When Creative Commons published version 4.0 of its set of alternative copyright licenses in 2013, this represented a sea change. While previously a generic set of licenses had been legally adapted to different jurisdictions (“ported”), version 4.0 of the licenses was developed as a single globally applicable license standard. To a certain degree, a decade of laborious license porting helped to build an international network of legal professionals and a respective body of legal knowledge, which than enabled Creative Commons to abandon its porting strategy.


More than three years after this “globalization” of Creative Commons’ licenses, the NGO strives to also globalizing its organizational structure. By March 24, 2017, the various communities of Creative Commons activists, lawyers and contributors may comment on a detailed proposal for an entirely new governance structure. The proposal is accompanied by several regional and a global “Faces of the Commons” reports and additional background information on the process that led to the proposal – a particular open form of strategy-making.

A global NGO instead of a network of partner organizations

Creative Commons’ new structure strives for implementing much more transparent and democratic decision-making procedures. Currently Creative Commons is steered mostly by its board and CC Headquarters in San Francisco, which collaborated with about 100 affiliate organizations across the globe – often two affiliates per country. The new governance structure would introduce a system of individual membership and country teams. While organizations may remain official partners of Creative Commons, only (their) individual members would have voting rights. This should enable more people interested in contributing to Creative Commons’ agenda to actively get involved.

Each country team is supposed to elect a team leader and a delegate to the newly created Global Network Council (GNC). The GNC will decide on establishing issue- und community-oriented platforms (e.g., on open education) with their own budget and the right to apply for project funding. Given that an increasing share of Creative Commons’ budget should be distributed via the GNC this would imply a substantial redistribution of funds to oversea activities and will increase transparency of both fundraising and spending.

Regarding the country teams, Creative Commons only prescribes four basic rules and some fundraising restrictions, leaving the rest to the teams.  The four rules are:

  1. Country Teams must be open to all Network Members and Partners that are working in that country (…).
  2. Each Country Team will send one representative to the Global Network Council.
  3. Each Country Team will select an individual to be responsible for coordinating and communicating on behalf of Country Team activities. They will serve as a point of contact for CC HQ when forwarding or responding to inquiries regarding activities in that country. (…) This person may be the representative to the Global Network Council but is not required to be.
  4. Country Teams agree to work by consensus. In situations of conflict, Country Teams can appeal to the Global Network Council’s Dispute Resolution Committee.

A big step for Creative Commons

Previously, US-based Creative Commons had been very reluctant in granting more rights to its transnational network of affiliate organizations, not to speak of further democratizing the organization. The proposal presented by Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley represents a sharp change of course in this respect. Particularly the opportunity for individuals to get official members with actual decision-making rights is likely to make Creative Commons much more open – and attractive – for new members outside of its established circle of affiliate organizations.