1.2 Creative Commons Today

As a set of legal tools, a nonprofit, as well as a global network and movement, Creative Commons has evolved in many ways over the course of its history.

Learning Outcomes

  • Differentiate between Creative Commons as a set of licenses, a movement, and a nonprofit organization
  • Explain the role of the CC Global Network
  • Describe the basic areas of work for CC as a nonprofit organization

Big Question / Why It Matters

Now we know why Creative Commons was started. But what is Creative Commons today?

Today CC licenses are prevalent across the web and are used by creators around the world for every type of content you can imagine. The open movement, which extends beyond just CC licenses, is a global force of people committed to the idea that the world is better when we share and work together. Creative Commons is the nonprofit organization that stewards the CC licenses and helps support the open movement.

Personal Reflection / Why It Matters to You

When you think about Creative Commons, do you think about the licenses? Activists seeking copyright reform? A useful tool for sharing? Symbols in circles? Something else?

Are you involved with Creative Commons as a creator, a reuser, and/or an advocate? Would you like to be?

Acquiring Essential Knowledge

Today, the CC licenses and public domain tools are used on nearly 2 billion works, from songs to YouTube videos to scientific research. The licenses have helped a global movement come together around openness, collaboration, and shared human creativity. CC the nonprofit organization, once housed within Stanford Law School, now has a staff working around the world on a host of different projects in various domains.

We’ll take these aspects of Creative Commons—the licenses, the movement, and the organization—and look at each in turn.

Creative Commons: The Licenses

CC legal tools are an alternative for creators who choose to share their works with the public under more permissive terms than the default “all rights reserved” approach under copyright. The legal tools are integrated into user-generated content platforms like YouTube, Flickr, and Jamendo, and they are used by nonprofit open projects like Wikipedia and OpenStax. They are used by formal institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Europeana, and individual creators. For a creative take on Creative Commons and copyright, listen to this song by Jonathan “Song-A-Day” Mann about his choice to use CC licenses for his music.

 

 

Won’t Lock it Down. Jonathan “Song-A-Day” Mann. CC BY.

In addition to giving creators more choices for how to share their work, CC legal tools serve important policy goals in fields like scholarly publishing and education. Watch the brief video, Why Open Education Matters, to get a sense for the opportunities Creative Commons licenses create for education.

Why Open Education Matters. David Blake. CC BY.

Collectively, the legal tools help create a global digital commons of diverse types of content—from picture storybooks to comics —that is freely available for anyone to use.

CC licenses also serve a non-copyright function. They signal a set of values and a different way of operating.

For some users, this means harkening back to the economic model of the commons. As economist David Bollier describes it, “a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.” Wikipedia is a good example of a commons-based community around CC-licensed content.

For others, the CC legal tools and their buttons express an affinity for a set of core values. CC buttons have become ubiquitous symbols for sharing, openness, and human collaboration. The CC logo and icons are now part of the permanent design collection at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

While there is no single motivation for using CC licenses, there is a basic sense that CC licensing is rooted in a fundamental belief that knowledge and creativity are building blocks of our culture rather than simple commodities from which to extract market value. The licenses reflect a belief that everyone has something to contribute, and that no one can own our shared culture. Fundamentally, they reflect a belief in the promise of sharing.

Creative Commons: the Movement

Since 2001, a global coalition of people has formed around Creative Commons and open licensing.[1] This includes activists working on copyright reform around the globe, policymakers advancing policies mandating open access to publicly funded educational resources, research and data, and creators who share a core set of values. Most of the people and institutions who are part of the CC movement are not formally connected to Creative Commons.

The CC Global Network (CCGN), is a place for everyone interested in and working with open movements. CCGN members come from diverse backgrounds and include lawyers, activists, scholars, artists, and more, working on a wide range of projects and issues connected to sharing and collaboration. The CC Global Network has over 600 members, and over 40 Chapters around the world. To learn more, see if there is a Chapter in your country or contact network-support@creativecommons.org. The Network Platforms are the thematic areas of the Network where volunteers collaborate on activities and projects. CC’s Network Platforms are open to everyone and include the Open Education Platform, a Copyright Platform, and an Open GLAM Platform.

The CC Global Network is just one player in multiple larger open movements, which include Wikipedians, Mozillians, open access advocates, and many more.

Open source software is cited as the first domain where networked open sharing produced a tangible benefit as a movement that went much further than technology. The Conversation’s Explainer overview of other movements adds other examples, such as Open Innovation in the corporate world, Open Data (see the Open Data Commons) and Crowdsourcing. There is also the Open Access movement, which aims to make research widely available, the Open Science movement, and the growing movement around Open Educational Resources. And more cultural heritage institutions (often referred to as GLAMs, for the acronym [Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums]) are releasing public domain works, and openly licensing their online collections, becoming part of the “Open GLAM” movement.

Creative Commons: the Organization

A small nonprofit organization stewards the Creative Commons legal tools and helps power the open movement. CC is a distributed organization, with CC staff and contractors working from various locations around the world.

CC Staff from a meeting in February 2020, CC BY 4.0

CC Staff from Austin TX meeting in 2020, CC BY 4.0

In 2020, Creative Commons embarked on a new strategy focused on empowering governments, institutions, individuals and communities around the world by equipping them with technical, legal, and policy solutions to enable sharing of knowledge and culture in the public interest.

This marks a pivot from CC promoting more sharing[2] to fostering better sharing. We will continue to build a commons of knowledge and culture that is inclusive, just, and which inspires reciprocity — a commons that serves the public interest. Guided by this strategy, our organizational work will focus on three strategic goals:

  • Advocacy: Reshape the open ecosystem to support equitable and prosocial sharing in the public interest.
  • Innovation: Enhance the open infrastructures to foster sustainable and ethical sharing in the public interest.
  • Capacity Building: Make knowledge and cultural heritage assets as openly accessible as possible.

Final remarks

Creative Commons has grown from a law school basement into a global organization with a wide reach and a powerful name associated with a core set of shared values. It is, at the same time, a set of licenses, a movement, and a nonprofit organization. We hope this unit helped give you a sense for what the organization does and, even more importantly, how you can join us in our work.


  1. While other custom open copyright licenses have been developed in the past, we recommend using Creative Commons licenses because they are up to date, free-to-use, and have been broadly adopted by governments, institutions and individuals as the global standard for open copyright licenses.
  2. Watch this video for a quick sense of our previous strategy (optional): Creative Commons: Remix, video by Creative Commons. CC BY SA 3.0