Why I won’t support Creative Commons or Wikipedia this year

It’s that time of the year again. Creative Commons and Wikipedia are working towards their fundraising goals for the coming year and asking users to donate to support the cause.

I spent the last five years working on building a global perspective on the commons and will probably spend the next working out what I did wrong. I worked directly with both organisations during this time, so it’s really sad for me to say this (and probably not very politically astute) but I feel like the only way we’re ever going to attack the problem of a lack of global agenda and global solidarity is by the funding issue. Here are my reasons in brief:

– Creative Commons (despite pressure from its international volunteers) still has a mostly male, mostly white, almost all American leadership. If CC is really committed to an international agenda, then they must at least attempt to involve a more diverse leadership in planning for the future.

– I know it’s a fundraising campaign but statements like this by Hal Abelson: ‘By supporting Creative Commons, you are helping to realize the promise of the Internet to uplift all of humanity’ leave me speechless. Until we have an international *common* agenda, until ‘all of humanity’ or at least major parts of it have ownership of this agenda (South Africa is the only African country in the CC International stable), we should feel ashamed to make statements like this.

Wikipedia plans to spend $9.4 million in the 2009-10 financial year (up 53% from last year) and has, at last, a plan for spreading the wealth with a $295,000 new grantmaking program (that’s only 3% of spending that goes to chapters but it’s better than almost 0). Problem is that this money seems to only be going to existing chapters (there are no chapters in Africa). This means that, if you wanted money to go specifically to outreach on the African continent, you couldn’t do it since you can only donate to Wikipedia or to existing Wikipedia chapters.

I think that one of the worst things that organisations who have global goals can do is to stop people from countries who are left out of the agenda from donating money. Even if it’s just a small amount, CC and Wikipedia are perpetuating the myth that we don’t care about these issues in Africa.

My small contribution has, instead, gone to Global Voices. They spread the small amount of money that they receive pretty widely and their leadership team reaches each region at least.

17 thoughts on “Why I won’t support Creative Commons or Wikipedia this year

  1. it’s also very tough tell very successful projects/communities that they might be doing something wrong. their success is held as evidence everything is fine.

    I experience that on a daily basis these days trying to get some very big Free/Open Source projects to support more local languages.

    but the problem with CC goes much deeper IMO, they’re lawyer lead. which means they can’t see their true potential anywhere where courts are not as intrusive as in the global north.

    for instance in the middle east they’ve been doing more to “educate” people about intellectual property and copyrights and introducing the concerns and vocabularies of IP in places where artists and other content creators have a healthy casual attitude to it.

    it’s as if they totally miss the true potential of CC as a social contract for collaboration, a good vehicle for preserving heritage without freezing it as if it’s in a museum, etc.

    so they’ve been trying for years to work in a region where authors and artists typically give away their work anyway, tend to not have commercial aspirations at all and are craving better ways to reach wider audiences and all they did was talk to lawyers, governments and big media organizations.

  2. Two things…

    First.. a comment..
    I have a horrible fear that a recently launched South African body – Siliconcape – aiming to empower entrepreneurs in Africa is going the same route as the sentiment expressed in your first two paragraphs. It’s really scary if you think about it. Firstly the body is named explicitly to alienate and regionalise, and its newly formed steering committee – though democratically elected and voted for – does not have a voice diverse enough to speak to entrepreneurs across the faith, ethnic, language and culture spectrum.

    Second..a question..
    I think Wikipedia is crazy empowering.
    So how would one get involved in starting a Wikipedia chapter in South Africa and evangelise the relevance and importance of Wikipedia across the continent?

  3. I read you well…

    It is probably worth to outline that chapters do not magically appear because the Wikimedia Foundation has decided so. Chapters appear because, at some point, a set of super motivated individuals in a country decide to create a legal entity which will be devoted to supporting wikimedia projects, free knowledge and free culture in that country.
    Then, and only then, this set of super motivated individuals may ask to be recognised as Wikimedia chapters. And they may start collecting money all by themselves, OR ask funding from Wikimedia Foundation or the other more wealthy Wikimedia Chapters (such as the German or the French chapters).

    But the seed is not money. It is people. Money is just a facilitator.

    You may suggest that Wikimedia Foundation should generously spray money over Africa and hope that this will foster creation of local chapters. But that is simply not how things work.

    I am not quite sure how we can help. But here is a line of thinking: there are many French speaking countries in Africa. If the French speaking countries with local chapters had more funds, they could help. Unfortunately, they do not have serious means to help, only a bunch of volunteers with limited time and funding. No staff to organize anything serious because not enough funding to do so.

    Let me orient you toward this very nice project: http://www.moulinwiki.org/
    That’s a coordinated work in several countries, including France. This is currently supported by http://www.kunnafoni.org/. They need money to go beyond what they do. Give money to them this year.

    Thank you. Keep in touch.

    Anthere (white, but female. Half perfect only 😉 but you are white as well ;))

  4. Hi Heather,

    I am sorry you feel this way. Wikimedia is doing its best to get chapters all over the world successful from the ground. Perhaps you would be interested in helping set up the South African chapter? Because that is the thing with Wikimedia: we need people to reach our goals. Dedicated people, who invest time and effort in the organization, and that is no different in the case of chapters. If you are willing to help with such a chapter, the odds improve again that this chapter would actually get off the ground. I hope to hear from you!

    Best, Lodewijk

  5. @alaa ‘it’s also very tough tell very successful projects/communities that they might be doing something wrong. their success is held as evidence everything is fine.’

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Alaa. It’s all about how we define ‘success’, though. We need to pressurize organisations like this to define success according to whether they have met their goals. If a ‘global’ goal is being worked towards, then we need to inform others exactly what ‘global’ means.

    @Arthur thanks for your comments. Interesting what you say about Silicon Cape. Need to look into it a bit more. And re. starting a South African chapter of Wikipedia, there are a bunch of Wikipedians (the Afrikaans Wikipedia most specifically) who it would be great to talk to about this. And of course, you could speak to the Chapter Committee http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Chapters_committee. But I’m curious how you would avoid the same problem as Silicon Cape has?

    @Lodewijk I appreciate your comments and I probably would have said the same thing to me 3 years ago! I’ve done a lot of work on Wikipedia in South Africa, believe me. But I think there are steps to be taken before a chapter starts in Africa. And a chapter needs a lot more support in places where so many conditions make it doomed for failure.

  6. Well, Alaa, great point but what you say is not totally true. Having been responsible for the ME operations of CC in the past year and half, I can say that together with big “institutions” adopting CC and leading the “media hype” -like, obviously, Al Jazeera- there are hundreds of artists, techies, and creative people that have been adopting CC in the Arab world. Take Syria for example. Last CC conference in Damascus registred a presence of around 500 students at the faculty of fine arts and many prominent Syrian artists, as Mustapha Ali, adopted CC for releasing the majority of their works. Not because they really care about copyright and licensing but because it seemed to them “a social contract for collaboration, a good vehicle for preserving heritage without freezing it” as you beautifully wrote. In Lebanon we have seen in the past few months many artists adopting CC, including new talents like comic artists Maya Zankoul..and, as far as I’m concerned, the few training that we did -like the one with the Royal Film Commission in Jordan- were oriented on creativity thru online media…just few words about IP and copyright as you can see from the online curriculum http://blog.rfconlinemedia.net/!The operations in the ME can’t be IP centered also because I’m not a lawyer myself neither Joi Ito -the Ceo of CC who’s currently based in Dubai- is. Heather is right, the majority of CC staff is American -although I’m not sure it’s male and white..lots of women and of different origins- but Joi is Japanese and lives in Dubai. I’m Italian and I live in Damascus. Michelle, who’s in Berlin, is American but lives in Europe speaks fluent German and is learning Arabic. I try only to speak Arabic when doing CC things and activities in the ME. CC is trying indeed to be more international but the path is long, requires energies, people and time. I think in the Arab world we are trying to start something different. CC strategy over there is not IP centered and not lawyers lead. It’s truly community and education oriented, even if you might have seen a “leadership” of big organisations like Al Jazeera in the process of adopting CC and community building. That’s because big media take more media space than individuals even in the web blogs etc. And, btw, it was a great news that Al Jazeera had the courage to be the first “CC released” broadcaster. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have individuals working around CC. In Damascus every week we are having CC informal meetings and talks, and the community is organising activities and public talks not IP oriented. Next one should be the screening of “To Shoot an elephant” http://toshootanelephant.com/ a film about Gaza released under CC BY SA. Another example of an individual working on/with CC. My wish for next year is to have more “community centered” activities as Alaa suggests (and more regions, like Africa, as Heather points out). And I hope more people like you would come and debate those issues, and try to improve..But, instead of seeing the glass as half empty, I prefer to see it as half full..just as a beginning, not as a “mission accomplished”…wish you happy new year..dona

  7. I think it would be fantastic to have a Wikimedia chapter in South Africa and would be a great way of trying to address the global imbalances you mention. I’m the secretary of Wikimedia UK and would love to do whatever we can to help this happen if people in South Africa want it.


  8. Heloo!
    I reed aproche all comentary about implication of Wikimedia in creative commons and I think that not this is the esential problem.The esential problem is : HAw and who can start of a program education from all states in the world not only AFrica because exist poverty and in ather country like country Americanas SUD were exist very much peoples who don’t know to writte but in special to reed.We must to unification all associations,fundations all institution ,agencys who spent money from ather projects inutiliy and for this we must to do a charta wen every country poverty or not poverty to bring a contribution materials if is necesary to elaboration a law international special from EDUCATION and all is necessary for suport the program multinatnational lingguistics from each country who is involve in this project.In this program must to entry all nation and all country 214 or more to not be acuse that we leave a country in aout of this program.Organization Freedomilenium with headquarters in Romania expect your opinion and sugestion to improve this document and after to make be public.

    Team Freedomilenium Organization

  9. I work for Global Voices so I’m obviously biased 😉 I’m proud we earned you support. I think your critiques about leadership of CC and Wikipedia are fair, but in the end we’re all dedicated to information sharing and information creation worldwide in the most positive sense. Most stories on Global Voices contain links to Wikipedia, and everything we publish is shared via Creative Commons. We’re a small organization in comparison, and owe a lot to our bigger friends. Thanks for pushing us all to be better and more global.

  10. @donatella Thanks for your extensive reply! But I think you’re missing the point of what Alaa is saying. CC is a system that relies on copyright in order to work. And if people who don’t ‘really care about copyright and licensing’ but rather about ‘collaboration’ (as you say) are using the license, then they’re leaping at the opportunity to join a larger community but would probably be better placed to not use a copyright license or contract at all. As Alaa says, education about copyright is necessary when we talk to people about CC. And that kind of ‘education’ may not always be the best way of attacking a system that hasn’t worked for the West (and definitely doesn’t work for most developing countries).

    It’s unfair to manipulate this as ‘seeing the glass half empty’. We all have a right to do and say what we think is right. And I know that many would agree that now is the time for us to be a bit more critical and look and what this particular strategy and this particular solution (designed by a very specific group of people) means in the long term for new regions.

    You can’t deny that the CC board is entirely American (other than Joi) and that it is a solution designed primarily by lawyers. This has important consequences for the development of the license: good or bad.

    @Andrew Turvey Thanks for your post, Andrew. I think we all appreciate your support. I would say that starting a chapter isn’t an automatic answer to the problem, and that we may need to think more creatively about how to stimulate active engagement among a diverse range of Africans in Wikipedia.

    @Marasoiu Marian Puiu Go for it!

    @Solana Thanks, Solana. It’s true that we’re all dedicated to information sharing, as colonists were to sharing the Christian faith in the 18th century 😉 I think there’s *always* time for critique. Critique will make this movement more attuned to the needs of the world. And we all know that even organisations with worthy goals need to speak to these issues – and if they cannot, then we have the right to choose another path.

  11. Haha touché, yes it’s sometimes not enough to say “everyone” is welcome to join an open platform, you have to indicate through your leadership that “everyone” is welcome to co-own and help set priorities for the movement. So much of the money and audience required to run a large organization is still based in the USA (individual donors and philanthropy) so it’s no mystery how the global imbalance is perpetuated. Will there be an African or Latin American Pope before there is an African CC board member? My bets are on CC!

    Happy new year all!

  12. Heloo!
    I reed all your comments and in part all is agreed with idea that this program OPE-EDUCATION it is a program who offer many posibiltys for all peoples indififrent of religion or aprtenence politic to study and recived the best education in the best school degreed or universitys with prestige from all world.This program is adress from all contry poor or very poor from America of Nord or America South,ASIA,Europe,Australia,New Zeeland .Aor organization Freedomilenium recived a message from support from many universitys and the recent university who want to implication in this program is Nottingham university with a prestige in all enviroment educational in the world.We thank for theyer support and we ensure from all aor support.
    Team Freedomilenium Organization
    co-Worker OPEN-EDUCATION

  13. Thanks for your message, Lodewijk. I appreciate everything you’re doing to establish chapters. I guess that wasn’t really my point. It’s more of a bigger picture question of how these issues are framed and funded. And word on the street is that a South African chapter is imminent 🙂

  14. I am not so acquainted with forum and I do not know basically the best way to use it. I will recognize a help from some of you guys. Anyway, I’m Barbara from Florida. I’m a dancer by profession. I prefer to sing, swim and write articles. I have written my first article at yiwu agent, please visit and rate the article. Thankyou!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s