Preaching to the unconverted

By   |  April 25, 2007

The alternate licensing scheme for content, Creative Commons (CC), is gaining ground in South Africa, but still much work needs to be done. While some local artists are already reaping benefits from CC-licensed content, government documents created with tax money still insist on restrictive copyright measures.

This is according to Heather Ford, executive director Creative Commons South Africa. Talking at the Digital Freedom Expo in Cape Town last week, Ford said that selling the concept initially was an uphill battle. “We felt like bible sales people, going around to people and telling them to copy this please, pirate this please, play with this please, spread this please.”

The idea behind Creative Commons is to give artists and content creators an easy way to license their content with less restrictive terms than typically provided for in copyright law. Through a variety of cookie-cut licences, you can transfer rights to others to remix, distribute, or use your work for commercial benefit – or a subset of any of those options. Like open source software, the creator still holds copyright, and gets credit down the line.

“The opportunity that licences like these offer to people is to learn, like learning by picking up the car bonnet and looking inside. In the same way that we open up cars and put them back together, we can learn how software works, how music is made,” says Ford.

The successes have been noteworthy. Ford notes the likes of the University of the Western Cape (hosts of the conference), the national education website Thutong, and the Johannesburg philharmonic orchestra as all having adopted Creative Commons as a licensing scheme. Rhodes University’s New Media Lab will also be teaching Creative Commons as a course.

Heather Ford heads iCommons, which is the evangelistic arm of Creative Commons in South Africa. She admits that during her “bible sales” she’s often hit brick walls – people who refuse to change from their existing licensing models. In particular, Ford pointed out the restrictive licensing conditions on many of South African government web sites, where content that was paid for by the tax payer cannot be used freely.

“By sharing culture rather than having it stolen [we are] replacing ready-made culture with home-grown culture,” said Ford.

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