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Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 09:20

Publicly tracking how a government spends its money is more than just posting documents online – making sense of budgets is crucial to providing oversight and interpretation of government spending. Working to demystify this process is at the root of the Open Budgets India project, which is fighting for a more free and open approach to budgets in India.

A beta project with 5,300 datasets from 333 sources, the portal provides access to budgets at every level of government in India, providing APIs and visualizations for previously obscure data. The project also created a useful FAQ to help people understand how government budget data works, how it differs from other kinds of data, and why it matters. Funded by a number of institutional partners, the portal has served more than 3,000 users looking for visualizations and information on open budgets at local and federal levels.

Why open budgets? Why are open budgets important to open government?

Government budgets are a comprehensive statement of government finances for a financial year, translating government’s promises and priorities as expenditures and its receipts to meet such demand. Open Budgets Data is government budget data that is publicly accessible (uploaded online on a timely basis) in a machine-readable and reusable format covering all data points (not just analysis), freely available and legally open to use for everyone without any restriction. Over the years, open budgets data has become vital to build trust in government’s financial activities and sustaining transparency in its policy decisions. It also enables citizens, policy makers, civil societies, journalists, and other key players to engage in budgetary processes and strengthen participation and insight into budgetary policies in the country.

In order to have open and effective governance, governments need to invest and commit on complete budget transparency, i.e. full disclosure of open budgets data on revenues, allocations and expenditures across the public sector. Unfortunately, in India public access to budgets diminishes as we go deeper from the level of the Union Government (Central Government) to the subnational level. As a result, the use and analysis of budget data has been restricted, and the scope for citizen’s engagement with government budgets has been limited. In such a backdrop, Open Budgets India (OBI), a comprehensive and user-friendly open data portal, facilitates free, easy and timely access to relevant data on government budgets in India.

Data visualization: Outstanding External Debt from Open Budgets India

What are the greatest successes and obstacles you’ve faced with this project? How have you seen it used so far?

From the very inception of the project, we have collaborated with a diverse team of researchers, technologists, data scientists, policy hackers and groups of volunteers to co-create this portal. We have embraced open-source technology, design, visualizations and documentation to go several steps ahead and become an open-source initiative, facilitating transparent and accessible co-development. We have automated conversion of budget PDFs into clean CSVs, created time-series data and developed scalable visualizations. This has helped us to scale our data mining techniques across various tiers of governments. Also, we forked CKAN, an open-source data portal platform and customized it as per our needs. Use of open-source softwares has reduced our development time manifolds thus we have kept all our work in open too, so that other organizations can freely reuse it and may help us to make better systems. Also, with the help of our automated data pipeline, we were able to publish machine readable budget data from Union Budget 2017-18 in less than 24 hours, enabling timely and informed budget analysis.

One of the major obstacles towards budget transparency in India is a lack of consistency and standardization in budget data formats across years and government bodies. Few states still avoid publishing their budget documents online and other have fonts and character encoding issues, making it difficult for us to parse those. When it comes to disaggregated detailed data for State Expenditure and Receipts, format varies drastically as no two states follow a similar format for publishing their documents. Some of the budget documents are available only in local languages, thus requiring efforts in translation for interoperability. These issues make it difficult for us to produce crucial machine readable data for state budgets. However, we have developed a technique to generate CSVs for Karnataka and Sikkim, which we plan to scale up for other states in near future.

Unavailability of budget documents online and heterogeneity of the formats further increases as we move down to districts and municipalities. We even need to file RTIs (Right to Information) to several government bodies to acquire these important budget documents. Publishing of such information in a timely and accessible manner can strengthen monitoring of public expenditure as well as engagement of people with budgetary processes. That, in turn, can lead to significant improvements in the manner in which such allocations are spent.

In last two months, more than 3K unique users have visited the portal, with highest traffic on data visualizations followed by state and union budget documents. Users are finding CSVs and time-series datasets useful for doing their own budget analysis. It is also encouraging for us to know that other data portals and communities are using Open Budgets India as a source for budget data. For example, the urban data portal, has credited OBI as a data source for couple of municipal corporation budgets.

Data sectors on Open Budgets India

How have governments reacted to having their budgets online and open? What kinds of responses how you seen from various departments?

On 27th January 2017, we conducted a public consultation on ‘Opening Up Access to Budget Data in India’ in New Delhi. The consultation included a panel discussion with experts on what should government authorities and civil society organisations pursue, in the coming years, so as to ensure that people get free, easy and timely access to relevant budget data at various levels of government. Sumit Bose, member, Expenditure Management Commission and former Finance Secretary, advised the project, saying, “A lot of hard work must have gone into developing this project, as budget preparation itself is a humongous exercise. Besides, experts, the volunteers need to be recognized, as they must have contributed in a big way in developing this excellent portal. I’m optimistic about this project… However, I feel that there’s no deliberate attempt by state governments, barring exceptions, not to put machine readable documents online. Probably, they never felt the need or it simply didn’t occur. In the next stage, the CBGA needs to tell state governments about their requirement.”

Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, K Ganga suggested a few guidelines to strengthen the demand for making budget data available in public domain as well. She said, “Transparency can only be achieved once the common man outside of academics and governance understands budget data and use it. Things are done by keeping only the experts in mind. Besides, communication channels with every stakeholder be kept open even through vernacular medium, ensure that people can access data in various kinds of devices, create an environment by encouraging people to provide data, and pester the government to share data and information.”

Your project aims for accessibility and ease of use within government data. How are you working to make that data accessible despite a variety of file types and standards across organizations?

One of the major additions is a comprehensive metadata for budget datasets, which drastically increases searchability of documents. We have also classified datasets by tiers of government, developmental sectors(like Agriculture and Allied Activities, Health, Education, etc.) and data formats. Apart from adding machine readable files(CSVs), we have also created a number of time-series datasets enabling users to comprehend various trends in budgetary allocations across fiscal years. For Municipal Corporations, we have developed an unified format called as Budget Summary Statement to produce aggregated figures comparable across the municipalities. For each dataset, we have clubbed all the available file formats i.e. CSV, XLS and PDF as multiple resources in a single package so that users can preview and download the format of their choice. We also provide an API to programmatically access all 5.1K+ datasets from our portal, this enables developers to automate their search and download processes.

Are you accepting contributors? If so, how could people get involved?

Open Budgets India has resulted from collective efforts by many organisations and individuals, led by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA). Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), DataMeet, DataKind – Bangalore Chapter and Omdiyar Network (ON) have helped significantly in the conceptualisation of the project. A team of pro-bono data scientists led by DataKind Bangalore has helped us develop few key components of the portal. Macromoney Research Initiatives has helped us in making available budget data of a large number of Municipal Corporations. Our partner organisations across the country focusing on governments budgets, viz. Budget Analysis Rajasthan Centre (BARC), Jaipur; National Centre for Advocacy Studies (NCAS), Pune; and Pathey, Ahmedabad, have contributed their efforts in collecting, collating and translating budget data of a number of Municipal Corporations.

Thus, the spirit of commons is at the core of our initiative, we are happy to seek more support from various diverse communities. Budget researchers, policy makers, civil societies, journalists and data contributors can reach out to us at While technologists, data scientists, visualizations experts and designers can directly collaborate with us in our design and development cycle via Github. Together we aim to continue our efforts in making India’s budgets open, usable and easy to comprehend.

The post Balancing the budget: How a commons-based project is revolutionizing budget reporting in India appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth

Wed, 03/22/2017 - 09:28

Last week the open education community convened in Cape Town South Africa for OEGlobal 17. Convening in Cape Town had historical significance as it commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which is a statement of principle, strategy, and commitment put forward in 2007 to help the open education movement grow. OEGlobal 17 provided a forum to celebrate and reflect on open education advancements over the past 10 years and consider new ways to broaden and deepen open education efforts going forward.

One of the best things about OEGlobal is the diversity of its international participants providing an incredible range of perspectives from open education initiatives around the world. I enjoyed hearing about open credentials and radical openness in the Czech Republic, Norway’s digital learning arena and sustainable large-scale model for Open Educational Resources (OER), and the pragmatism and insights from South Africa’s own Siyavula initiative. Europe, Asia, Latin America, the global south, North America, open education is truly a global movement.

Creative Commons was very active at OEGlobal 17. Ryan Merkley, Kelsey Wiens, Cable Green, Paul Stacey, Alek Tarkowski, and Delia Browne collectively demonstrated CC’s commitment to open education through a range of sessions including:

While the early days of open education were largely about OER, things have evolved a lot over the last 10 years. Now we’re talking about open educational practices, open pedagogy, open education policy, MOOC’s, entire OER degrees, and open education research. Despite this clear evolution, open education is still not considered mainstream. In the closing session a panel and the audience engaged in putting forward ideas for advancing the movement further – the new Cape Town Open Education Declaration +10 ideas will be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. My own personal contribution was to suggest that the various open education movements, including OER, Open Access research publishing, open data, and open science are all currently operating as independent silos and may be more impactful if efforts were put into unifying them into a more synergistic whole.

In the near term, March 27-31, 2017 is Open Education Week and in September UNESCO will be hosting the 2nd World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress in Slovenia, Ljubljana.

The vision of the 2007 Cape Town Open Education Declaration is alive and well. From the statement:

“We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.” I’m proud that Creative Commons helps make this possible. Congrats to open educators everywhere.

Willem van Valkenburg licensed CC BY

The post Open Education Global 2017: Principle, Strategy, and Commitment to Growth appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Just make music and share it: Podington Bear’s music for storytelling and podcasts

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 13:23
Chad Crouch AKA Podington Bear via the Free Music Archive

In 2007, the artist Chad Crouch began releasing three instrumental songs per week under the pseudonym Podington Bear. Crouch revealed his identity in July 2008 upon the release of a box set of his work, ending a speculative mystery covered in NPR, KEXP, Wired, and the Globe and Mail. According to his bio on Free Music Archive, “The experiment inspired countless new works of art, and translated into commercial success.”

An early podcast innovator, the Podington Bear project was licensed completely under CC before being posted to the Free Music Archive, where Crouch has featured many of his subsequent releases as well.

In addition to his work as Podington Bear, Crouch runs the influential Portland, OR based label HUSH Records and posts his new work on the Sound of Picture Library, a large collection of his instrumental music for creators. By running his own platform, Crouch is able to share his music on his own terms, providing makers the licenses that they need for specific projects.

You can hear Crouch’s music on a large variety of podcasts, documentaries, advertisements, and more. Much of his oeuvre can be found at Sound of Picture Library or at his website.

Why did you decide to stay anonymous for so long despite your prolific output? Why did you just ultimately disclose your identity?
Anonymity at that time was attractive because I was just wanting to try something new and at that time when I started making music, I was releasing it as a podcast, so each podcast was just a song. That’s when podcasting was whatever you wanted it to be. Today it’s either scripted or unscripted, there’s people talking, or there’s music or not, but generally speaking it’s more a story-driven podcasting than simply just the music. At any rate, it was something new that I wanted to try and I wanted to not have any baggage related to any prior output. It was attractive to me for that reason. Plus, I run a record label, and have done so for the last almost 20 years now. Podcasting, giving away music in those days, in 2007, it was still … the verdict wasn’t in. Is it good business to be giving away your music? I don’t know if people even know now, but given that I was essentially giving away downloads of music, and that’s how I was releasing it, I didn’t want it attached to me and my record label, just as an experiment.
I think the second part of your question was why did I reveal my identity? It started with a mistake, and so the mistake was, with every mp3, you have a metadata tag which has the song name and the album name, so forth and so on, just some added data. Well, the program I was using also put my real name in there somehow, and so I figured, well if anyone found that, that would be obvious. Plus I thought it was about time. That’s why. No big. It’s not like hundreds of thousands of people wanted to know, it’s just that I was ready to not keep it a secret anymore, is all.

At a recent event I attended, a number of public radio producers were saying that they felt like your work was kind of like the gold standard for free music online. How have you used your music to maximize for impact as an artist?
Wow, that’s a nice compliment. The gold standard for free music online. Well, given that I started creating music and it has always been instrumental, that alone makes it more useful for storytelling because it doesn’t get in the way of the story with words that say something else that the story isn’t saying. If I was a singer, or I wanted to make vocal music, it wouldn’t work very well for other people’s means. I realize more, as the years pass, that people have an interest in using my music. Initially, my involvement with the Free Music Archive in particular was minimal. I only had a few tracks available. Then I realized, this is what … A lot of these people are using this music. I should just open the flood gates and let it all pour out and see what happens. That’s what I did.

How did opening the floodgates up maximize for impact? Did you find that you found that your music was more widely used or more widely discoverable? What did you find when you did that?

Like anything that’s word of mouth, if it’s good, it helps get the word out. Certainly, as far as internet presence, you really can’t compete with the Free Music Archive. It’s a hub with so much traffic. I could get praise from all kinds of bloggers, and they could post my songs, but still not as many people would hear it as just naturally do through coming to the Free Music Archive. Almost solely, based on their search engine optimization, they just rise to the top of just so many Google searches. They built it, and people came. Being a part of that project, I would say is the single biggest driver.
Then, as part of the NPR set. I think a few years ago, a lot of my repertoire was being played on This American Life in some of their shows that have a lot of influence. Usually they originally heard about me on there and other types of podcasters, and which podcasts are influential.

Why did you decide to use Creative Commons in particular to license your first project?
That’s a good question. I think I embraced it in the same way I embraced experimenting with the vehicle of the podcast. I forget the exact origin of Creative Commons, but I do remember picking up … I think it was a copy of Wired Magazine, and it came with a CD and it had Beastie Boys on the cover or something like that, and there was a big, huge, center article about this new thing called Creative Commons. The CD contained songs from artists that so many people have heard of, like Beastie Boys, and it encouraged you to remix material that was on this CD, or do things with it that were less copyright, or less copyright restricted.
That appealed to me, and then I kind of kept that in the back of my head. It probably was eight years … I don’t know how many years later, but that I decided to embrace that fully with my music, because I was putting it out there anyway. Putting it out with Creative Commons seemed like a good fit for me.

Have you found that putting the license on has changed things for you, changed things in terms of how it’s recognized, how it’s found, how it’s distributed across the web?
It’s a prerequisite of involvement with the Free Music Archive, but I had adopted it before the Free Music Archive. It’s changed the way it’s distributed, most definitely. Yes, completely. To be honest, the way I compose, too. Originally, I was much more concerned with my musical output, with creating a song that had a beginning, middle, and end. Now as long as the piece of music has a mood, and I usually include the beginning and end, just because I’m a completist, but it doesn’t have to be a first chorus, first song type of construction. A lot of my music is quite short, now. CC has informed both the way I distribute my music and the way I make my music, honestly. I make things that have musical voices in them. Like just solo piano, for example, because I know that that’s something that people find useful for their storytelling in either video, podcast, whatever. It’s completely changed my output over these years.

Speaking of your output, you’re a pretty prolific songwriter and artist. What’s your process? How do you write so much music so quickly?
Well it started ten years ago, and there were years where I did very little. A benefit of having done it for so long and having so much material is that there is an income stream of people who find the music, but they also need it for commercial use and they’re perfectly happy to pay me some money to use it. As far as my process, it’s pretty simple. I use the MIDI controller. I use a piece of software, and there honestly aren’t a lot of acoustic instruments that I’m using to do my recordings, and so now I can kind of just make it all on a desktop and making it digitally is pretty easy to do. I think there are people who are far more prolific than I am.

Your project, Sound of Picture Library, is an extensive library of your music with a variety of licenses for different types of media. Can you tell me more about that? What’s worked, and what have you had to tweak, and how does it feel to be an independent artist who’s in control of your media output?
I’m not a programmer, so that part of it is difficult. Having a database of songs that people can search and that is fairly responsive so people don’t say, “This is taking too long” that’s useful enough that they can find their way to something hopefully that will work for them. That has been difficult and a learning process – there’s no site template for exactly that kind of thing. I have enough facility with computers and stuff that I’ve kind of felt my way along. As far as keeping control of my music, I was just used to that already with running a label, so I kind of know how the sausage is made with regard to the leasing music.
As far as selling licenses online, I’m certainly not the only one who has a library of music solely created by them who sells licenses, but it seemed a good fit for me, just because I was doing it anyway, but it was taking a lot of my time to deal with emails and negotiate a price and that kind of thing. I would say one of the hardest things about it is coming up with pricing that works for everyone, because there’s so many different needs that people have for different projects. It’s amazing. I wanted to meet people at the very low end while not leaving too much on the table for people who have huge budgets to complete advertisements or something online. I try to keep it competitive and fair and just trust people that use them.
Ultimately, sometimes it works out that their project is complicated or it doesn’t fit with the prescribed licenses that I do offer, so I still am dealing with people through email and doing some negotiation. All in all, it’s been a really interesting development for me as a musician and entrepreneur. It’s been growing every year to the point where I’m quitting other jobs, recently, to give more of my energy and time to making the library and administrating it.

What advice would you give to an independent artist who wants to do a similar project and license their own music?
The advice I would give is try not to be too precious with it. Don’t try and control. Don’t be worried about people stealing things. I feel like a lot of musicians try and limit, but I think limiting access to music in a way where you’re trying to always sell it and get the most money out of it is detrimental to exposure. I would say, have fun. Make music that interests you. Make music that sounds good to you, and share it. In the beginning, do not try and make money. Just share it. Share it as much as possible, and if the Free Music Archive feels like a fit, great. If Creative Commons feels like a fit, great. This will help you along with people discovering you.

The post Just make music and share it: Podington Bear’s music for storytelling and podcasts appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Five years, five days of actions for #freebassel5years

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 15:09
Photo of Bassel Khartabil in Seoul, 2010. CC BY 2.0 Joi Ito

Five years ago today, CC Syria lead, free culture advocate, and human rights activist Bassel Khartabil was imprisoned by the Syrian government in Damascus. As a commoner, his work on the New Palmyra project, the CC Arabic Translation, and his pivotal influence on information access in the Middle East is a beacon for all who devote their lives to free culture. In the words of Joi Ito, “The last time that many of us saw Bassel was at the Creative Commons Global Summit in Warsaw in 2011, where he was continuing his work of expanding information and opportunity in his home country and across the Middle East and the world.”

In honor of Khartabil’s influence on the free culture and open source movement, the Free Bassel campaign is encouraging five actions in public support of the movement to #freebassel in protest of his five years of unjust imprisonment.

This week, the campaign released a secret letter Khartabil sent Free Bassel coordinator Jon Phillips in 2014. If you have received a letter from Bassel, the campaign encourages you to share his words publicly and collaborate on the project via Git.

Other contributions include a Soundcloud playlist of nearly fifty songs in support of Bassel and various social media actions.

The full list of campaign actions from is below. Share #freebassel5years and spread the message:

  • Retweet or reshare #freebassel5years posts on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.
  • If you’ve received a handwritten message from Bassel, contact We’ll coordinate social media and other sharing with you.
  • Find and share your favorite #freebassel media on all social media channels, using the tag #freebassel5years. Places to find media include Openclipart, Flickr, Wikimedia Commons, Internet Archive, YouTube, and Soundcloud.
  • Hold a #freebassel5years vigil, picnic, hackathon, protest, or other physical space event, and share digital representations of the event or artifacts created there on #freebassel5years social media.
  • Remix or create your own #freebassel media, upload to your favorite sites, and share links on social media, using the tag #freebassel5years everywhere.
  • Share projects honoring Bassel such as the Cost of Freedom book, again on social media under the tag #freebassel5years.
  • Share ongoing projects founded by Bassel, such as the #NEWPALMYRA project…on social media, tagged #freebassel5years.
  • State on social media that you’re participating in #freebassel5years, e.g.: I pledge to make 5 public acts to demand a #freebassel for #freebassel5years, join me
  • Free Bassel. It’s OK if you forget to mention it on social media using the tag #freebassel5years.

The post Five years, five days of actions for #freebassel5years appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

“Publish and Prosper” with a new model for academic publishing

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 15:55

Glasstree is a new platform built on “healing academic publishing” to provide a range of Open Access options that allow academics to quickly and inexpensively self-publish their monographs, returning 70% of the royalties to the author. The company was launched in November by a number of publishing veterans with the goal of directly addressing the needs of academics. Glasstree offers Creative Commons licensing options to authors in order to facilitate the wider dissemination of knowledge via Gold Open Access. In the words of SVP Daniel Berze, “[Glasstree] is designed to put academics firmly back in the driving seat when it comes to ownership of their work. [T]he model empowers academics to share their knowledge and make their work more accessible to their respective communities.”

The site was built by, the pioneering self-publishing company that has been a longtime user of CC licensing. Drawing from the great strides being made by the open access community, Glasstree’s embrace of CC licensing is exciting and innovative. They are running a free trial period through Spring 2017 for authors to try out the service, so be sure to sign up soon and give it a try.

The post “Publish and Prosper” with a new model for academic publishing appeared first on Creative Commons.

Categories: Political Action

Agitate, Educate, Organize: The Radical Printmaking of Justseeds Collective

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 13:11
Agitate-Educate-Organize, Josh MacPhee

If you’ve ever attended a demonstration in North America, chances are you’ve seen the work of the 30 person artist collective Justseeds, a group of printmakers who have made an indelible impact on activism and art through their free, distributed graphics. The nearly twenty-year-old collective of printmakers work as agitators, educators, and artists to support grassroots struggles for peace and justice with an evocative style and large online catalog of free images that has helped them spread their message and aesthetic far past the streets and homes of activists around the world.

As a collective committed to social justice, they allow their members to work autonomously and from a diversity of perspectives and political positions – their vision that another world is possible depends upon it. In this interview with Creative Commons, cooperative co-founders Roger Peet and Josh MacPhee discuss solidarity, licensing, and their unique responsibility toward artists. All images in this piece are CC0.

With 30 members working in a variety of countries and languages, how do you deal with representation and diversity within your communities? How do you deal with various interests and engagement in your political work?

Resist, Jesus Barraza

Roger: Something that has defined Justseeds from its earliest stages as a cooperative has been the breadth of perspectives and political positions within the group. We all agree on a lot of things, but certainly not everything, and I think that we’ve thrived by maintaining a space for a variety of visions. We trust each other to represent our individual views responsibly. We rely on our members to articulate their own ideas and their particular passions, and those are more or less subsumed into the broader public presentation of Justseeds. In that way we’re a complex political object- we don’t spend a lot of time articulating group positions, and we rely to a certain degree on our audience’s interpretation of the work that we create to produce our public persona. There is no central program that we adhere to, but we rely on that aforementioned trust to maintain the political pole around which the cooperative turns. The only case in which we vet work as a group is when we’re distributing art by people who aren’t members of the cooperative.

We are Irreplaceable, Jordan Alam and Jess x Snow

Josh: Autonomy is one of the key organizational principles of Justseeds. Some of it is built into our model, but much of it is a default function of being so geographically spread out, and increasingly coming from different experiences and communities. We have have little centralized and coordinated representation of “Justseeds.” Our most visible collective presence is our website, which has an extremely neutral design, allowing the content to drive the experience of the viewer/user, and the content is entirely created by individual coop members, from the items they sell to their blog posts to their downloadable graphics. Collective projects also have a place on the site, but they tend to be polyphonic, and are rarely represented with a single artists image or work.
Each member is afforded the trust to work, create, and organize in their communities as they see fit. The hope and goal is that we all will benefit from each others work. The more we each invest in the issues that are important to us, the better off we all are, and the more collective knowledge to draw from for our own goal work.

What is the role of the political artist in 2017?

Roger: To fight, bluntly. To maintain and broaden the fight for a different society and for a different relationship with the world outside of human priorities. To contribute to the destruction of Capitalism and white supremacy in whatever manner possible. Most importantly, however, the role of the political artist is to persist. Many of the members of Justseeds have been making political art in a variety of contexts for more than twenty years, and although the contemporary situation is more fraught on a daily basis, it’s not new.

We have been working to support political, social and environmental struggles and confronting the bitter brute heart of this society for decades, and we will continue to do so- constantly in pursuit of new methods and new alliances by which to achieve a new world.

Josh: I’m not sure it’s a new role, but it seems much more clearly now to be the creation of culture which furthers and amplifies the work that communities and groups are doing on the ground in protests, actions, organizing, and campaigning. Our art and projects role out in the street, in community spaces, within the media, across social media, and in our private spaces. All are important venues for pushing forward messages and ideas.

We Won’t Go Back, Roger Peet

In addition, artists have the privilege to raise questions and make challenging images which might not be at the top of the agenda for a very goals-oriented campaign or organization. We need instrumentalized protest culture, but we also need work that challenges norms, makes audiences inquisitive, and threatens the status quo in its own right.

How do you deal with varying approaches to copyright within the organization? For example, much of Nicolas Lampert’s work is Creative Commons, but many other artists don’t adopt the CC label, even though their work is free to reproduce and share? What kinds of tools do you use to support artists who want to work within your collective and their differing approaches to collective work and action?

Roger: I think the reason that most people in Justseeds don’t apply a Creative Commons assignation to their work is that they’re unfamiliar with how it works, or that we as a group have a rather blasé attitude to how our work might populate the public domain. Personally I feel that a lot of the work that I make available on our free graphics page is geared towards a specific audience, and that I more or less trust that audience to use it as they and I might see fit. I realize that’s a pretty naïve attitude but I haven’t had any experiences that have pushed me away from that position. Yet. It would probably behoove us to develop an institutional policy whereby we assign all graphics with a Creative Commons license- maybe we’ll get around to that after this interview.

Josh: I honestly don’t think most of us have put a lot of thought into it. I know that when Favianna Rodriguez and I put out Reproduce and Revolt, a book of political graphics intended to be used by activists and organizers, we put the entire book under Creative Commons license. But for my own work, I never even think about it—instead I just almost always give permission when ever anyone asks. It’s not because I even have any criticism of CC, I’m just generally not that concerned about who uses my work.

Sanctuary Cities Now, Pete Railand

How are you working toward a culture of the commons, where artists and communities can share resources together? How does your work promote giving and gratitude?

Roger: Trying to make a living as an artist is a challenging prospect, and perhaps especially challenging as a political artist. There is a lot of pressure on artists to make their political work available for free, or to do new work in support of causes without expectation of remuneration. It can be a difficult line to walk, but I think that Justseeds artists have, in general, a pretty responsive and responsible attitude towards what they are and aren’t willing to do for free. Basically that could boil down to “If nobody’s making any money, then I will gladly contribute my work for free. If people are getting paid, however, then I the artist also need to be paid.” As political artists, all of the members of Justseeds make a lot of free work for movements and causes because we feel that we are a part of those movements, or that we feel compelled to offer our art to them as a gesture of solidarity or support. Much of our work is about ideas, and we want those ideas to spread- so a lot of our work is always going to be available for free.
Something that I like to do with my work is to create an edition of prints featuring an image that I offer for sale on the Justseeds site- and then also create a high-res downloadable graphic version of that image that I put on our free graphics page. What I hope happens in that situation is that people wanting to use my image for political work will download it and do what they need to with it, and that those who want a nice, handmade version of it for their workspace or as a gift will purchase the print.

Josh: I really wanted to build into our new website a solid, functional, searchable, and expandable free graphics page, because in my experience so many artists and organizers want to create downloadable graphics, and set up individual silo-ed sites for their projects—whether its a set of anti-war posters, or images related to the environment, or graphics about reproductive justice—and they promote the site for a week or a month or a year, and then the site slowly descends into the swamp of the internet, never to be visited again. One of the real benefits of Justseeds is that we already have a consistent flow of traffic of the very kinds of people that are looking for graphics to download, so we are a perfect aggregator. People have raised questions about how it might be perceived that we are using the free graphics as “bait” to bring people to the site to buy things, but I actually think it functions the other way around. People come to buy things, and then see how much cool stuff they can just download for free. Hopefully in the long run people will do enough of both to allow us to keep going, and to keep building a broader and deeper collection of free images.

No Bans on Stolen Land, Dylan Miner

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Categories: Political Action

Law for All: Free Law Project’s Radical Approach to Legal Transparency

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 10:49
Free Law Project Logo CC BY

What does open access look like for the law? Through free access to primary legal sources, the Free Law Project provides an important service to advocates, journalists, researchers, and the public. Joining with an international movement for Free Access to Law, the US-based organization helps people know their rights in an increasingly uncertain and rapidly changing legal era.

The Free Law Project is an umbrella organization for a variety of projects, including Court Listener for millions of pieces of legal data, the RECAP project (begun by Aaron Swartz in 2009) to freely open the PACER archive of legal data, a complete repository of Supreme Court Data, a repository of judicial opinions and seals, and a Free Law Reporters Database. The project’s call for greater transparency in the law has been covered in a variety of news outlets, and their work continues to grow in scope and importance.

The Free Law Project is accepting volunteers, legal and otherwise, for help with code, transcription, and more at their website. Project founder Mike Lissner graciously answered these questions via email.

Why is it important for citizens to gain access to free legal documents? How does your work run parallel with the open access movement in science and academia?

We see our work and the open access movement as two sides of the same coin. Just as people need access to journal articles to do good scientific research, they need access to legal information to do good legal research. It’s not enough to have access to American laws in the same way that it’s not enough to have access to the laws of physics. Knowing what the laws say is one thing, but properly understanding them in practice is something else entirely. That’s a gap we are working to fill.

With every passing year, we are seeing more and more people defending themselves in court, without hiring a lawyer. Last year, in federal courts alone, 52% of filings were made by people defending themselves, a whopping 18% increase from 2015.

To get a fair shake, these people need good tools and they need to be well informed. We believe the way to accomplish that is by providing high-quality legal data to organizations, researchers, journalists, and the public.

How has the internet changed free access to law? How has it made it more or less possible to gain access to free legal documents? How is your work technically mediated, and how do you create tools to empower legal recourse?

We collect hundreds of new legal documents from court websites every day and make them searchable on Within minutes of a new case being published, we can send you an email about it so that you know that it’s something you may want to read. Prior to the Internet, this kind of access was impossible.

But there are still major difficulties that we encounter while gathering these documents. For example, most opinions published by the courts don’t have unique identifiers, so there’s no easy way to cite them until they are blessed by a third party publisher. And of course, very few courts have websites with high-quality machine-readable data, so we spend a lot of effort making sure our crawlers are working properly.

One of our biggest projects, RECAP, collects data from a government-run website called PACER, where legal documents cost roughly ten cents per page. PACER is the biggest paywall in the world, holding more than a billion copyright-free documents, and we’re working on liberating as many of them as we can so that the public can easily and freely access them.

You run a variety of projects, technical and nontechnical, to help citizens gain greater access to legal documents. How does your work contribute to a more just and open society?

We approach this from two different angles. First, we try to make the legal industry more competitive by offering high-quality legal data and APIs. This lowers the barrier to entry that startups and researchers face, making it easier for them to focus on their innovations or research instead of on how to get expensive legal data.

Second, part of our mission is to create simple high-quality tools for people to use to research the law. This helps level the playing field by giving both sides of any legal dispute good tools. Some legal tools are incredibly sophisticated, but even the simplest tools are often quite expensive (it’s hard to know how expensive because prices are usually secret).

We see one of our roles as pushing the bar of what can be free. If Free Law Project, a tiny non-profit, can offer a tool for free, surely your organization can too.

How can non-lawyers get involved with your projects? How do you see your work as being more broadly related to legal advocacy? What kinds of contributions do you seek from the public?

This is a great question. We’re always seeking help from just about any- and everybody. All of our work is open source, and we’re always looking for people to help build new features or squash bugs. We have data entry work that we need volunteer corps to help fix, and we even have a collection of photos of judges that needs to be fleshed out. Essentially, if you have time and skills to volunteer, we can probably use your help.

You work mostly in the United States, but the Free Access to Law Movement is a global movement. How does your project advocate globally as well as in the US? What kinds of organizations are doing similar work around the world?

The Free Access to Law Movement is incredibly important and has gained a toehold in dozens of countries. You can see a list of all the members on their website, A great way to get involved in the Free Access to Law Movement is to start at that site, find an organization in your country, and send them an email. There’s also the Law via the Internet conference every year that attracts free law advocates from around the world. For our part, working on the American legal system has proven to be more than enough!

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Categories: Political Action

CC Global Summit program update: Ashe Dryden, Ana Garzón Sabogal to Keynote, plus accepted sessions and speakers

Tue, 02/28/2017 - 15:58

Today we’re announcing our last two keynotes and accepted sessions and speakers for this year’s CC Global Summit in Toronto, just two months away.

In addition to Ruth Okediji and Sarah Jeong, we are thrilled to welcome Ana Garzón Sabogal and Ashe Dryden, both consummate representatives of their fields. Our diverse set of keynotes were selected by community members due to their incredible contributions to open culture, diversity, and community building. These four women from Africa, Latin America, and North America are representative of our community’s commitment to fostering a diverse, collaborative commons fueled by gratitude.

Ana Garzón Sabogal works with collaborative learning, cultural management, activism and free culture. Based in Colombia, she has organised diverse projects including Radio Vallena, a collective radio station that traveled Colombia’s Pacific Coast to Panama City, sharing stories about migration and resistance and Territories. She is currently Director of the cultural foundation Más Arte Más Acción, part of Arts Collaboratory. Ana will be speaking about culture, open tools, and collaboration in open communities.

Ashe Dryden is a former White House fellow, programmer, diversity advocate and consultant, prolific writer, speaker, and creator of AlterConf and Fund Club. She’s one of the foremost experts on diversity in the tech industry. She’s currently writing two books: The Diverse Team and The Inclusive Event. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Scientific American, Wired, NPR, and more. Ashe will be speaking on the topic of open, diverse, and inclusive communities.

In addition, we are excited to announce our list of accepted speakers and sessions, which is made up of an incredible group of experts, advocates, and enthusiasts from all over the globe. All sessions are tagged across five tracks at the summit website and are subject to change, with final program schedule TBD. Thanks to everyone who answered our Call for Submissions!

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Categories: Political Action

Cloudflare leak: Please reset your CCID password

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 17:10

Web services company Cloudflare revealed late yesterday that it had experienced a large-scale memory leak. About two million websites use Cloudflare for services like content delivery and Internet security. Creative Commons uses Cloudflare, and we investigated this issue as soon as it was reported.

We have not found any cause for concern—as far as we know, CCID login data was not exposed. And because our donor data did not touch the Cloudflare service, we do not believe it was ever at risk. Additionally, Cloudflare has contacted us directly and informed us that we are not among the sites they know of that were affected by the leak.

Despite this, out of an abundance of caution, we are requiring all CCID users to reset their passwords. We are sending emails to CCID users asking them to do this immediately by going to

If there are any changes, we will be in touch to let you know. For more information about the Cloudflare memory leak, read the company’s incident report.

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Categories: Political Action

Update on Great Minds v FedEx Office Litigation Involving BY-NC-SA

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 15:09
“Empty Classroom” by Wen Shi is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Update: Shortly after publishing this post, we received word that Judge Hurley today has granted defendant FedEx Office’s motion to dismiss. You can read the order here [pdf]. This is the very result CC advocated for in its motion for leave to file an amicus brief,and we’re delighted with the outcome, the ruling, and the court’s analysis. The court found on the facts as presented by Great Minds, FedEx’s copying is permitted by the “unambiguous” terms of BY-NC-SA. Look for an in-depth post on the decision and its implications for users of the NC licenses and users of NC-licensed works next week.

Earlier this week, Judge Hurley issued an order denying our motion for leave to file an amicus brief at this stage in the litigation between Great Minds and FedEx Office. The central question in that case turns on the proper interpretation of the CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (BY-NC-SA). In our motion, we sought permission to file a brief in support of FedEx Office and to assist the court in its interpretation of the license. As detailed in the motion, we believe it’s clear based on the facts alleged that the conduct engaged in by FedEx Office when it copied educational materials at the direction of school districts, whose use everyone agrees is non commercial, is not a violation of the license. You can read our rationale for this interpretation in our earlier blog post and in our motion [PDF] seeking permission to file an amicus brief, and learn why we’re fighting to protect non commercial uses here.

We’ll be monitoring the litigation for an update on the pending motion by FedEx Office to dismiss the case. We look forward to seeing how the court resolves the issue consistent with its order, and look forward to participating in the litigation if our assistance is needed at a later stage.

A special thanks to Andy Gass and Jonathan Ellis, our pro bono counsel at Latham & Watkins, for their assistance with the motion and amicus brief.

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Categories: Political Action