It’s time for news organizations to embrace Creative Commons
For the past several years, Cards Against Humanity has been Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller in the “Toys and Games” category.
But the card game, which has raked in millions of dollars and inspired dozens of imitations, is also available for free on the Cards Against Humanity website. Anyone can download, remix, or share the game, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license.
Why would Cards Against Humanity distribute their card game for free? I think it has to do with exposure and impact. Lots of people download the cards and realize they want a better experience, so they purchase the cards online. Other people download the cards, and their friends realize that they want their own version but can’t be bothered making their own set. So they buy them. The result is that more people know about Cards, which largely spreads through word of mouth.
A similar phenomenon has happened in the news industry when organizations have licensed their work with the Creative Commons license. ProPublica, for example, has always encouraged others to “steal its stories” — which has both increased pageviews and resulted in thousands of sites reprinting their pieces. As ProPublica President Richard Tofel and Assistant Managing Editor Scott Klein noted, it's about impact:
Why do we do this? ProPublica’s mission is for our journalism to have impact, that is for it to spur reform. Greater reach — the widest possible audience — doesn’t equate to impact, but it can help, and certainly doesn’t hurt. So we encourage it. And, of course, we started in 2008 with almost no audience or reputation at all, and needed — and still need — to increase the circle of people who know us, and our work. CC helps us achieve that goal.
I see Creative Commons licensing as a smart way to distribute local or national content when the goal is maximum impact, or an audience spreading word that your content exists.
I also see CC licensing as an important survival tool for smaller and regional newsrooms. When material is published under the license, smaller newsrooms can republish articles or media like photographs in full. Or, they can build on, localize or extend the reporting in some way.
ProPublica tracks its stories by requiring publications that reprint its articles to insert a tracking beacon along with their text. Called Pixel Ping, the open-source tool allows ProPublica to “count the number of times [its] stories are read on sites that republish them.”
This is useful for many reasons, including obtaining additional funding.
Molly de Aguiar is the program director for Informed Communities at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, which funds journalism projects, including ProPublica, that help educate and engage the public around issues of importance to New Jersey.
de Aguiar says the collaboration fostered by Creative Commons gives ProPublica a better case when it's time to apply for grant funding. Because access to quality information is important for healthy communities, sharing and collaboration is a major upside for the news ecosystem in New Jersey.
"We especially appreciate that ProPublica makes their work available via Creative Commons licensing so that local New Jersey news organizations can republish their stories and localize their data," de Aguiar said. "This is a win for local news sites who have unfettered access to free, high quality content, and it’s a win for New Jersey residents who can make better informed decisions as a result of ProPublica’s reporting. It’s one of the major reasons we fund ProPublica – they are a true leader on this front."
ProPublica isn’t the only publication that distributes work under a Creative Commons license. But there’s no definitive — and current — list of publications that use the license, which allows stories to be republished with requirements specific to each particular publication’s needs.
Below are all of the publications I’ve found that use the license. I hope this list is helpful for smaller newsrooms and inspires some organizations to make some of their material available for other publications to reuse or extend. If you know of others, please let me know in the comments, and I’ll update this list. And if you’d like to see other major works that exist under the license, I recommend this Wikipedia page — which contains many books, musical pieces and games, among other topics. You can also check out this page, which details cultural resources like maps and artwork that are available for reuse.
- The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has a collection of Creative Commons-licensed audio and video files which you can find here. The footage includes a 1974 interview with author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicting the Internet.
- Brazil’s public/state news agency, ebc.com.br, will be particularly useful during the upcoming Olympics. Everything on its site, unless noted, is available to share and adapt for any purpose — including commercially.
- Aspen Journalism reports on issues relevant to the communities in the Roaring Fork River watershed, the Western Slope, the state of Colorado and the West. Articles may be shared in full and provide appropriate credit with link to the license.
- NJ Spark, a social justice journalism lab at Rutgers University, allows re-publication under these conditions. “We invite you to use NJ Spark's original content on your own webpages with a few caveats. Please do not edit our material. Please do not sell it. Please include the phrase 'Originally published on NJ Spark' and link to the original content at the top of the page.”
- The Texas Tribune also welcomes re-publication of its articles and graphics, with a few ground rules: You can’t change the story in any way, except for style references and length — and you need to give it credit. You can see their full guidelines here.
- The Center for Investigative Journalism is a nonprofit organization that publishes investigative journalism. You can copy and republish their stories for free as long as you give credit or link directly to their site.
- 20 Minutos allows anyone to share or remix their work if they also use the same license and attribute the material.
- The Blue Review, a journal of popular scholarship published by the Boise State University School of Public Service, publishes its work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
- Boing Boing, the culture, science and tech blog, permits non-commercial sharing with attribution.
- The Free Press, a “nonpartisan organizations fighting to save the free and open Internet, curb runaway media consolidation, protect press freedom, and ensure diverse voices are represented in our media,” allows you to share both its content and their photographs.
- The New Inquiry is “a space for discussion that aspires to enrich cultural and public life by putting all available resources—both digital and material—toward the promotion and exploration of ideas.” All essays are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
- The Tow Center publishes many of its research reports under CC license; topics include automation, crowdsourcing and podcasting.
- The Conversation provides news and views from the academic and research community. It allows anyone to “steal [their] articles” as long as they’re credited (and, it notes, you can’t edit its material or sell it separately.)
- Back in 2006, GateHouse Media, which owned 75 daily and 231 weekly newspapers, switched to CC licensing for most of its online content. At the time, Howard Owens, the director of digital publishing, said this to news organizations: "Don't allow remix. News organizations have ethical obligations to accuracy and fairness not to explicitly allow people to change the news. You need to preserve the right to prohibit people from changing the meaning of the content." Many of the local or regional publications appear to still be under the license; check the individual publication to double check.
- Global Integrity, along with the Center for Public Integrity, published a research project that “compiles and assesses qualitative data on the state of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 US states” under a CC license.
- Ground Report “provides amateur, apprentice and professional journalists with the digital tools required to reach a local or global audience.” Journalists are allowed to choose from a “range of Creative Commons licenses to tell people how you’d like your work used.”
- ProPublica, as noted earlier, makes it really easy for people to “grab HTML code” for their stories. The guidelines are here.
- Nieman Lab licenses its work under a Attribution-Noncommerical-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. As they put it, “under this license, you could: translate the entire site into Portuguese, redistribute some of our posts to students in a college course, [or] use our Twitter feed as lyrics in some awful techno song you’ve written.” If you try the last one, please let me know.
- Gage Skidmore, a 22-year-old accounting student from Arizona, has published over 40,000 photos of newsmakers — including presidential candidates — to his Flickr site. All are under a Creative Commons license and have been used by thousands of publications, including The AP, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and NPR. Here’s a great article about his photography hobby, which has rankled some professional photographers.
- Truthout.org, a nonprofit news organization that provides independent news and commentary, allows non-commercial use of its photographs and illustrations on its Flickr site, with attribution.
Science and health
- Kaiser Health News encourages organizations to republish content free of charge. They require credit and a link back — full guidelines are here.
- Mosaic, a magazine published by the Wellcome Trust that explores the science of life, allows the reproduction and distribution of its articles, as long as you provide a link back to its site and attribute it.
- Linux Voice covers free software and GNU/Linux. Content is licensed under Creative Commons after nine months from the publication date.
Editor's note: This work is free to use under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
Correction: A previous version of this story, on second reference, incorrectly rendered Molly de Aguiar's surname.