Creative Commons, the grass-roots content licensing system that has taken hold amongst bloggers and other content creators online, could soon be arriving in your digital camera.
The organization behind the increasingly popular licenses is talking to consumer electronics companies about getting the system embedded in content creation tools and its new chairman, Tokyo-based venture-capitalist Joichi Ito, sees cozying up to big business as an essential next-step for Creative Commons, he said in an interview last week.
"The organization has evolved quite a bit," said Ito. "It started out with this amazing vision about how something simple like a license could create free culture and impact the world in a very positive way. Since then it became a movement. First we had bloggers, then we had musicians, artists and people all over the world get behind the idea because they believe in sharing and free culture."
"One of the biggest changes is that companies like Microsoft and Google and Yahoo have started to realize that Creative Commons and the sharing economy is good for business too," he said.
Both Google and Yahoo offer the ability to search for Creative Commons-tagged content while Microsoft threw in its support in June 2006 when the company released a plug-in for Office that allows users to embed Creative Commons licenses in documents they create. The first document released with the new tool was a speech given by Brazilian Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil at iSummit 2006, a digital media conference that was held in Toronto.
The Creative Commons licenses don't impact copyright but allow users a way to offer others limited rights to their content under certain conditions. There are a handful of main licenses that, for example, allow others to reuse work on condition it's attributed and for noncommercial purposes or to modify works as long as they give credit for the original and share the resulting work with the community.
Right now the licenses aren't embedded in content as standard but Ito hopes this will change.
"What you want is when you switch on your camera it should ask 'what license is this video going to be?'. Every creation tool, delivery tool, distribution tool, display tool, all those things should be Creative Commons aware. And for that, it needs to make sense to those making these tools, which are usually businesses," he said.
At present the consumer electronics and computing industries seem to be moving in the opposite direction to that envisaged by Ito. Several new technologies are actively eroding consumer's rights by, for example, attempting to restrict the ability to make personal back-ups of downloaded content or by automatically adding DRM (digital rights management) to audio files no matter if the user owns the copyright or not.
"A lot of the erosion is coming from lawyers of content holders just taking what they can because they think it's better for them without realizing that shutting down the fan sites is bad business," Ito said. If content owners can be shown that such fan sites help business or can be convinced that fan-subtitled video downloads aren't a lost sale but a gained fan then "we may change the way the lawyers behave."
Ito realizes that getting closer to big business might be seen by some as getting into bed with the enemy but he says supporters have nothing to fear.
"While we won't compromise our core values, we need to be very good at working with corporations," he said noting that while some like to shun Microsoft and it's products, getting the Creative Commons plug-in for Office was a net-win for users.
"It still needs to be accepted at a broad level beyond a community of people that basically agree with themselves," he said.
Ito took over as chairman from Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford Law School and one of the driving forces behind Creative Commons since it was formed in 2001. Lessig remains as on the board of the organization and as its CEO. The chairmanship was transferred with the symbolic hand-over of a torch between the two in the Second Life online community.
Ito is no stranger to cyberspace. An early user of the Internet, he is a prolific blogger and sits on the boards of organizations including the Open Source Initiative and the Mozilla Foundation. His company, Neoteny, is an investor in Six Apart Ltd., the company behind TypePad, Moveable Type, Live Journal and Vox, and he has personally invested in Technorati and other companies.
Among other goals he holds for 2007 as chairman of Creative Commons is keeping the organization running smoothly while spreading Creative Commons around the world, he said.
"As we proliferate internationally, there is a whole management issue of how do you organize 100 different groups in very different countries. As a multinational corporation it's difficult, as a semi-volunteer organization it's even more difficult," Ito said.
The organization offers licenses for a growing list of jurisdictions and is looking to expand not just the number of countries in which the license is localized but also knowledge of Creative Commons in those countries. Ito estimated that it's already reasonably well-known in the US but in Japan those with knowledge are "in the low single-digit percentages" and even fewer know about Creative Commons in detail.
The organization is also collecting money. A current fund-raising drive seeks to raise $300,000 by the end of the year.