Text by Molly Schwartz

“Creative Commons’ goal has always been ‘realizing the full potential of the internet,’ with greater access for everyone to culture, knowledge, information, and education.”

So how has Creative Commons been successful in opening culture over the internet? And what impact has this had for GLAM institutions?

Creative Commons recently published a “State of the Commons” report that measures the size of the commons and reviews developments of the past year. Through a suite of easy-to-use Creative Commons licenses, Creative Commons has helped build a growing pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, and remixed. Some of this content comes from libraries, archives, and museums as a direct result of their initiatives to open cultural content.

To quote OpenGLAM advocate Sarah Stierch from her blog post about the report, OpenGLAM institutions have contributed to the success of Creative Commons on multiple fronts:

  • In 2006, 50 million works were CC licensed/CC0. Today, over 882 million works are CC licensed/CC0. That number will continue to increase as we continue our efforts to open up more cultural heritage material and provide improved resources to the public about how the Commons works and why free licensing is so important.
  • The trend is moving towards free culture licenses. About 56% of those works are free culture licenses, meaning it will end up on Wikimedia Commons to be used in Wikipedia articles and can be adapted and used for commercial use. More restrictive licenses (non-commercial, no-derivatives, etc.) fail the mission of open culture and, in my opinion, are the last vestiges of copyleft imperialism.
  • The USA and Europe lead the way in open licensing, which is no surprise given that open licensing advocacy groups involved in OpenGLAM are primarily headquartered in both the USA and Europe (i.e. Creative Commons, Wikimedia, Open Knowledge Foundation, Europeana). We need to provide more multi-language resources and support to empower our brothers and sisters fighting restriction around the world.

OpenGLAM institutions have many reasons to be proud and optimistic about the future of open content. In the report, Creative Commons predicts that in 2015 the number of works with a creative-commons license will surpass 1 billion. There remain, however, many issues to address. One of the major areas of improvement is general public education about the meaning and benefits of providing open content.

Yahoo! recently announced that it would begin selling images on Flickr that were published under a Creative Commons license without sharing any revenue with the publishers of the content. It was a controversial announcement that some saw as a breach of trust, others saw as a victory for open licensing, and most saw as a terrible PR move. But the truth is, ethical or not, it is perfectly legal under the CC license. The resulting public outcry is proof that there should be increased awareness of what it means to publish an image under a CC license.

Libraries, archives, and museums are frequently public-facing institutions. They have a unique role to play in both opening content but also in educating the public as to what open content is all about, from both the publisher and the consumer perspective. As a professional layer, GLAMs aim to connect people with content rather than act as a barrier to it, and digital tools are allowing them to do so more effectively. Just look at the British Library’s recent web-archiving project — since April 2013, it has been archiving the whole of the UK web domain. There are numerous such projects happening at GLAM institutions all over the world. GLAMs are playing a role in the open movement alongside initiatives like Creative Commons, but future success will require increased outreach and public awareness efforts.

Molly Schwartz is a Fulbright scholar from the United States affiliated with the Aalto University Media Lab and conducting user experience research at the National Library of Finland. Her areas of focus include open knowledge, technology policy, transparency, and digital cultural heritage.

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