Grants/Creative Commons Licensing for the North Carolina General Assembly

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Creative Commons Licensing for the North Carolina General Assembly

Applicants: North Carolina Center for Voter Education, New America Foundation Media Policy Initiative
Affiliation: North Carolina Center for Voter Education (NCCVE), New America Foundation (NAF)
CC affiliated? No
Contact: Tom Glaiyser, Knight Media Policy Fellow, New America Foundation
Coordinator: Fiona Morgan, New America Foundation Research Associate
Project Start: 2010/08/01
Project End: 2011/01/01,
Download budget Discussion

Describe the project you are proposing as clearly as possible in just five sentences.

This project would explore the potential benefits and challenges of Creative Commons licensing for information produced by the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). Inspired by the copyright policy the New York State Senate has adopted, participants would research existing policies and operating procedures relating to intellectual property rights and public information. The research would culminate in concrete policy recommendations to the NCGA. These recommendations would aim to clarify state policy in a way that advances public access to government information by affirmatively stating the rules of the road for would-be innovators or third-party collaborators interested in expanding public engagement with government.

Detail the tangible project output (e.g., paper, blog post, written materials, video/film, etc.; this would be in addition to the final written report that successful grant recipients will be expected to deliver to CC at the conclusion of the project).

A detailed policy memo, including research and policy recommendations, on the potential uses of Creative Commons licensing for public information produced by the North Carolina General Assembly and published on its website, This memo will be delivered to state legislators and other officials within state government. If appropriate, a representative of the participating organizations will give oral testimony to a legislative or executive body.

Describe the community you are targeting. How would the project benefit the community?

The citizens of North Carolina would benefit through improved access to and engagement with public information. State government employees and officials will benefit through a clarification of state policy. In the long term, this project may benefit journalistic institutions through lowering the cost of reporting on state government. A 2009 survey by the American Journalism Review found that five of the state's eight major newspaper companies had reduced the number of reporters assigned to cover state government, and three had reduced their ranks to zero. CC licensing could spur open government innovation and improve digital access to government records, making it easier to cover the capitol from />

What is your relationship with the community you are targeting? Why are you the best individual/organization to lead this project? Do you have prior experience in related projects?

Damon Circosta, executive director of the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, is a respected voice in North Carolina government. He has strong relationships with legislators, legislative staff, other state government officials, a wide variety of nonprofit organizations committed to open government, and the state capitol press corp. The NCCVE has had proven success in lobbying for more open access to NCGA proceedings. Because of NCCVE's advocacy, the N.C. House in 2008 convened the House Select Committee on Televising House Sessions to study the feasibility of creating live broadcasts of floor sessions and other meetings in the House of Representatives and to review and assess current television access to state government and how it compares to other states and the federal government. Following that committee's findings, the N.C. House now webcasts and archives all floor sessions, and the N.C. Agency for Public Telecommunications is exploring ways to broaden public access to video footage of state government proceedings.

NAF's Media Policy Initiative is a Knight Foundation-funded project examining the information needs in communities, which this project complements through the expansion of open government policies. Its staff and fellows possess significant knowledge of technology and intellectual property issues relevant to this project. Coordination of this project with similar projects in other states will enhance their scalability and broader impact.

Fiona Morgan is a former reporter for the Independent Weekly who has produced award-winning coverage of the North Carolina legislature. Her writing about intellectual property issues has won an award from the North Carolina Bar Association in 2005. She has extensive contacts within government, media and nonprofit instituions in the state. She is currently a Master of Public Policy candidate at Duke University.

How will you measure and evaluate your project’s impact - on your main participants? Other contributors? On the larger community?

This project will have achieved impact if the North Carolina General Assembly implements the recommended policies. A clarification of intellectual property policy may spur efforts to expand the video broadcast or webcast of NCGA proceedings, which would greatly benefit the people of North Carolina. This would be evidence if the N.C. Senate began broadcasting or webcasting its floor sessions, or if both chambers agreed to broadcast or webcast committee meetings.

Additional impact would be evident if other agencies within the State of North Carolina adopted similar policy recommendations.Further impact would be evident if additional state legislatures adopted policies modeled after those in North Carolina. In broader terms, the project's success will be reflected in increased public discussion of intellectual property policies toward public information and the role of such policies in fostering a more open state government, in North Carolina and across the country.

How many participants do you expect to be involved in your project? How will you seek and sustain their involvement?

Fiona has had preliminary conversations with stakeholders in the NCGA, including the office of the Speaker of the House, a technologist, and the legislative librarian, as well as law professors at the University of North Carolina with particular knowledge of public records law in the state. She will further engage members and staff of the N.C. House and Senate; staff at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, which oversees the state library and open records policies; and scholars at the UNC School of Government (SOG), who can speak to institutional challenges, and School of Information and Library Science (SILS), who can speak both to challenges and to potential uses of the information. She will conduct in-person, phone and email interviews and may invite participants to collaborate using Google Docs or a similar system.

Damon Circosta will be available for ongoing consultation as the project progresses. He will connect Fiona with his extensive contacts in Raleigh and offer his input about the feasibility of the project and its broader utility toward open government objectives.

Staff and fellows at MPI will share their expertise and offer administrative support, networking the research in North Carolina with similar research in Minnesota.

Describe how your project will benefit Creative Commons' mission to increase the amount of creativity (cultural, educational, and scientific content) in "the commons".

This project would explore the expansion of CC licensing of intellectual property produced by state government. Given that federal law entitles states to copyright protection, there is a need for clarity to affirm the right of the public to access, share and build upon public information produced by the states. The New York State Senate has demonstrated one model, yet specific institutional and legal conditions mean one state's experience does not perfectly translate to others. By exploring the potential of CC licensing within the North Carolina General Assembly, this project will advance the movement toward state-level open government through progressive intellectual property policy. Setting down the rules of the road for NCGA information may provide an incentive to third parties to innovate software or other tools that will allow citizens and members of the media to access and engage with government.

Describe what technologies and tools your project will use. What kinds of technical skills and expertise do you bring to the project? What are your technical needs?

This is a research project that requires little in the way of technical tools or expertise.

What challenges do you expect to face, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Preliminary conversations with legislative staff indicate there is concern among legislators that audio or video recordings of floor debate could be used in political advertising (e.g. statements made by legislators and taken out of context). That concern has stymied support for NCCVE's proposal to produce ongoing video coverage of legislative floor sessions, modeled after C-SPAN. Our research would examine ways that creative commons licensing could address this problem, such as the New York State Senate did in adopting the CC+ protocol, which allows for commercial and non-commercial use of video content so long as it is not for political fund raising purposes.

An additional concern may be the provision of taxpayer-produced material for private-third party commercial ventures, as some stakeholders may view this as a form of subsidy. Our research would examine ways to balance public access and entrepreneurial interests by considering the benefits and drawbacks of commercial and non-commercial licenses, the potential of entrepreneurial efforts to innovate public access to information, and precedents, such as the publication of state statutes by private firms such as Lexis-Nexis.

How do you plan to sustain your project after the Creative Commons funding has ended? Detail specific plans. How do you plan to raise revenue to continue your efforts in the future?

Additional funding will not be necessary. It will be up to government officials to decide whether to adopt our recommendations.

How can this project be scalable, or have a scalable impact?

If the NCGA adopts these policy recommendations, other agencies within the State of North Carolina may follow. County and state governments may also follow.

While other states may face different institutional and legal challenges, this project may spur adoption of CC licensing in other states by building a deeper understanding of how CC licensing can benefit state governments and their constituents. A complementary project MPI proposes for Minnesota would expand that comparative understanding and scalability.

What resources and support do you expect Creative Commons to provide to your project to ensure its success (if any)?

This project would require little support from Creative Commons, aside from some potential consultation regarding the New York State Senate project and how it may be applicable.

Describe how your organization currently communicates with its community members and network partners. (100 words)

NCCVE has a web site, mailing list and Twitter account that it uses to communicate with its members. NCCVE is dedicated to providing voters with direct access to information through research, broadcast and online access to public debate. The Media Policy Initiative (MPI) group of the New America Foundation consistently promotes community engagement by hosting & attending numerous events, webcasts and maintaining a strong social media presence. The New America Foundation and MPI are dedicated to exploring the most current and effective ideas to promote a healthy democratic environment.