I was recently looking through my archives to find a piece on Creative Commons (CC) to share with an acquaintance, and was surprised when I could not find one. Why had I not written something about one of the things I feel most passionate about? I don’t know the answer to that question, so instead of answering it, I will render it moot with this post.
I recently wrote of copyright that it is like a battle between content creators and content users, with each trying to find the best deal for themselves. The battle itself is umpired by the law, and all of these forces must constantly contend with changing technology in trying to find a balance. I believe that most current copyright laws are too strongly in favour of the creator: copyright terms are too long, fair use is not expansive enough and remix for personal use is not permitted. A common reaction to this problem is to simply work outside of the law and pirate copyrighted works. I can understand why people take this road, as it is perceived to be the only way to fight back against an unfair system. However, as a content creator myself, I cannot bring myself to simply steal the work of others.
The best solution to this problem is, as far as I can see, the one mapped out by Creative Commons, which was created by famed copyright lawyer Lawrence Lessig. The premise behind Creative Commons is to provide a simple way for content creators to control the use of their work. This is done through a simple licensing system, which uses 3 simple options to represent what can and cannot be done with a piece of work. Behind these options, which are represented by icons, sits a license which translates them into a legalese document. This means that instead of fighting against copyright law, the system works from within it. By applying a CC license to their work, creators are opting out of strictly prohibitive copyright, and empowering their audience to redistribute and reuse their work.
Whilst this might sound rather dry and abstract, it is in fact incredibly powerful and creative. Consider this example: say I am making a movie, and need some music for the soundtrack. Traditionally my options are to either break the law (pirate someone’s work) or work within it (pay a creator for their work). Usually, if I pay for someone’s work I am not even free to change it to meet my needs. With Creative Commons, however, I can use an online service, such as Jamendo to locate music whose creators have applied a CC license to it: depending on the options selected in the license, I may well be able to freely include that music into my work and make even make money from it. The effect of all of this is to reduce the barriers to the production of high quality, creative work, allowing the return to a culture that is created by individuals and not just large corporations. To me this is huge, as it allows us to express ourselves freely and thus forge a our own culture. In all of this, technology makes such creation easy, but Creative Commons provides the raw materials that make it free and legal.
As an educator, you might wonder why you should care about any of this. The reasons are simple. From a philosophical point of view, education is built on knowledge, which is created through sharing. Ergo, anything that promotes sharing is good for education. From a practical point of view, Creative Commons gives you access to literally millions of creative works, which you and your students can build on, legally, to create incredibly rich learning experiences. And finally, you can use Creative Commons to encourage your students to engage with the world around them by contributing their own creativity. A lot of people do not feel that their creations are worth sharing, but the truth is that you never know how other people might use your work to express themselves. Once you realise the true worth of your work within such an open system, the urge to share and connect is hard to resist.
Hopefully this post has given you an insight into what Creative Commons is all about, and perhaps even why it is something you might want to try. I am currently working on a follow-up which will contain far more practical detail on how you can use Creative Commons to enrich your teaching practice. In the meantime, the two following videos might help to shed more light on the beauty of CC:
A Shared Culture
(Original work, CC BY-NC-SA)
Building On The Past
(Original work, CC BY-NC)