Creative Commons licenses are essential to virtually all of the different “open movements”, which have emerged over the past two decades beyond open source software. In the realm of open education, open science and open access, Creative Commons licenses are the standard way to make content open to the wider public. Also in fields such as open data and open government Creative Commons licenses are widely used to make it easier for third parties to re-use publicly funded content.
In spite of this vital role in different fields of openness, not to speak of all the open Wikimedia projects, Creative Commons has long struggled with its role. During its first decade, Creative Commons nearly exclusively focused on its role as a license steward, carfully abstaining from political copyright activism typical for the open movements. Only very recently, following a speech by its founder Lawrence Lessig at the CC Global Summit 2013, Creative Commons has issued a policy statement on “Creative Commons and Copyright Reform” saying that “the CC vision — universal access to research and education and full participation in culture — will not be realized through licensing alone.”
Also, born in Silicon Valley and with technology entrepreneurs on the board, Creative Commons leaders long sought to identify some form of monetization strategy. In the last strategy document “The Future of Creative Commons” (PDF), the organization was still trying to “develop a long-term revenue model” (p. 16). But maybe Creative Commons already has such a “long-term revenue model” and its called “donations”? What if Creative Commons would fully embrace its role as an infrastructure provider and political advocate for the diverse forms of digital openness?
The new Creative Commons fundraising campaign seems to point into this direction. The campaign “Team Open” tries to visualize the breath of application fields for Creative Commons licenses and thereby presents it as the main reason why people should support Creative Commons. Maybe it is time for Creative Commons to accept its role as a donation-funded facilitator of digital openness across different fields, give up the search for additional revenue models and instead sharpen the respective political profile. I think this could work.