State of the Commons Report

Various authors, Dec 08, 2015
Commentary by Stephen Downes

I looked at it this morning; I'm deeply sceptical of some of the numbers, but I don't have time to investigate it deeply. The message is, as always, that the number of Creative Commons licensed works continues to rise, which I don't doubt, but that more and more people are opting for so-called 'free' licenses (ie., licenses that allow you to block access by demanding money), which I doubt. Why? Well this badly misleading graphic, pictured, is one reason. But look at the data. Of the 1.1 billion resources, 391 million are photos or images, almost all (356 million) are from Flickr, where almost 3/4 of them are not 'free' licenses. On Deviant Art, the source of an additional 18 million, non-'free' licenses outnumber 'free' licenses ten to one!

So how do the 'free' licenses account for 64% of all resources, as asserted by Creative Commons? Through some very creative accounting. Wikipedia, though having only 35.9 million articles (here), counts for 140 million of these (here, via here) all by itself. If you choose Creative Commons on YouTube, you must use CC-by, but only 12 million have done so. is listed as 133 million CC By-SA resources (here) but if you go to the website itself you realize that they mean 133 million listens, not songs! These sources - Wikipedia, Flicker, - account for almost 400 million of the 'free' licenses'. The Google search turns up another 200 million (from, where? we don't know. They might be reprinted Wikipedia articles or maybe they're double-counting Wikipedia) but I can't replicate the results; it would be helpful to know what query, exactly, was used.

What do I conclude? The good news is, there's a lot of free and open content out there. But there are some serious questions that need to be asked. First, most of the so-called 'free' licenses counted come from very few sites, and these are sites where only the 'free' license is used. Second, it seems clear that, when given a choice, most people choose a non-commercial license. Given that most people's idea of a commons is the free non-commercial sharing of resources, why does Creative Commons go to such lengths to promote commercial licenses as 'more free' and bend the statistics to make it appear as though people agree with them? And finally, how much influence do the commercial foundations who fund Creative Commons have in its apparent push for commercial-friendly licensing?

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