Creative Commons Case Studies

On: April 9, 2009
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About Chris Castiglione
Chris is an alumni of Universiteit van Amsterdam and the New Media M.A. Currently, he is the co-founder of One Month (, and the host of the On Books Podcast (


Building An Australasian CommonsAlmost a year ago Creative Commons launched the Case Studies Project with the aim of qualitatively measuring the impact of CC licenses on the world. The project lives on the CC wiki and everyone is invited to contribute by adding “interesting, innovative, or noteworthy uses of Creative Commons.” As of this writing, the project showcases around 500 Case Studies of people using a CC License for photography, music, film, literature and education.

Unfortunately, the CC wiki (IMHO) is slightly awkward to navigate: you can browse through the case studies, but since most of us aren’t looking for a specific case study it is difficult to get an overall impression. Luckily, Creative Commons Australia recently completed a book entitled Building an Australasian Commons that highlights sixty-five of the case studies (a pre-print PDF version of the book is now available online). Building an Australasian Commons is an amazing first step for aggregating this information and presenting it in an easily digestible and persuasive manner. The 195 page PDF lifts the project from the website, and with the magic of good design techniques, reworks it into something that tells a larger story – and something that is fashionable enough to put on your coffee table.

How To Improve the Case Studies
In order to spread CC beyond the walls of the free-culture movement and into mainstream society CC needs more evidence that demonstrates whether it has been successful for artists. So in addition to the book, what other ways can the case studies be presented such that they have the power to influence the general public?

Is there additional data that we could be collecting from the CC licensed artists?

The first thing that comes to mind is that the case studies need to include more hard data about artists’ income and listenership. Among the participants in the music study, a few of the more generous participants have disclosed the following:

  • Nine Inch Nails provided some of the most detailed information on their pricing model and revealed that they took in 1.6million in the first week from sales on their website.
  • Musician Jonathan Coulton was “unable to give statistics” but did say that 45% of his income in 2007 was from paid digital downloads.
  • Jamendo, the online music platform promoting CC-licensed music, has made all of the site’s donation statistics publicly available. Economist Aaron Schiff tabulated the data and published his findings that, “Over the 22 months there were 1,454 donations made, for a total value of US$21,150. So each artist is receiving very little money, if anything.”

While these numbers are interesting, they aren’t enough to conclude anything about the Creative Commons licenses as a whole. For instance, there isn’t a constant metrics that I can rely on to make comparisons between the musicians. And further, how can I relate these results to musicians that aren’t using a CC license?

As a parallel think about how Billboard Magazine has been reporting on album sales and popularity for the past 60 years. Their rankings are publicly available and provide the industry with a standard for measurement. What standards of measurement can we use in the CC case studies?

I’d also like to learn if there are people who feel that their work has been hindered by the use of a CC license. What went wrong? What can we learn from this? Considering that the only “negative” conclusion was drawn from one of the few participants that had disclosed the largest amount of hard-data (Jamendo’s finding that “each artist is receiving very little money”), there hasn’t been enough research into the true consequences of using a CC license.

If CC could collect more data about each musician then perhaps the “musicians, music professionals and record execs” (Billboard’s audience) would pay more attention. And more importantly, Creative Commons would gain the ‘stickiness’ necessary to penetrate mainstream culture.

3 Responses to “Creative Commons Case Studies”
  • April 9, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    interesting point you make here, its the burdon of proving its value to the commmunity at large. I guess another point is, that its often problematic to determine the effect on sales by publishing under a CC licence. I remember that Cory Doctorow said (on PICNIC07) it was difficult to show what de effect was of his use of the CC licence, but that looking at the fact that his book was in it’s (i believe) 5th print, once could assume it went beyond publisher expectations. One way to get more awareness is to gather sales statistincs and visualizing the data…maybe a trend can be spotted :)

    In the end I would assume that it has to prove its value “naturally”. As for instance YouTube mashup movies are deleted and muted due to IP issues, maybe people will flock towards CC music to make mashups.

  • April 10, 2009 at 12:52 am

    If one measures the value of CC in hard $$, then, indeed, it’s up to CC to find a way in determining the effect on sales. I think the value of CC shouldn’t be measured in $$, because it’s hard to determine true value for intellectual property. Are the dollars ‘earned’ by the artist by means of the conventional licenses normative? What is true value for money? Maybe it is a weakness to measure CC in the availability of creative sources to ‘thinker’ with. But I think that measuring the latter is more interesting, because that (in Lessig’s sense) is what free culture should be all about. We should not ask ‘if’ there is more creativity around for us to thinker with. But, in numbers ‘how much’ more creative work is available now then before?

  • April 19, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    @marijn, good point. Gathering sales stats is ideal, but until then, proving value “naturally” is most likely what will come in the future.

    @bas, I agree, the value of CC shouldn’t be directly linked to $$$.

    Yet, for those not particularly interested in “sharing creativity and culture”, the ability to prove that artists can use a CC license and still make $$$ would be an extraordinary win for ‘free culture’.

    And actually since I believe that there is money (perhaps more money) to be made using a CC license rather than with a standard copyright, I’m interested in figuring out how this could be proven.

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