Creative Commons means Business: CC and $$

Next week I’ll be giving a lecture at the GarageGeeks HQ with Joi Ito, Nimrod Kozlovsky and  Yoni Har-Carmel about Creative Commons Licenses and their use in business; Unlike open source licenses, that power the engine behind the software, CC licenses govern the relationship of the content inside these applications. Though some projects I worked with have decided to use CC as a licensing method for their code (FireStats, for example, but that’s great if there’s not binary and only source, like in other webapps and php) in order to govern the non-commercial use of the app, CC licenses are more common in user generated content. Now, after we’ve all been acquainted with Creative Commons Licenses, we have to understand the three uses of CC in our business: (i) License our own code/work under a CC license, (ii) Use licensed content in order to gain capital and (iii) allow our users to license their content, remix it and share.

1. Content in a  UGC world: The first question is how do Businesses and Startups use CCed content? since hi-tech companies and start-ups mostly depend on their technological solutions, CCed content is not the core engine of their work; Other businesses, such as design studios and magazines may use CCed content; but your code base is not CC-dependant. However, as technology tends to explain, the biggest businesses are actually content based, where technology acts as an enabler for social conversations and transactions. For example, Facebook‘s framework is just a framework. Facebook’s success is based mostly on user applications (even though those are coded on ice). When users post content to Facebook, they grant Facebook a perpetual, non-revocable, galaxy-wide, license [and the problems with that] to do whatever Facebook deems right with their content. However, they do not grant other facebook users these same rights. If, for example, I want to use a picture a friend took as my Facebook profile picture; I can do so, but I’m not sure whether I’m allowed to. While Facebook lets me crop my picture, and while I can post, I don’t know whether I can save this photo and upload it to Bebo. But wait, this is my picture, right? The more interesting story is can I actually publish other people’s status lines as a book.

2. What is the Company’s main asset: Here comes the CC License to force. By providing users the ability to allow other users to play with his content, users are more engaged with the content and the website itself. For example, Trent Reznor released Nine Inch Nails latest album under a CC license and gave users the option to create their own remixes of the tracks, users became more engaged with the brand. Nine Inch Nails’ album, Ghosts, album became a bestseller even though it was not considered popular music . Reznor understood that giving away his content does not mean that he will have less, but actually more.

3. Can CC help create a community (Web 2.0) or allow users to make more uses of our content. But let’s get back to Facebook; as Facebook is different from Myspace or Blogspot; it doesn’t encourage content creation, just sharing of content made by others. What can a website like Facebook earn here? (and there’s no coincidence that unlike Myspace, Blogspot or Flickr, you can’t cc your content on Facebook) But what if a user wants to allow others to use his content? Here comes a completely different problem: Could your status line be copyrighted? [Hebrew Post]. Let’s stay in the photos application, though. Would Facebook actually benefit from people linking back to a Facebook page with the original photo? would it benefit as being considered as the biggest galaxy-wide imagebank?

4. Do we license our content, or just allow other users to license their? Another problem that businesses face is whether what they do is allow their users to license user-generated-content or license their own content. If I’m a business engaged in selling content, I wouldn’t want to freely license it, but if I’m a content delivery platform, or an engine who simply acts as a facilitator of images and videos, then licensing the content may be a good solution. If I’m a website providing news stories, do I gain any advantage if others may use my stories? People claiming that providing the content for free will kill the content providers fail to see how mainstream TV still operates and profits from commercials, on-line newspapers generate traffic and display ads, and the media industry flourishes. Moreover, both the BBC and Al-Jazeera released parts of their content under CC Licenses. Al-Jazeera did it as a political statement to allow Gaza residents to report and bring their information to the public knowledge, but was it bad for business? However, you can see that even though Al-Jazeera released their content with a CC license, the interest in Al-Jazeera after the Gaza war just grew to a higher level than before the war and that every release of NIN albums generates interest, even though it’s not revenues.

5. The NC problem: It certainly may be that Creative Common’s most grave problem and original sin is the creation of the non-commercial license. A license that specifically allows only “Non-Commercial” use; defining it as  “any manner that is primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation”. Creative Commons, but no one can actually point out where the line draws. But what is Non-Commercial? You may find different approaches and different solutions, however, it’s quite certain that no business may rely on a non-commercial license in order to build a stable business model.  What may be and may not be a solid business model if you want to use licensed content, may actually assist in the establishment of a solid model if you want to license your own content. For example, if i operate a successful blog or news site (like BoingBoing), I can license my content under a CC license and let other bloggers share my content, but not mainstream media. If I’m a music artists (ahem, Trent Reznor), I can license my content to my fans without worring that a record label will sell my album and avoid paying me royalties. So Actually, while the CC license does need clarification, it is a good license if you want to allow other to use, but not compete with you.

6. So is CC good for business? it depends what your business is. If your business is selling content, you might want to consider it, if you’re a platform enabling users to exchange information, you might want them to take that information elsewhere.

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