The Power of Open/Text

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Creative Commons would like to acknowledge the many contributions of staff, consultants, sponsors, and supporters responsible for producing The Power of Open. A very special thanks goes to the organizations, artists, and creators who not only share their work with CC licenses, but shared their time and insights to be profiled in this book.

Visit to download a digital version of The Power of Open or to find out how to order print copies.


Text and layout © 2011 Creative Commons Corporation; photo credits appear alongside images throughout the book.

Cover art © 2011 Naeema Zarif ( Created as a special commission for this project.

This book uses two public domain fonts available via The League of Moveable Type: League Gothic and Goudy Bookletter 1911. For more information see

The double C in a circle, the words and logotype “Creative Commons,” and the Creative Commons license buttons are trademarks of Creative Commons. For more information, see

Except where otherwise noted, content in The Power of Open, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. For the terms of this license, please visit



The world has experienced an explosion of openness. From individual artists opening their creations for input from others, to governments requiring publicly funded works be available to the public, both the spirit and practice of sharing is gaining momentum and producing results.

Creative Commons began providing licenses for the open sharing of content only a decade ago. Now more than 400 million CC-licensed works are available on the Internet, from music and photos, to research findings and entire college courses. Creative Commons created the legal and technical infrastructure that allows effective sharing of knowledge, art and data by individuals, organizations and governments. More importantly, millions of creators took advantage of that infrastructure to share work that enriches the global commons for all humanity.

The Power of Open, collects the stories of those creators. Some are like ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative news organization that uses CC while partnering with the world’s largest media companies. Others like nomadic filmmaker Vincent Moon use CC licensing as an essential element of a lifestyle of openness in pursuit of creativity. The breadth of uses is as great as the creativity of the individuals and organizations choosing to open their content, art and ideas to the rest of the world.

As we look ahead, the field of openness is approaching a critical mass of adoption that could result in sharing becoming a default standard for the many works that were previously made available only under the all-rights-reserved framework. Even more exciting is the potential increase in global welfare from the use of Creative Commons’ tools and the increasing relevance of openness to the discourse of culture, education and innovation policy.

We hope that The Power of Open inspires you to examine and embrace the practice of open licensing so that your contributions to the global intellectual commons can provide their greatest benefit to all people.

About Creative Commons

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet – universal access to culture, education and research – to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity.

The idea of universal access to research, education and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems don’t always allow that idea to be realized. Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source and post to the Web. The default setting of copyright law requires all of these actions to have explicit permission, granted in advance, whether you’re an artist, teacher, scientist, librarian, policymaker or just a regular user. To achieve the vision of universal access, someone needed to provide a free, public and standardized infrastructure that creates a balance between the reality of the Internet and the reality of copyright laws. That someone is Creative Commons.

What we provide

The infrastructure we provide consists of a set of copyright licenses and tools that create a balance inside the traditional “all rights reserved” setting that copyright law creates.

Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to keep their copyright while allowing certain uses of their work – a “some rights reserved” approach to copyright – which makes their creative, educational and scientific content instantly more compatible with the full potential of the internet. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law. We’ve worked with copyright experts around the world to make sure our licenses are legally solid, globally applicable, and responsive to our users’ needs.

For those creators wishing to opt out of copyright altogether, and to maximize the interoperability of data, Creative Commons also provides tools that allow work to be placed as squarely as possible in the public domain.

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet – universal access to culture, education and research – to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity.

Where we're going

We build infrastructure at Creative Commons. Our users build the commons itself. We are working to increase the adoption of our tools, to support and listen to our users, and to serve as a trusted steward of interoperable commons infrastructure.

Your support

In order to achieve the vision of an Internet full of open content, where users are participants in innovative culture, education and science, we depend on the backing of our users and those who believe in the potential of the Internet. We are alive and thriving thanks to the generous support of people like you. Spread the word about CC to your friends and family, and donate to help maintain Creative Commons as a robust, long-lived, and stable organization.

Creative Commons is a Massachusetts-chartered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation.

Creative Commons licenses

Creative Commons licenses give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions and get credit for their creative work while allowing others to copy, distribute and make specific uses of it. Licensors have a wide range of options for choosing which permissions to grant and uses to allow.

Creative Commons licenses incorporate a unique and innovative three-layer design. The first layer is the “legal code,” consisting of traditional legal tools applicable around the world. This is supplemented with a “human-readable” explanation in more user-friendly language accessible to most creators. The final layer is a “machine-readable” description that software systems, search engines and other technology can understand and use to make searching for and utilizing CC-licensed works more convenient.

Taken together, the licenses' three layers ensure that the spectrum of rights covered by our tools isn’t something only lawyers can understand. It’s something that the creators of works can understand, their users can understand, and even the Web itself can understand.

Attribution (CC BY)
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials.
Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA)
This license lets others remix, tweak and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under identical terms. This license is often compared to “copyleft” free and open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same

license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the license used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects.

Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND)
This license allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you.
Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)
This license lets others remix, tweak and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA)
This license lets others remix, tweak and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms.
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND)
This license is the most restrictive of our six main licenses, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially.

Creative Commons also provides tools that work in the “all rights granted” space of the public domain. Our CC! tool allows licensors to waive all rights and place a work in the public domain, and our Public Domain Mark allows any Web user to “mark” a work as being in the public domain.

CC0 Public Domain Dedication
CC! enables owners of copyright-protected content to waive copyright interests in their works and thereby place them as completely as possible in the public domain, so that others may freely build upon, enhance and reuse the works for any purposes without restriction under copyright. In contrast to Creative Commons licenses that allow copyright holders to choose from a range of permissions while retaining their copyright, CC! empowers yet another choice altogether — the choice to opt out of copyright and the exclusive rights it automatically grants creators.
Public Domain Mark
Public Domain Mark (PDM) is a tool that allows works already in the public domain to be marked and tagged in a way that clearly communicates the work’s public domain status, and allows it to be easily discoverable. The PDM is not a legal instrument like CC! or the CC licenses — it can only be used to label a work with information about its public domain status, not change a work’s current status under copyright. However, just like CC! and CC licenses, PDM has a metadata-supported deed and is machine-readable, allowing works tagged with PDM to be findable on the Internet.

Creative Commons Stories

TED Talks

June Cohen
Free to Spread Ideas / New York

“This phenomenal growth is entirely driven by free and open distribution, CC licensing has enabled sharing in ways well beyond what we could have done on our own.”


Now a mainstay of the online ecosystem, TED Talks started at exclusive seminars attended by a select few. Five years after publishing all TED Talks online under Creative Commons licenses, more than 200 million viewers have experienced the innovative thinking of TED speakers.

“This phenomenal growth is entirely driven by free and open distribution,” says June Cohen, executive producer of TED Media. “CC licensing has enabled sharing in ways well beyond what we could have done on our own.”

“When we decided to open our library, we had one single goal: to spread ideas,” Cohen says. “Every decision we made was based on that goal. Creative Commons was the most efficient way to empower the growth of our product and free us from conversations about what could or couldn’t be done with our videos.

“Sharing online was a very controversial decision. People feared it would capsize our business, discourage people from paying for our conference, and be rejected by speakers.

“The first year after releasing videos of talks for free, we raised the cost of the conference by 50 percent and sold out in one week with a 1,000 person waiting list,” Cohen says. “Not only do speakers lobby for the talks to be posted as soon as possible, but paying conference participants are anxious to share talks they just heard with family, friends and colleagues.”

TED Talks featuring Swedish medical doctor and statistician Hans Rosling and his presentations on developing countries show how CC licenses can popularize a subject. “Hans told me that posting his first TED Talk online did more to impact his career than all of the other things he had done previously,” Cohen says. “It opened up a whole new world for him.”

“Our unintended consequences have been explosively positive,” Cohen says. “It is not just the growth, but the way that our global audience has become a global team, embracing our brand and encouraging further innovation. A Creative Commons license clearly communicates that you are really serious about the spread of ideas.” is entirely driven by free and open distribution, CC licensing has enabled sharing in ways well beyond what we could have done on our own.”

Jonathan Worth

Picturing a New Model for Professional Photographers / London

“We don’t have all the answers, but CC lets me choose my flavor and helps me take advantage of the things working against me.”


British photographer Jonathan Worth’s work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London. He teaches photography at Coventry University in the U.K. He has photographed actors Colin Firth, Rachel Hunter, Jude Law and Heath Ledger. He is also one of an emerging group of photographers experimenting with sustainable working practices for professional image makers in the digital age.

Worth, like almost all working pros, used to spend hours scouring the Internet to protect his images from theft. He was angry about the amount of time he wasted in pursuing breaches of his copyright. “Then I ran into science-fiction writer Cory Doctorow, who was giving his book away and making money from it,” Worth says. “I photographed him once and asked him what the deal was. He proposed an experiment.”

Worth signed on. They put a Creative Commons BY license on the image and shared high-resolution copies for free online while selling signed prints at various prices and levels of exclusivity. “The most expensive sold first,” said Worth. “No one had ever heard of me, but they were paying good money for my prints.”

Doctorow had given Worth a lesson on the new digital world and people’s digital habits. “Now I can understand how to leverage the forces of people using my images for free,” says Worth. “It’s like putting a message in a bottle and the tides can take it anywhere under its own steam and you can take advantage of those forces.”

“Creative Commons enables me to use existing architecture really smoothly and to address the digital natives’ social media habits,” Worth says. “The mode of information is the same, but the mode of distribution has changed. We don’t have all the answers, but CC lets me choose my flavor and helps me take advantage of the things working against me.”

Nina Paley



DJ Vadim

Global Voices

Pratham Books

The Open University

Epic Fu

Bloomsbury Academic

Indaba Music

Curt Smith


Vincent Moon

Dan Gillmor

Riot Cinema

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum



Uncensored Interview



Tiago Serra

Al Jazeera

Khan Academy

Human Rights Watch


James Patrick Kelly

Robin Sloan

Public Library of Science

Other Voices: Testimonials

What is the Power of Open worth?

How has adoption of Creative Commons grown?

Visualizing the Growth

The Power of Open Supporters