Open licensing is about more than altruism: It can unlock commercial doors

A decade on from the launch of Creative Commons, its licences are creating online value…

Open access to content not only engenders innovation but also has commercial benefits, says Lisa Green.

Creative Commons was founded in 2001 by the then Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig and a group of thought leaders, education experts, technologists, legal scholars, investors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists who understood that an effective structure was necessary to facilitate the open sharing of knowledge.

When first envisaged, Creative Commons licensing was based on the understanding that existing copyright laws developed in the analogue age were poorly suited to an evolving digital age. Laws put in place when 'to copy' meant physically reproducing something like a printed book might not be relevant in a world where copying means opening a file attached to an email.

The digital world is expanding. People who are younger than the internet are reaching adulthood, and the amount of digital content on and off the web is exploding. Increasing copyright restrictions are colliding with this unprecedented technological change.

Today, Creative Commons is more important than ever. The internet has enabled an enormous potential for creativity along with novel methods of distribution. Creative Commons gives creators tools to make a choice about copyright. By allowing more options, Creative Commons licensing enables people to share, reuse and remix content legally.

Egypt riot

During the recent unrest in Egypt, news network Al Jazeera released its video coverage under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, allowing other news outlets to use the footageAl Jazeera English

New economic business models, appropriate for the digital age, are being built using the legal and technical infrastructure of Creative Commons. In the digital economy, money is not the only key metric. Reputation, impact and distribution are increasingly important.

Earlier this year, during a time of severe unrest in Egypt, Al Jazeera had camera crews on the ground in places where other news agencies were absent. The broadcaster released its video coverage under a Creative Commons Attribution licence allowing other news outlets to replay the footage as long as they credited Al Jazeera.

A pre-digital economic perspective would argue that allowing access to content was counterproductive to the company's success. Scarcity would lead to higher demand and therefore increased value. That was the old way of thinking about copyright. All rights reserved leads to scarcity, which produces demand and increases cost. But that perspective fails in the digital economy.

By allowing access to its content, more people around the globe watched - and even relied on - the Al Jazeera footage. The coverage had a greater impact and greatly enhanced Al Jazeera's reputation as a top-tier news agency. A better brand correlates to increased profit.

Success stories of the sharing economy

Al Jazeera is one of numerous success stories of the sharing economy. Allowing creators to choose how they want to exercise their copyright, and enabling users to understand acceptable uses also benefits artists, educators, researchers and entrepreneurs.

The stories of Creative Commons users provide the best insight into how Creative Commons technical and legal infrastructure enables innovation. The Power of Open is a new book that you can download for free, featuring 31 diverse case studies of people, organisations and companies using Creative Commons tools.

Whether you are familiar with Creative Commons, or you are hearing about it for the first time today, The Power of Open will give you a better understanding of what it does, why it is so relevant to our digital age and how it enables innovation.

Lisa Green is chief of staff at Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation focused on developing the technical infrastructure to encourage the sharing of digital works.