Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Common(s) Sense for Communications Staff

Would you password your website? Or make twitter updates private? How about hiding your facebook fan page so it doesn't appear in search results? That wouldn't make much sense. Neither does using restrictive copyrights for work you produce to further your nonprofit mission. Yet, a majority of the third sector still has difficulties using Creative Commons.

Is it because we're unfamiliar with the options? Are nonprofits worried about how their writing and research might be used by others? Beth Kanter is an avid supporter of Creative Commons (another reason to jump on the bandwagon!) and this post includes great resources, articles, and remixes that make a strong case for open licensing in the nonprofit framework.

For foundations, the choice may be a bit more difficult. As this Berkman Center for Internet and Society report notes, foundations don't usually apply open licenses to funded work (with a few notable exceptions!), since it's often produced by consultants or grantee organizations. Still, blogger and philanthropy consultant Lucy Bernholz advocates for opening up foundation content and has some good ideas on information sharing and creation.

Here at IssueLab, we're big supporters of open licensing. Whether you work for an advocacy or direct service organization, a research institute or a foundation – here is why you should start thinking about using Creative Commons (CC):

1. Increase your exposure – Share and share alike. It's a simple concept and can work wonders for your visibility online. When readers know your research (photos, website, video, etc.) carries a CC license, they know it's ok to share your work. The rules are clear, and your constituents don't have to ask for permission when they want to use your ideas, which is a huge deterrent for online sharing. Remember: the more you share with others, the more they'll use, quote, recommend, share, and reference in turn.

2. Sustain impact of your work – There are many reasons why restrictive copyrights stunt the potential impact of your work. Open licenses = open access, and this means you can be in more spaces online for the life of your organization and beyond. Publishing a report is not the end of the line; your CC-licensed work can continue to circulate and inform audiences independently of your active outreach and organizational capacity.

3. Expand innovation in your field – Depending on the CC license you choose, your audience has the opportunity to be really creative with your ideas. One of the main goals of nonprofit research, after all, is to evaluate what works and to build upon lessons learned. This is how we find practical solutions and spur social innovation. Applying an open license to your work can encourage people to repurpose or remix information into ideas, programs, events, data or campaigns that have never before existed. Imagine the possibilities!

4. Get credit – Don't we all like to get credit for our content and ideas? Creative Commons makes it easy (yes, easier than the old standard copyright) to receive proper and specific attribution for work you share. Contrary to what you may have heard, an open license like Creative Commons doesn't just make your content a "free for all," but actually requires users to credit and cite you explicitly in a manner of your choosing. The CC-image used in this blog post? Check out the citation at the bottom - it's a simple copy & paste from the "some rights reserved" link on the flickr photo page. Easy!

Not convinced yet? Agree completely? No time for licensing issues? I'd love to hear your comments!

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