Internet thought leaders meet on iCommons ground


The iCommons summit took place from June13 to June 17 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, bringing together the diverse legal, artistic, media, and business community behind Creative Commons, an entity founded by Larry Lessig “devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share”.
The summit’s agenda promised an extremely stimulating gathering and featured such big shots as Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), Yochai Benkler (author of “Wealth of Networks”), Cory Doctorow (co-editor of BoingBoing and a popular sci-fi author), Cory Ondrejka (the developer of Second Life), and Lessig himself. And for most participants, the four intense days spent in one of the most beautiful spots on the Adriatic Sea turned out far from disappointing. Those who couldn’t make it to the event had a chance to tune in for the Second Life broadcasts of all keynote speeches.
For this summit’s program, the organizers divided all sessions into several simultaneous tracks that tackled issues ranging from the legal and architectural norms of the iCommons movement to exploring the policies and practice of open education around the world. One of the highpoints in the pre-summit agenda was the newly introduced CC Legal Day that, among other things, gave a chance for the Creative Commons community to have a somewhat poignant but useful discussion with David Uwemedimo, Director of Legal Affairs at CISAC, a collective society that is to experience first-hand the direct consequences of the global reform CC is fighting for.
One of the most exciting sessions of the summit was dedicated to the sustainable future for peer production and commons based communities. It gave an excellent overview of the landscape for projects that carry a Creative Commons license but also try to be profitable. Such innovative projects as Jamendo (the French file sharing site that provides a direct way to pay the musician by splitting the ad revenues 50/50), the Finnish Starwreck Studios, “the world’s first Internet studio for collaborative film production”,  Loftwork (a successful Japanese online business for illustrators and artists—think eBay for design—that employs a CC license on all community produced work), Magnatune, an online record label that lets visitors listen to its music for free, but also gives a chance to buy and license it for commercial use.

Another superb panel at the summit addressed the issue of how to build a successful online community for a project, featuring SJ Klein from the One Laptop Per Child and Wikipedia, Bjorn Wijers, co-creator of, Nelson Pavlovsky of, John Philips of and CC, and Alec Tarkowsky of Creative Commons Poland. Some bits of useful advice from John Philips: a) Make the source open b) Release early, release often c) Reward Contributors. Bjorn Wiers stressed the importance of taking small steps that can eventually lead to a bigger whole. SJ Klein advised to lower participation barriers as much as possible, and find a way for everyone to contribute. Nelson Pavlovsky stressed the importance of breaking down and then distributing leadership responsibilities among various team members, especially in communities where they don’t get paid.

Yochai Benkler, who coined the very term “peer production”, delivered an excellent keynote that discussed justice and politics, both within the commons movement and beyond. Developing on the ideas he expressed in his seminal book “The Wealth of Nations”, Benkler spoke at length about the emergence of the networked public sphere, the significant change in human ethic that is due to the sharing economy, and the changes in the global trade and IP system that need to be made not to thwart the rising wave of innovation that is due to peer production. Most importantly, Benkler tried to position the iCommons and the A2K (Access to Knowledge) movements at the center of the emerging countermovement that has its roots in the free open source software, open access publishing, spectrum commons, Internet freedom movement, etc.

The summit also paid some attention to the ways in which media outlets can benefit from the Creative Commons licenses. The best case-study here comes from openDemocracy, a prominent online magazine, that two years decided to publish most of their articles under a Creative Commons license. According to the magazine’s CEO, who spoke at the summit, this was largely a wise decision that has given OD an extra edge over other publications.
However, as participants have seen from the OD’s example, some thorny issues still remain. For example, some of OD’s articles are automatically reprinted and thus read on other web-sites, thus leaving the magazine without the coveted readers. OD’s business model is structured around donations from its readers, so it’s essential to have them read OD at the source and leave their emails (in OD’s estimates, each email is worth around 2 USD to them; the magazine’s CEO spoke at length about how to create a “culture of giving” in a media organization ). One interesting solution that OD might implement to is to apply Creative Commons licenses to individual web-pages and not articles.

Good Copy Bad Copy, a brand-new documentary from three Danish directors that was also shown at the summit as part of its mini film festival, raised some interesting points about the pros and cons of copyright, piracy and new forms of cultural production. Filming such exotic acts as the performances of Pittsburg’s infamous “illegal artist” Girl Talk who remixes hundreds of uncleared samples to produce new pop anthems, the success of Nigeria’s Nollywood movie scene, the economic food chain that has emerged around Brazil’s “techno-brega” scene and the rise of the Pirate Party in Sweden, the documentary offered a unique perspective on the state of copyright and piracy around the world.

An unexpected development at the summit was Larry Lessig’s announcement that he will be stepping aside from the leadership of Creative Commons some time soon and refocusing his energy on what he thinks is the bigger problem: fighting corruption in the government and eliminating what he dubbed the “economy of influence”, where those with money get to influence the policy direction of the United States. The summit participants were caught by surprise by this announcement, although some of them quickly attributed Lessig’s departure to his (yet unstated) desire to join Obama’s presidential campaign.

E. Morozov