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Information philanthropy

I learned an interesting term today, while reading the draft Government 3.0 report.

From the draft report:

11.5: Gifts of public good – Information Philanthropy

Innovation often occurs well in advance of the regulatory and cultural frameworks needed to support it. Many of the most innovative endeavours have been made by people with an idea, some time to volunteer and the wherewithal to make it happen.

For the many innovations that have social and democratic value but no apparent commercial return there are currently few options. Funding through government grants is unlikely, micro-donations and online advertising will rarely cover any substantial costs and the current philanthropic framework does not support substantial giving to such projects.

In the UK and the US examples such as mysociety.org and guidestar.com demonstrate the potential for social good. In Australia initiatives such as OpenAustralia and the Taskforce’s mashup competition and associated hack day events are clear examples of the potential and appetite to innovate with data and online engagement.

It may be possible for organisations whose purpose is to build online systems for public good to receive Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) and Tax Concession Charity (TCC) status for organisations but it is far from straightforward. There are no categories that specifically support the provision of public goods online in the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) regulatory definitions. DGR and TCC status provides both tax advantages for the organisation and the capacity to receive grants and donations from philanthropic foundations and other donors.

This is not surprising as Information Philanthropy is new and is not widely understood. Reducing the obstacles to the free flow of philanthropy to projects that use government data for public good, or improve the democratic process will no doubt boost innovation and expand the understanding of the value of such projects.[…]

The consultants to the Taskforce have proposed the establishment of such a Specially Listed Deductible Giving Recipient Foundation to support the initial development of info-philanthropy. For the purposes of establishing this, one might define the foundation’s mission as assisting in projects of properly registered not-for-profit organisations and which, in a way that is not party political or focused primarily on advocacy either:


Recommendation 12 – Encourage info-philanthropy

Because some of the most successful experiments in Government 2.0 have been fuelled by not-for-profits in leading countries such as the UK and the US, Australian policy-makers should minimise obstacles to info-philanthropy being treated as an eligible activity to qualify for deductible gift recipient and other forms of legal status which recognise charitable or philanthropic purposes.

(Emphasis mine.) In my opinion that’s a brilliant idea. I don’t really have a lot to add, I just wanted to point it out to everyone. I hope this recommendation is picked up by government. It would be an easy one to implement and make a start towards useful formal recognition of the good that such projects can do.

I’ve only quickly skimmed the report – it’s kinda huge – but I already found a few other nice nuggets. Like The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

The Three Laws of Open Government Data:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower

Summarisable as Find, play, share. I like it!

There are also nice summaries on OpenAustralia, and the Social Benefits of PSI talks about the National Library of Australia newspaper digitisation program.

There’s lots to absorb here, but that’s what caught my eye in a first pass.

07 December, 2009 • , , ,

A dialogue about Creative Commons licenses


Blogging Icons Set is released under Creative Commons License, please feel free to use it on your personal and commercial projects.
Disclaimer & Conditions: Redistribution, Release for Download or Selling of these icons on an another site without permission is completely prohibited.


“Blogging Icons Set is released under Creative Commons License, please feel free to use it on your personal and commercial projects..Disclaimer & Conditions: Redistribution, Release for Download or Selling of these icons on an another site without permission is completely prohibited.”

Um, OK…so which is it?

(ps: Creative Commons is not a license, it’s a suite of licenses. Which specific one did you mean?)


Sorry for the confusion. It is Creative Commons 3.0. Do not worry too much, you can use them on any personal or commercial projects as you want as long as you DO NOT SELL these icons. And DO NOT Release Downloads on any other sites. You can always point people to this article / source. We appreciate a little link love. Thanks. Hope you enjoy the icons. :)

Er, what’s wrong with this picture?

(For the record, I didn’t notice the reply, and this post has since received probably over 100 trackbacks. I still get link referrals from my comment, which was the first one, and which is how I noticed the reply just now.)


  1. this person doesn’t understand that “Creative Commons” is not a license, and “Creative Commons 3.0” is still not a license.
  2. all Creative Commons licenses allow redistribution without modification, which this person evidently is not aware of.
  3. some confusion about whether “selling” the icons could be a commercial use. (To be fair, this person could use a license with a NC clause and then give additional permission to use in commercial projects, that don’t involve directly selling the icons.)

I don’t really have a neat conclusion. It just amused me how far we have to come. BTW, the icons really are rather pretty.

02 August, 2008 •


CCau "Building an Australasian Commons" conference notes

The week before last I zipped up to Brisbane to attend the Building an Australasian Commons conference hosted by Creative Commons Australia. There were presentations from government, commercial projects, public broadcaster, educators and musicians. (The “music” roundtable was most amusing for an apparent stoush between the APRA guy and, well, everyone else.) Overall, I was just so impressed that there was so much going on that I’d never heard about before. Not like I hear about everything, but my ears tend to perk up at “Creative Commons”. That there was so much I hadn’t heard about seems a sign that CC is gaining some serious momentum in Australia.

They deserve to, I might add. Throughout the day I reflected on the similarities and differences between the Creative Commons movement and the Wikimedia movement. Both are non-profits with broadly similar goals, and were founded around a similar time (2001ish). Both now have US-based “parents” with region-based “chapters” (WMF) or “jurisdictions” (CC).

Where CC began life with some serious clout (and cash) behind it, Wikipedia was built on nothing much more than enthusiasm. Those divergent beginnings carry through to today, where WMF has only very recently “professionalised” and the chapters are still largely grassroots affairs; on the other hand CC jurisdictions tend to be staffed by paid professionals and housed in universities. This is not too surprising for CC, as their major task is “porting” the licenses to local laws. Their role is more of an enabling one, compared to Wikimedia which still feels itself to be a very hands-on, creating one. CC has jurisdictions so the licenses are adapted to local law. Wikimedia has chapters so its local members may belong. In this view there is no need for chapters to be “professionalised”.

Nonetheless, what can we learn from how CC conducts itself? I can’t speak for the other jurisdictions, but the Australian one is damn impressive. They do an incredible amount of gently-gently lobbying for the adoption of free content licenses and open access policies in a general sense, without only pushing their own licenses. They educate government, cultural and educational institutions about what CC is and how to use it. The Australian clinic started the Case studies project, which is a brilliant way of showcasing their successes and “normalising” the use of CC for organisations who are hesitant to jump on board. With this kind of index, they can easily find a similar-enough group that has already made the leap and make an assessment of how successful it was for them.

The lessons for Wikimedia from here are pretty obvious. Wikimedians could do a lot worse than evangelise the use of wikis in a generic manner just as CC evangelises the use of free licenses. Educating people about how wikis work in a generic way, their social norms and technical features, etc, helps to get people used to the idea in general. They will then be more predisposed to accept the use of Wikimedia wikis in particular. At the moment the only wiki cheerleader I really see is Stewart Mader, and he does an excellent job, but he is rather more focused on intranet-style wikis than generic community-content-building wikis.

Wikimedians may be loath to say, “Wikis are great, and yeah, feel free to use whichever wiki engine and whichever organisation host you like”. But I think we will be better off in the long run with larger numbers of people understanding wikis themselves, rather than smaller numbers understanding specifically our wikis.

The second lesson is: case study collection. Great idea. We totally need one. That’s a duh-case.

I was also thinking about the consequences of jurisdiction that begins life in a university department vs a chapter that begins life in Wikimedians’ cafes and talk pages. It seems to me CC(au) is much better prepared to deal with institutional involvement. Maybe it is just practice. By comparison, Wikimedians tend to be very focused on individuals’ contributions. They probably look very messy and “mob-rule”. That’s one way of looking at it that’s true, but I think there are others too, that we might do well to emphasise to different audiences.

When Wikimedia Australia is struggling a little to shape dozens of enthusiastic volunteers into something acceptable to Consumer Affairs, Creative Commons Australia is thriving with a handful of paid staff. If I sound a bit jealous of the perks of “officialness”, the office and giant printer, well, yeah, I am. Only a tiny bit though. I love that Wikimedia is filled with chemists and students and office workers and nurses, from 15 to 65(+), who have the boldness to believe that everyone can participate in the writing of the history books. We can observe what works for others and borrow all their best ideas (we all believe in a sharing culture, right ;)).

We’re slow to get going, but hey, we’re in it for the long haul.

06 July, 2008 • , , ,

Comment [2]

Links for 2008-04-06

Click here to lend your support to: Support the Libre Graphics Meeting and make a donation at www.pledgie.com !

05 April, 2008 • , ,

Comment [2]

Tipping the weight against NC clauses

from http://creativecommons.org/license/

Yesterday I was watching a presentation by Jessica Coates of Creative Commons Australia at the Local 2020 summit organised by Senator Kate Lundy called Foundations of Open. (I plan to write up my general notes from this summit tomorrow.)

Jessica showed a screenshot similar to this one of Creative Commons’ license selector form, and explained that it was designed to make choosing a license as simple as possible, with just two questions required to answer. She also mentioned that licenses with an NC clause (only licensed for non-commercial use) were used about 75% of the time.

I accept that Creative Commons is not going to drop its “pragmatic” outlook. However, I wonder if there is a way these questions could be reworded to subtly discourage people from choosing NC clauses. (And ND “no derivatives” clauses too, for that matter, although I generally think the case for allowing a ND clause is stronger for creative works, when compared to code. —Another time.)

My hunch is that when confronted with the question “Allow commercial uses of your work?”, the mental process goes something like this:

One way of changing the wording would be to invert the concept (author) allowing to restricting. So:

However, I am not really confident that this framing would result in a much different situation.

Any suggestions?

04 April, 2008 •

Comment [10]

Links for 2008-02-21

© skenmy, CC-BY

21 February, 2008 • , , , , , , ,


Links for 2008-02-01

The Queensland Spatial Information Council seems like the appropriate government site but I don’t have the patience right now to find any document announcing any such release. Maybe it hasn’t happened yet…

At any rate, it sounds impressively progressive for a government body!

01 February, 2008 • , , ,


Creative Commons Australia: Building an Australiasian commons

Apparently CCau is holding an event called building an australiasian commons in late June, Brisbane. Might be worth the trek, there look to be some interesting things on the schedule including lots of case studies and reports from overseas.

Don’t forget, I’m still maintaining the free culture events calendar, which you can subscribe to as a Google calendar or an event-based feed. If you know of any events which belong on there, please drop me a line and let me know.

30 January, 2008 • ,


The free culture movement's moral imperative

© Aurelio A. Heckert,
Free Art License

So a couple of weeks ago, thanks to a prompt from Benjamin Mako Hill, I handed over my hard-earned and joined the Free Software Foundation. Two days ago I received my membership stuff in the mail: the book Free Software, Free Society (a collection of essays by Richard Stallman (RMS)), two member bulletins and some stickers. (Stickers! :D)

Reading the bulletins and the first two chapters of the book, it struck me how remarkable it is that the moral certainty and authority of the free software movement has remained unwaveringly strong for over 20 years. And it is really compelling. I guess the arguments show the benefit of having had many years to stew, and form the most precise and devastating reply in response.

In contrast, whither the free culture movement? To be fair it is a much younger movement, only having had serious steam for the last five or so years I would guess. But there is no central leader like RMS. That’s not all bad; strong leaders can be polarising. I suppose everyone would’ve hoped it would be Lawrence Lessig, but his non-profit Creative Commons is very much a poor cousin to RMS’ Free Software Foundation. They do absolutely nothing that resembles adovacy for end users. Their schtick is all about choice for the author, and it’s a much weaker moral argument.

Not that the moral argument for creative works under free content licenses is a very strong one. Or, if there’s a strong argument there, I’m yet to read it. Educational works? Yeah. But general creative works? Not so much.

Jimmy Wales would be another contender, except for the fact he has enough trouble explaining to the world how a wiki works, let alone free content.

Peter Brown, the Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation, writes in the July 2007 bulletin,

The response we heard [to the GPLv3 draft that contained anti-DRM provisions] most clearly was, “DRM is inevitable and we cannot afford to be against DRM if we ever hope to be successful and popular”.

When the only goals are popularity and success, drawing a line in the sand to pick a fight seems senseless. But when your goals are freedom for yourself and your fellow computer user, it’s a priority. Maybe this year more than any, GPLv3 has helped highlight the importance of the philosophical stance of the free software movement. Our freedom requires that we take up these battles, and as citizens, we do this for ourselves and our neighbours.

Free software has a 15 year headstart over free content, but I’m not sure we got the fundamentals down pat before charging in.

05 January, 2008 • ,


Photographers hate Creative Commons?

Apparently some photographers hate Creative Commons. Evan Prodromou has an excellent response. And I still remember David Gerard’s comment from several months ago, regarding the argument that free content licenses put pro photographers out of work:

The fact that good digital cameras are cheap is putting pro photographers out of work.

I am not of the opinion that authors of creative works should feel pressure to license those works under free licenses — unlike authors of educational works — but antagonism against those who choose to do so strikes me as a wrong target and a losing battle anyway.

But onto something much more annoying; trying to reference mailing list posts. >:-| If Mailman can insert a footer with a link to a mailing lists’ archive, why can’t it simultaneously insert a link to that post’s URL in the archive? Or better yet why doesn’t Mailman come with a gmane-like interface by default? Gmane is the most sensible thing in mailing lists since…ever.

I just noticed Wired has commented on the fact that Flickr lets users change CC licenses:

A Yahoo spokesperson says the company does not keep track of the changes to CC attributions on particular photos, and advises people who want to use CC-licensed images to keep records of their own, for instance by taking a screenshot of the originating Flickr page.

Seriously lame, Flickr!

31 December, 2007 • ,

Comment [3]

Podcast fame: PGIP; GFDL/CC-BY-SA harmonisation

Being mentioned in the New York Times (or more accurately, their blog) is one thing, but I only really felt famous when Andrew Lih invited me on Wikipedia Weekly. WW is a podcast: not quite weekly, and not just Wikipedia, but close enough. IMO it is usually twice as long and half as frequent as it should be, but the discussion is typically quite interesting, as a Wikimedian.

It can be downloaded from this page: Episode 38 (42 min)

I certainly don’t enunciate my words as clearly as Liam and Andrew. :) And maybe I have a bit too much of that high rising intonation, but at least it’s more interesting to listen to than a monotone. (Possibly more annoying, though.)

So, I discussed two topics: the first is the Philip Greenspun illustration project. I talked a bit about my broader hopes and plans for the project, and asked people to please submit illustration requests. If you are interested in seeing some of the existing illustrator efforts within Wikimedia, please check out the Community links.

The second topic is the GFDL/CC-BY-SA harmonisation effort. A good report on the initial Wikimedia community reaction is the Signpost article, and Creative Commons’ blog post Wikipedia and Creative Commons next steps summarises where the situation is now. So in this part I talk about the benefits to the commons and some of the issues that have been raised that will need to be addressed in this process. I mentioned the metaphor of “silos” of content caused by different-but-similar sharealike licenses (“and never the twain shall meet”), which I am repeating after hearing from Evan Prodromou.

NB: I mistakenly said that the GPL has a “any later version” clause. However this is not true: some project choose to make this a requirement of contributors, to license under GPL vX “and later version”.

In closing: Sealand.

14 December, 2007 • , , , , ,


Playing within the rules: Free content communities and copyright

“no sé qué licencia aplica”:
© Stephan Baum, Sanbec, ttog, CC-BY-SA-2.5

It is commented sometimes that Commons is a haven for a particular variety of wikilawyering known as copyright wikilawyering. It is one of the most irritating types of wikilawyering to be on the receiving end of (and I have, several times), because for Wikimedians there is no trump to the “non-free content” card. It can seem utterly petty and pointless.

But (although we don’t have to be jerks about it) we have no choice. There are two ways to protest the current copyright system: use the existing system to subvert the traditional conclusions from within the system; or fight through courts and parliaments to have the system changed. If you use Creative Commons, or like to think of yourself as part of the “free content movement” like Wikimedia does, then you are part of the former.

And if you choose to play the game, you have to play it better than anyone. You accept the limitations as soon as you deal yourself in, and you work within those parameters. And that’s why you learn about freedom of panorama and sadly find yourself applying it to all kinds of previously-thought-free scenes. Just as Wikiquette has “Assume good faith”, Free content has “Assume unfree content”. They play off each other uneasily at times.

The benefits of this approach, of playing the copyright game, are that anyone can do it, today, right now. They can give up some of their copyrights and let people copy their work as suits them. Fighting in courts and parliaments is expensive and difficult with no great hope or guarantee of victory.

Cory Doctorow says

It would be nice if our lawmakers would go back to the drawing board and write a new copyright that made sense in the era of the Internet, but all efforts to “fix” copyright since the passage of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 have only made things worse, granting more unenforceable exclusive rights to an ever-increasing pool of “authors” who have no need or desire to sue the people with whom they are engaged in the business of “culture” — holding conversations, publicly re-imagining the stories that make up their lives.

Creative Commons aims to do what Congress won’t or can’t do — offer an approach to copyright that helps those of us who don’t want deal that Disney and their pals have insisted on for every snatch of creativity. Creative Commons achieves this through a set of licenses, legal notices that set out permitted uses for creative works.

In explaining the benefit of Creative Commons, he also exactly highlights its weaknesses. Lawmakers have failed us (most jurisdictions worldwide now have ridiculous copyright terms). Creative Commons is a soothing non-answer to this failure.

It reminds me, in a strange way, of how the media promotes outrageous ideals of beauty for women, and many women feel it is their personal failure for not meeting these ideals rather than the extremity of the outrageous system in the first place. It’s the twisted system that needs your attention, not your personal behaviour.

I like Creative Commons. But I wish I had an angry noisy anti-copyright-system movement to go along with it.

12 November, 2007 • , , ,

Comment [2]

Bits & bobs/is shared vision more important than a specific license?

Heather Ford recently posted an update on iCommons which led to a Declaration on Open Education. She made this comment:

The fact that the first, great draft of the ‘Cape Town Open Education Declaration’ has already been circulated, the fact that its impact was not ‘watered down’ by this “dispute” [about NC or not NC], and the fact that this group has recognised that standing together in our shared vision of what education should look like in the future is more important than the (important but less important) differences of opinion about copyright licences. This is a conclusion that I had long ago but didn’t know how to express: this movement has very little to do with copyright and everything to do with people; it has very little to do with being free to share content and everything to do with sharing perspectives and fellowship.

Hmmm. I don’t know how to feel about this. I would like to be convinced on this point. But currently each time I see some cool new project launched under CC-BY-NC my heart sinks a little. I don’t see a way around the conclusion that the Creative Commons NC clause especially creates a divide among content that maybe could have been avoided. If CC educated people more about how damaging a NC clause can be. If CC helped let individuals see their place in a long and evolved tradition of free culture. Maybe if CC didn’t offer it at all in the first place….

And when I read about someone who wants to release a ‘free software library’ under BY-ND terms I really think, someone missed the boat here… how did we let that happen?

23 October, 2007 • , , , ,


News and notes from Creative Commons land

CC-BY Flickr user foolstopzanet' Ian Wilson
© CC-BY Flickr’s Ian Wilson – another ad from the campaign.

Virgin Australia has been hit with a lawsuit for its use of a photograph from Flickr in an ad campaign. The girl in the photo is underage and her-friend-the-photographer naturally didn’t get any kind of model release before licensing the photo CC-BY on Flickr.

Lawrence Lessig has a copy of the lawsuit on his blog which explains why Creative Commons has been named as a party in the lawsuit. It basically amounts to “they didn’t explicitly warn me something like this could happen”.

My thoughts are that I’m glad Virgin is being sued over this. They were jerks to use this photo in the first place. I understand that stupid multinational corporations can use works I license under CC licenses, but I’m happy they’re being pulled into line. I think CC being named in the suit is just misguided, but maybe it won’t hurt for the licenses to be tested in court. :) Is a URL without a username sufficient attribution?

Second thought. This confirms my belief that conscientious photographers should avoid CC licensing photographs of people. I would never CC license a photo of my friends. Famous people are fair game.

Third thought. I hope this inspires CC users to read up what they’re actually agreeing to. Like something interesting I discovered: the version 1.0 licenses have this clause:

By offering the Work for public release under this License, Licensor represents and warrants that, to the best of Licensor’s knowledge after reasonable inquiry:

1. Licensor has secured all rights in the Work necessary to grant the license rights hereunder and to permit the lawful exercise of the rights granted hereunder without You having any obligation to pay any royalties, compulsory license fees, residuals or any other payments;

2. The Work does not infringe the copyright, trademark, publicity rights, common law rights or any other right of any third party or constitute defamation, invasion of privacy or other tortious injury to any third party.

Hm, well that makes all my CC-BY-SA-1.0 releases invalid, because I sure as hell never checked those things. And I sure as hell don’t intend to. Happily, CC seems to agree that those things don’t in fact belong in copyright licenses.

On the cc-community mailing list, there has been a killer thread about what “NC” (non-commercial, as in “this photo can be used for non-commercial purposes”) means (entitled “What does NC means?”). Many people are confused about this, and CC doesn’t seem in any rush to clear up the confusion. They seem happy with the poorly defined but vaguely comforting terms. Terry Hancock writes eloquently here about how NC and ND licenses betray the tradition that the “commons” part of the Creative Commons name lays claim to.

There seem to be plenty of people within CC culture who are pissed about this, but CC doesn’t seem willing to act to even encourage people towards freer license terms. They emphasise the clarity of “choice” to the individual licensor at the expense of benefit to the commons they purport to help create. It is kinda annoying.

I am starting to think we need a http://www.NCandNDarenotfree.org/ with arguments and polite form letters that people can send to probably-misguided NC and ND license users. Especially people who set site-wide licenses, like wiki administrators: these people need a clip around the ear if they choose a NC or ND license. Well, first they need a persuasive argument, then if they persist, the clip. It could be like GNU’s campaign to end Word attachments, Although they appear to have lost the war, but small individual battles are won each day.

And the last mention must go to the recent iCommons iHeritage event, celebrating South African Heritage day. They were uploading media to Wikimedia Commons and Flickr. There is probably still a bit to go as they were recording audio as well. I helped out a bit by creating some help files on Wikimedia Commons.

I’m sure there is much more content on Flickr. I can’t really blame anyone who chose to upload there instead of Commons. I suppose the good thing is our Flickr transfer service making copying them over nice and easy. :)

24 September, 2007 • , , , , , ,

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