education materials on their web site. Paid premium access gives you access to the book in their learning platform across multiple channels, including mobile, website, and iBooks.

pratham
Pratham Books: Pratham Books has been a front-runner in adopting a Creative Commons licensing framework and in the last 5 years has released over 400 stories and hundreds of illustrations under a Creative Commons CC BY or CC BY-SA license. Their vision is to put ‘a book in every child’s hand’. It makes money by selling hard copy print versions. Because the books are licensed with CC licenses other organizations and individuals have converted their books to audio, Braille, and DAISY giving visually impaired access to the books and saving Pratham the cost of doing so themselves.

Autodesk
Autodesk: In July 2013 Autodesk announced that its Media & Entertainment (M&E) support and learning content for its 2014 product line is now live and available under Creative Commons (CC) licensing; that equates to 20,000 pages of documentation, 70 videos and 140 downloadable 3D asset files. Autodesk also plans to publish product help materials, its Knowledge Base and Discussion Forums, as well as past and future training content from Autodesk University under the Creative Commons model. This is all part of Autodesk’s ongoing support of students’ pursuit of careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Autodesk’s goal is to ensure the next generation of designers, engineers and digital artists have great training and free access to the same software that professionals use every day. Autodesk makes its money from its software.

Cory Doctorow: Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author with a vast amount of work under his name. Cory, as a very early adopter of Creative Commons, has been producing Creative Commons licensed works since 2003 with the publication of the first CC licensed novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. See Cory’s views on openness in Giving it Away chapter in Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright and the Future of the Future

Video

YouTube
YouTube: YouTube has built into its platform the option of posting a video to YouTube using a Creative Commons license. As of July 2012 the YouTube Creative Commons video library contained over 4 million videos from organizations such as C-SPAN, PublicResource.org, Voice of America, and Al Jazeera. From the YouTube home page if you type in your search term followed by a comma and then “creativecommons” the videos returned are CC licensed. http://www.youtube.com/creativecommons lets you see the most viewed and most reused Creative Commons licensed videos. Not only can you can mark your videos with a Creative Commons license when uploading them to YouTube you can also incorporate the millions of Creative Commons-licensed videos on YouTube when creating your own videos using the YouTube Video Editor. Within the YouTube Video Editor you can click on the CC tab to find content available under a Creative Commons license. YouTube and its users make money through advertising.

vimeo
Vimeo: Vimeo makes it easy to upload and share videos. You can share a video publicly or privately. Vimeo is also a community platform enabling you to pick filmmakers you want to subscribe to, receive updates from, and send messages to. Many Vimeo entrepreneurs and artists use Creative Commons licenses to gain exposure, widespread distribution, and secure a return on their creative investment. Vimeo has integrated Creative Commons license choices right into their platform. For a fee Vimeo provides users with ftp and dropbox integration, mobile/tablet/TV compatibility, customizable video player, html5 compatibility, etc. Vimeo On Demand supports users interested in renting or selling their videos. Vimeo’s Tip Jar lets fans to show their appreciation for videos with small cash payments to the creator.

For more on filmmakers use of new open models see: CC Filmmakers and Festivals Change the Rules

Software

IBM2
IBM. See A history of IBM’s open-source involvement and strategy for a description of their thinking.

redhat
Red Hat: Red Hat provides a portfolio of products and services in support of enterprise adoption of Linux open source software. Red Hat provides solutions to more than 90% of the Fortune 500 companies. Open source software makes vendor lock-in a thing of the past. Linux is free open source software. Red Hat makes its money providing support, consulting, and training services for that software.

android
Android: Android is open source software and Google releases the source code under the Apache License. According to Wikipedia as of November 2013, Android’s share of the global smartphone market, led by Samsung products, has reached 80%. The open source nature of Android lets third party’s rapidly produce apps. As of May 2013, 48 billion apps have been installed from the Google Play store, and as of September 3, 2013, 1 billion Android devices have been activated. The software is free and open, the phones, tablets and other devices using the software cost money – as do many of the apps.

Data

figshare
figshare: figshare is a platform that allows researchers to publish all of their data in a citable, searchable and sharable manner. All figures, media, poster, papers and multiple file uploads (filesets) are published under a CC-BY license. All datasets are published under CC0. figshare offers unlimited storage space for data that is made publicly available on the site, and 1GB of free storage space for users looking for a secure, private area to store their research. Users of the site maintain full control over the management of their research whilst benefiting from global access, version control and secure backups in the cloud. For a fee figshare provides users with larger private storage, larger file size limits, and collaborative spaces. figshare also does custom-branded spaces for institutions for a fee.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of all private sector corporate entities using new open models, merely a sampling. There are many more. But you can see that open models do not preclude revenue generation and earning a living. New open models can be very successful business strategies.

Fundamental Building Blocks of New Open Models

There is one more part to this gift that lies at the very core of new open models. The gift within the gift. Lets unwrap the fundamental building blocks on which new open models are built.

New open models are built on three fundamental building blocks – digital, free, and open. There are lots of models that use just one or two of these building blocks but the new emerging models I’m referencing use all three.

1. Digital
The bits and bytes of digital things are fundamentally different than the atoms of physical things. Technology advances are rapidly increasing bandwidth, storage, and computing processing speeds. Semiconductor chips roughly double the number of transistors they hold every eighteen months. The number of bytes that can be saved on a given area of hard disk doubles every year. The speed at which data can be transferred over a fiber-optic cable doubles every nine months. At the same time costs associated with processors, storage and bandwidth halves at the same rate. The digital building block uniquely provides faster, better, cheaper. At a practical level the costs to store, copy and distribute digital things like images, music, books and data begins to approach $0. The physical realm of atoms and the economics associated with it are based on scarcity. Digital enables abundance. Scarcity in the digital realm is almost always artificially created.

2. Free
As the cost of digital approaches $0 it becomes possible to provide everyone digital resources for free. Furthermore if I have something that is digital and I give you a copy of it, I still have it. This is dramatically different than what happens in the world of physical things. The free building block involves shifting your strategy from conserving resources as scarce commodities to treating them like an abundant commodity. Free enables scale. With technology advances giving us more for less the free strategy spreads costs over a larger and larger base of users. Free is the best way to reach the biggest possible market and achieve mass adoption. If the marginal cost of distribution is free you might as well leverage and multipurpose your resources as much as possible by putting them out there in as many different ways as possible. Of course not everything is free as we’ve seen from the examples above. But the free building block is an essential component of new models. The more people use the free digital resource you provide the more you can build complementary services and products around it. Typically the provision of free to all is funded by complementary products and services that a subset of users pay for.

3. Open
Open is different than free. When things are open you can modify them, use them in whole or in part, improve them, localize them, translate them, and customize them to fit your need and purpose. Just because something is digital and free doesn’t mean it is open. There are lots of free digital things that are closed prohibiting the freedoms and permissions inherent in open. Open adds additional value by permitting change and participation in the act of creation. Open uniquely leverages the network of users by making them active participants in improving and advancing a product or service. The open strategy involves giving up control. Open sees users not just as passive consumers but as active and creative producers – co-creators if you will. Open tends to level the playing field between professionals and amateurs. New open models are not so much based on a “I know what is best” command and control strategy as a collectively we know what is best egalitarian approach. Open invites everyone to actively engage and contribute their knowledge and expertise.

As we enter 2014 I’m excited about new models built on digital, free, and open. Its the combinatorial effect of the three that has such innovative potential. I see in that potential great hope for a better world.

Happy new models for a new year.



An Exploration of Open Licenses and Financial Remuneration

October was an action packed month with the Creative Commons Canada Salon, Open Education Conference, and BCcampus OER Forum.

Some personal highlights:

The BC Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation, and Technology open textbook announcement. This initiative will support creation of open textbooks for the 40 most popular first and second-year courses in the province’s public post-secondary system. The open textbooks will be openly licensed and made available for free online, or at a low cost for printed versions, to approximately 200,000 students. I’m especially pleased that BCcampus will lead the implementation of this initiative engaging B.C. faculty, institutions, and publishers through an open request for proposals. Tony Bates’ excellent blog provides additional insight and I personally am hopeful that some coordination can happen between BC and California where, in late September, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills that provide for the creation of free, openly licensed digital textbooks for the 50 most popular lower-division college courses offered by California colleges.


Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap’s announcement at #opened12 (CC BY-NC-SA) by Giulia Forsythe

Giulia Forsythe’s graphic facilitation skills wonderfully captured the BCcampus OER Forum events too. See – BCcampus OER Forum Summary.

The Open Education Conference was fantastic this year. The jam-packed program had an amazing array of sessions organized around micro-themes including – world wide initiatives, business models, open textbooks, open assessment, alternate credentials, social media and OER, data and analysis, and open from a wide range of perspectives including legal, faculty, students and librarians. Open has clearly gone beyond content and is pervading the entire education sector. The conference web site program has presentation materials and audio streams from sessions. I encourage you to explore them and see for yourself how open education is evolving. A stand out highlight was the evening dinner boat cruise with an awesome OpenEd music jam featuring attendees plus Gardner Campbell and John Willinsky, two of the keynote presenters. A conference where the keynote speakers rock out – my kind of conference! Enjoy it yourself:



Special thanks to Novak Rogic for these awesome videos.

While there is a great deal to assimilate coming out of all these events, I find myself thinking about matters from the Creative Commons Canada Salon that took place in Vancouver 15-Oct-2012.

This event featured a panel of practicing artists sharing how and why they use Creative Commons licenses for their works. I found the remarks of documentary filmmaker Ian MacKenzie especially intriguing. Ian referenced the gift economy, alternative ideas on money and the public commons from the book Sacred Economics, and crowdfunding.

Here’s why this is occupying my thinking. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

As I consider this I am puzzled by what I see in education.

Lets say I’m an educator employed by a public educational institution. My salary is essentially paid for by public taxpayer dollars. Given the way the economy works – if you pay for a good you get that good, it’s natural to expect that works developed by the educator should be freely accessible for use by the public. Yet this is not the case. Course materials educators create during their publicly paid for employment are not freely available to the public that paid for them. Shouldn’t public funds result in a public good?

But, you might say, it takes money to make the course materials educators create available to the public. This is true, but digital changes the economics of doing so. With digital the cost of copying is close to $0. The cost of distributing digitally is close to $0 as was so eloquently laid out by David Wiley in his presentation at the BCcampus OER Forum. See David Wiley’s presentation in it’s entirety Why Open Education and OER, and their implications for higher education institutions.

Lets try a different example. Lets say I’m faculty engaged in research. I apply for research grants from the national government and use those grants to conduct my research. When I complete that research the results ought to be available to the public who paid for them. But, and this is what I find puzzling, public access to the results of research requires another payment of public money in the form of a journal subscription fee even when the journal is digital. Given that the peer-review process is also supported through public funds, the public ends up paying for something three times, as Dieter Stein outlined in his keynote “Open access: effects and consequences in the management of scientific discourse.” at the University of British Columbia’s Open Access Week. The public 1. pays the scientist, 2. pays to publish, and 3. pays to buy publication. Why does the public have to pay three times?

For more on this I highly encourage you to watch Open Access Explained? from PHD Comics.

See why I’m puzzled? The economics underlying public education are not in line with our expectations of how economies work and, even more puzzling, aren’t in the best interest of the public who is paying for it.

But let me come back to my earlier point. There is a natural inclination to think that Creative Commons open licenses are in opposition to financial remuneration. The thinking goes like this: “If I license my creation in a way that gives others permission to freely access and use it I’m forgoing financial compensation associated with charging for access and use.”

At least in the context of someone being paid by public funds an open license that gives others permission to freely access and use the work isn’t in opposition to financial remuneration. The financial remuneration took place. The Creative Commons license ensures the obligation to the public is fulfilled.

However, what if we look at this from the perspective of an artist, a writer, a musician, a filmmaker. I’d expect artists to be thinking, “I made this and if anyone is going to make money on it it’s going to be me.”

Is it possible to openly license your creative work and still make a living?

I keep coming back to this question as it seems fundamental and generalizable to everyone.
Special thanks to Martha Rans for ensuring it stays front and centre in my thinking.

And so with this question on my mind I paid special attention when Ian Mackenzie spoke at the Creative Commons Canada salon.


Ian Mackenzie speaking at the Creative Commons Canada salon.

My exploration of Ian’s remarks around the gift economy, alternative ideas on money, the public commons and crowd funding took me in interesting directions. Here’s a bit of what I found.

Sacred Economics is a radical rethink of societal values, the role of government, and the commodity we use as money. It envisions decentralized, self-organizing, emergent, peer-to-peer, ecologically integrated expressions of political will. Government becomes the trustee of the commons including “the surface of the earth, the minerals under the earth, the water on and under the ground, the richness of the soil, the electromagnetic spectrum, the planetary genome, the biota of local and global ecosystems, the atmosphere, the centuries-long accumulation of human knowledge and technology, and the artistic, musical, and literary treasures of our ancestors.”

Sacred Economics imagines an ecology of money with many complementary modes of circulation and exchange. In a sacred economy, money goes to those who “contribute to a more beautiful world – for community, for nature, and for the beautiful products of human culture.”

I’m not doing the Sacred Economics justice. There is much to admire and ponder in this work. For a more complete synopsis I encourage you to view Ian Mackenzies video on Sacred Economics.

I found the ideas on alternative forms of money intriguing and spent some time looking at Bit Coin see here and here.

I also ended up checking out a Policy Agenda for the Sharing Economy.

Ian has developed expertise with crowdfunding to the extent that he now offers consulting, strategy sessions and workshops on crowdfunding. His web site has a great list of crowdfunding resources and platforms. The crowdfunding platform listing is particularly interesting as it differentiates general crowdfunding platforms from specialized ones dealing with things like Business, Environmental, Scientific, Social Causes & Non-Profits and hey, even Education! Did you know that Scolaris crowdfunds personal scholarship fundraising?

How about Degreed? Degreed is crowdfunding to create the world’s first Digital Lifelong Diploma, which will ‘jailbreak’ the degree and enable learners to reflect everything they’ve learned, from any source, throughout their lives.

At Kickstarter there is a whole section devoted to artists who are seeking and getting remuneration for their Creative Commons licensed work. See http://www.kickstarter.com/pages/creativecommons.

As I consider larger world events around financial markets, bailouts, and countries massively in debt or bankrupt it makes we wonder whether indeed our current economic model and it’s underlying financial system is serving us well. Clearly a sharing economy, alternative forms of money, and crowdfunding are changing social norms. Whole new conventions around getting paid, raising money, and making an investment are emerging.

Creative Commons licenses are situated within this changing landscape. As I explore the financial remuneration opportunities associated with use of Creative Commons licenses it’s important to point out that Creative Commons license options specifically offer creators choices around licensing their work in ways that provide others with permissions that specify commercial or non-commercial use. An artist who openly licenses their creative work with a Creative Commons license can do so in a way that specifies that users can copy, adapt, modify, publish, display, publicly perform and communicate the work but only for non-commercial purposes. This ensures any financial remuneration coming from the work goes to the creator. On the other hand it encumbers the work with restrictions that may prevent users from using the work in innovative and entrepreneurial ways which the creator could benefit from downstream.

There are a great many differing opinions out there around the suitability of different Creative Commons licenses for different use cases. In fact this is a hotly debated topic right now. See:

I especially appreciated David Wiley’s observations on these discussions in a 27-Nov-2012 Oer-community post where he commented:

“Just as there is not One True License, there is not One True Perspective on this debate. A few examples:

  • Some people look at OER issues from the perspective of the content, and some see them from the perspective of the people who use the content. Content-p drives people to favor SA licenses, to insure that derivatives of the content always remain free. People-p drives people to reject SA, so that derivers always remain free to license their derivatives as they choose. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • In this thread we have already seen people who view NC from the perspective of the licensor and others who see NC from the perspective of the licensee. Licensor-p sees NC as enabling and facilitating commercialization. Licensee-p sees NC as forbidding commercialization. Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As we’re also seeing on this thread, we can look at OER from the perspective of Access to content (without which permissions granted by licenses are meaningless) and from the perspective of the permissions granted by Licenses. I recently discussed these two perspectives in more detail on my blog (http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2596). Which of these perspectives is most important? Which is the One True Perspective?
  • As a final example, some people look at “open” from the perspective of a Bright Line test, while others take a more Accepting perspective. Bright Line-p enables people to make clear distinctions between what is and what is not open. Accepting-p enables people to recognize and value movements toward becoming more open, without passing judgments on people who “aren’t there yet.” Which of these is the One True Perspective?

…LICENSING ARGUMENTS ARE ARGUMENTS OF PERSPECTIVE. When we argue that one particular way of licensing is better than others, we’re really arguing that one perspective is better or truer than others. In other words, whenever we make an argument that says “everyone should use a [free | NC | etc.] license,” we are making a _religious_ argument – an argument which dictates the perspective by which we think everyone else should be judged.

When we move licensing outside the realm of religion, we can recognize the … importance of perspective. We can also realize that, depending on the peculiarities of a specific context and the personal or organizational perspectives of a specific licensor, different licenses will be optimal under different circumstances.

It would be great if the world were simple enough that One License to Rule Them All could exist, but it doesn’t. I wish to Heaven we would stop arguing about it, and just respect individuals and organizations to understand their own contexts, goals, and perspectives sufficiently well to pick the license that best meets their needs.”

There clearly are two sides to the open licensing equation. On one side is the creator or licensor of the work. On the other side is the user or licensee of the work. Openly licensing creative works entails considerations of both. Personally I prefer a range of licenses that provide creators choice in specifying open permissions and limitations. One assertion I’d make is that the more open the license the greater the market participation and the greater the innovation opportunity.

As you can tell I’m very interested in understanding the business models associated with open licensing. There is so much more to explore but let me close this post with a couple of additional examples of how Canadian artists are using Creative Commons licenses.

OK, lets take fellow Canadian Brad Sucks latest album “Out of It”.

Brad sells direct from his own website. You can buy the CD & all the MP3s or just the MP3s as a whole album or individually. Brad recommends a price for each but Brad offers flexible pricing – you can type in whatever price you’re willing to pay or download all the MP3s for free. Brad licenses the whole thing with a Creative Commons (CC-BY-SA) license and encourages you to copy and share with your friends.

In his blog about the album he says:

“The only reason I, a dude who made an album by himself in a country basement, has had any sort of success is because people took it upon themselves to share my music with their friends. They remixed it, they used it in their videos, they played it on their podcasts, they included it in software and games and it took on a life of its own.

To sabotage that would be a huge, retarded mistake. Instead I’ll be grateful if Out of It worms around the world in even close to the same freaky way I Don’t Know What I’m Doing did and continues to.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying I love you Internets. Thanks for all your support and I hope you like Out of It.”

Hmmm, interesting. One way artists are making this work is by going direct to fans via the web. The Internet and digital formats change the economics reducing the need for middle men publishers and distributors. Personally I’d prefer as much financial remuneration for artistic creative works as possible go directly to the artist so I’m thinking this is a positive direction overall. It’s also fascinating to see flexible pricing and encouragement of copying.

One final example. Celine Celines based in Montreal has started a new company of open fashion. Using open data and Creative Commons (CC-BY) licensed images from NASA Goddard Photo and Video’s Flickr photostream her first collection is a series of silk scarves. The Hubble images captured on silk are beautiful – see for yourself at her online boutique gallery. This is an interesting example of a user/licensee, Celine, making a creative work out of a creator/licensor NASA image in a way I expect NASA never imagined.


Large silk scarve (CC BY-NC) by Celine Celines

I’ve only just begun to explore the possibilities.
The range of business models and opportunities is vast and varied.
Lots more to come in future blog posts.