For as long as humanity has existed, we have shared cultural works: art, songs, stories, and so on. These works historically existed in the commons – a collection of materials shared amongst the public and members of the community. Today, however, access to these materials is often restricted by copyright law or by physical barriers.
The open culture movement, also known as the free culture movement, is an effort to reverse that trend – encouraging creative and artistic works to be made freely be available to the public for legal use, sharing, remixing, repurposing, and reposting. Open culture includes a variety of fields and platforms, from photography and paintings to music, books, poetry, films, and more.
There are a few major sides of open culture:
Individual: Many artists and creators net significant benefits from openly licensing their works – though that is not a panacea. Some choose open in order to reach a broader audience, or to increase their exposure more quickly. Others choose open to make their work more discoverable, or more easily adaptable into other projects. Still others choose to license their works openly because they believe in a vibrant commons.
Platform: Today, many creators use online platforms to curate and share their work. Some of these companies, like Wikipedia and Flickr, have opted to provide their users with the option to licensing their works with Creative Commons licenses. Because the licenses are embedded into the system, they reach creators on a large scale.
Institutional: At the same time, much of our cultural heritage still resides within institutions – museums, galleries, and government organizations. While many of these institutions make their cultural works available to the public at low cost, access is still limited by physical and economic barriers. That’s why institutions from the Met to the Tate Gallery have chosen to digitize and release their public domain works, and place many of the works they own copyright to under a CC license. As a result, they see increased traffic, more community goodwill, and their cultural lessons can be observed be a much greater audience.
At Creative Commons USA, we’re working to increase the depth and breadth of the cultural commons: giving individuals an array of options to license their work, helping platforms offer CC licensing to their users, and encouraging cultural institutions to release their knowledge troves to the public.
For more information about open culture and some interesting examples, check out: