Al Jazeera Unplugged: Joi Ito of Creative Commons

Again, this is a live blog. I’ll try to tidy things up later. I’m trying to do as many of these speakers as possible. I might miss a few.

Joi wanted to start first to frame the discussion. New media is fundamentally different than old media. Media is about access, and the business model defines the media. Looking at newspapers and satellite TV, it costs a lot of money. The big difference with new media is that it has significantly lowered the cost to create media and to connect. It’s fundamentally different than the past. To understand how it’s different and why it’s different. The architecture of the internet is open.

Before the internet, governments, corporations and experts create specifications. They costs millions of dollars. They are robust and they sell products an services to consumers and they pay fees to services. Telecommunications companies are still big business in the Arab world, even for governments.

In the internet, you have users, venture capitalists, standard organisations and a credo “Rough consensus running code”. It evolves over time. Internet standards are lighter weight than in the past.

The internet “open stack” consists of the internet protocol. The proprietary standards for networking gave way to the internet protocol. The standards for IP are shepherded by the IETF. Anyone can participate. It’s a very open system. The World Wide Web is another standard shepherded by the IETF. W3C is the standards body. It’s an ad hoc committee without specific government standard. Governments are uncomfortable that there is no government involvement in the web standard.

Creative Commons looks at the copyright layer. The copyright system used to make sense.

We are trying to create an open stack for the legal layer.

The other section is open source software. Open source and free access to the university network. Google ran a web server, probably Apache, and they accessed Stanford’s network. A couple of students built Google thanks to open source software. It existed before the internet, but the internet allowed people to connect with each other to build this software.

He next highlighted open video. YouTube and other sites, most of them use Flash. It’s proprietary. You can’t participate in this video internet stuff without permission. In HTML5, we were working very hard on video initiatives for open video. Google acquired a company that had a video technology called VP8. This is going to be the core video technology in an open video format called WebM. This is going to be a significant change in the video structure. (It looks like VP8 is being challenged by MPEG-LA, the vide licencing body for the MPEG standard.)

Giving things away for free doesn’t seem like a great business model. However, Creative Commons give users a choice in how they want they want their work used. He quickly walked through the different types of Creative Commons licence. Free is not just about not making money. Nine Inch Nails released a CD called Ghost. They gave their music away for free. They used an attribution Non-commercial share alike licence. They created their own site instead of selling it through a company. It’s about taking more money from fewer people. They made $6m. (I need to check that figure.) UPDATE: I checked that figure after the talk, and Joi said NiN made $1.6m in a week.

Al Jazeera has released content under Creative Commons. Until last year, it didn’t use the Creative Commons licence. It used a Free Software Foundation licence for creating computer manuals.

Joi said that he’s worried about licence proliferation. He talked about different organisations creating ‘vanity licencing’ schemes. The White House now uses a Creative Commons licence.