Creative Commons (CC), the non-profit organisation designed to protect creators' work whilst allowing online sharing, has just turned six. It's broken its initial goal of $500,000 of funding by $25,000; is designing a new licence for Wikipedia; and its birthday saw parties from Berlin to Belgrade. asked CC's outreach manager, Fred Benenson, how the organisation started and how it plans to expand.

So for people who have somehow missed hearing about you: what is Creative Commons?
[FB] Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that offers free legal tools and technology to help creators share and distribute their work online in a safe and legal fashion.

We offer 6 licences that anyone can apply to their work that signal how they want it to be used; they vary from very liberal ('Attribution only') to more restrictive ('Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives').

When anyone comes across a work under a CC licence, they can click the link to read the deed and see what they are and are not allowed to do with the work and under what conditions they may use it.

Our licences go to over 50 different legal jurisdictions and languages, so a work from one country may be used under the terms of the licence in another country.

How can journalists make use of CC?
Journalists, like anyone, can use CC in two different ways.

Firstly, when releasing their work online, they should consider releasing it under a CC licence. It is now inevitable that people are going to share work, print it out, translate it and so on.

By using a CC licence, a journalist can indicate that they are okay with these uses of the work instead of just turning a blind eye to them.

Depending on the publisher of their work, this may be easier than most journalists think. All that is required is putting a notice and a link to one of our licences at the bottom of an article.

The second way journalists - and everyone else for that matter - can use CC licences is to find work to build upon.

We run a search engine at that searches only for CC licensed materials.

Whether this is a photo to accompany an article or a MP3 to put in the background of a video, CC licences lower the transaction costs of acquiring usable material online.

The NYTimes, Wall Street Journal and countless other publications have all used CC licensed photos in their print and online issues, so it is now common place to see Flickr photos used in mainstream press pieces.
How was CC dreamed up?

CC was started as a project at Harvard Law School to provide a modern solution to the conflict between copyright law and current technology like the internet.

Since every use of a work in a digital context constitutes a copy of that work, copyright law is now implicated in virtually every digital cultural exchange.

Copyright law was orginally dreamed up as a monopoly designed to help commercial entities offset the price of publishing works, but has since evolved into an automatic right every person is entitlted to as soon as they set pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard.

The reality is that most people ignore copyright law and from a governmental (in the broad sense of governance) perspective, this is 'A Bad Thing'.

CC was designed to help attenuate the hidden costs of copyright law being implicated by digital copying.

Our licences are designed to be intuitive and reflect the realities of digital media - the minimum right across all CC licensed media is the right to copy and distribute a work verbatim non-commercially. We think this is how most people now treat digital media.

Six years down the line - how are you feeling?
Great. Obama's transition team just chose Creative Commons' most liberal licence for their community and content; we have finished a fantastic fund raising campaign (despite the enconomy); and 2009 looks packed with more exciting news about CC.
How do you see yourselves developing in the next six years?
I think we'll see greater mainstream acceptance of CC. Whether it is journalists using CC licensed media in mainstream press, or Hollywood films releasing b-roll footage under CC, I think we can expect to see a lot more visibility of our licences and projects in mass media.

But I also think we'll see the general principles behind CC being raised more frequently. As more culture moves online and into digital forms, more and more people will have to confront the issues that led to CC's creation, so hopefully they'll take time to educate themselves about the topics we care about and eventually see CC as a viable choice.

Have you got any advice to other online collaborative projects starting out (for example, an online code of media ethics in US is drawing on CC for inspiration)?
The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone interested in starting up a online collaborative project is to invest well with your technology people, and make sure they understand the benefits of free software.

Virtually everything CC does is made possible by the work of thousands of communities who have developed free software that we can build upon to help further our goals and present useful tools to people.

The other piece of advice is to understand how to leverage your community well. There will be plenty of people interested in helping out a good idea, but real projects don't get off the ground without hard work and sacrifice by a few people at the core. Making sure these are people you trust and who can communicate well is essential to building a sustainable project.

The last thing is: don't worry about repeating yourself. You may get tired of explaining your idea or project to people, but the fact is no one has heard of it until they have.

Until that point, you need to make sure that they get the opportunity to hear about it, so don't worry about explaining yourself and your project too often; just keep slogging ahead and sooner or later people will realize that you're not so crazy after all.

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