Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Articulating the commons: a leaderful approach

Apologies for duplication - I think this belongs on both cc-licenses and the cc-community list. I expect that I will only write a very few messages where this makes sense.

Rather than having a few of us decide on what the commons is or should be, why not invite everyone to participate in the discussion (open source it), over at least the next few years? This would be a leaderful approach (acknowledging the inspiration of Occupy).

From a technical standpoint, what I mean is that the box that says "more permissions URL" should be expanded and renamed to something like "more detail". Actively invite anyone who licenses material to tell more about what this act means to them - kind of like a will. Ideally, there needs to be a way to bring these comments together, perhaps through data mining, and occasionally sharing some of what people have come up with.

Some reasons to consider this approach:

1.    Opening the conversation in this way may open up new understandings about what sharing means, or could mean.  Some examples of things that people might want to say:
-    free for the 99%
-    free for anyone aiming for social and environmental justice
-    free to anyone not lobbying for restrictive copyright laws
-    free to anyone who has never sued a customer
-    free to use with respect

These kinds of things may or may not fit specific legal requirements, but I would suggest that building a commons is much more a cultural shift than a legal one.

My vision here is that Creative Commons is a great start towards a commons, but we all still have a great deal to learn. One reason is that before we settle on what the commons is, I think we (meaning all of humans around the world) need to consider other types of knowledge, such as traditional knowledges. The purpose this is  not just to respect the traditions (important though that is). We need to learn about these knowledges not just to respect traditional peoples, but to address a gap in our own knowledge. That there is a gap is our wisdom, I would submit, is substantiated by the fact that all of our science and technology has brought us to global financial crisis and impending environmental disaster through climate change. To address this, we need to consider different ways of thinking. One example is a traditional concept that knowledge / wisdom belongs to its environment, not to us. . In Western science, we may like to take things out of their environment and study them separately, but without the ecosystem, the lifeforms we study would not exist.

2.    It seems reasonable to assume that a commons that is collectively built and protected by the largest possible number of people will be much stronger than a smaller commons designed by a few experts. I think the best way to do this is a welcoming, inclusive approach. When we can commit things straight away to the public domain, that's great! But let's not forget that free reading onscreen with absolutely no either rights or privileges is still a lot better than no access at all, or no access with paying a lot of money.

3.    There are many different types of materials that can be shared through the Internet, and communities who interact with these materials in different ways. Even within scholarly communication, there are the scholarly journal articles that scholars have traditionally given away, books which cost much more to produce and generally earn royalties for the writer, creative works which for some academics generate real income, and research data. Data would be close to useful if shared but not for re-use, while derivatives of the writers of a top scholar would almost certainly be less valuable than the original. In other words, the best and most useful openness in scholarship might well be a strong imperative to allow derivatives in some cases, and ND in other cases.

To take a non-scholarly example, I understand that some of the CC legal cases have involved music in bars. Right now the options are to allow commercial uses, or not. I wonder if it might make sense to musicians and bar-owners to have another option, noncommercial - except in bars, under the condition that the bar-owner provides patrons with a way of purchasing the musician's CDs - perhaps by distributing a flyer highlighting the night's music with websites for the musicians featured? To figure out how to do things like this, we need to facilitate conversations. This is what I mean to propose, a leaderful approach to articulating the commons.


Heather Morrison, MLIS
Doctoral Candidate, Simon Fraser University School of Communication
The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics

Join the discussion! See the Creative Commons Version 4.0 discussion launch message, and join the cc-licenses list and/or the fairly high volume cc-community list. (or view the lists' archives from these links).

Further posts on this topic:
To everyone, with love (intended as a more permissions URL for CC licenses)
Three pictures, one small gift to everyone, with love (attempt to dedicate 3 pictures to the public domain)
Creative Commons, noncommercial and formats
Creative Commons and noncommercial - CC version 4.0 discussion
Education is a public good - not a commercial activity
- more permissions URL

Update December 31, 2011 - a similar suggestion from Paul Stacey from his post 2011 the year of open:

I’ve also been thinking of the potential to go “beyond permissions to intentions”. Let me explain. Creative Commons licenses do a great job of complementing copyright by providing a mechanism for creators to express permissions they accord others in terms of use of their work. However, what is missing is any expression of creators intentions. Are they giving permissions and don’t really care how its used? Would the creator like to see derivatives of their work that others create? Is the creator really interested in finding others who want to collaborate with them on the continuous improvement of the work? This latter intention is in my view critical to the long term success of OER. All open initiatives succeed over the long term based on the size and vibrancy of the open community that gets built up around it. I really wish there was some means of expressing creator intentions so that others reusing the work can do so in ways that fulfill creator aspirations.