By Laura Bjorkland

My mission was to assess the creative community’s interest in participating in Creative Commons, as both donors and users, which I did through an unscientific – but very informative – series of interviews with a wide range of artists. The interviews took the form of my describing the Creative Commons concept; getting their initial response - usually “I’ve never even thought of this before…,” answering their questions, and usually ended with a general discussion of related issues.

Between April 2nd and May 1st, I interviewed more than a dozen people, including three writers, two photographers, three composers, two painters, a filmmaker, a sculptor and one gentleman who might fall into the category “most of the above.” All have had a fair amount of success in their fields – the authors are published, the photographers are collected, the composers are published and played – but they are by no means well-known by the public at large. All might stand to gain by increased public and peer exposure through Creative Commons, but they also already derive all or some of their income from their creative pursuits.

The response I received was decidedly mixed – individual responses ranged from well-tempered enthusiasm to what I might call “No way in hell.” But the response was also encouraging.


All but three of the artists I spoke to thought that the Creative Commons idea was fascinating and were interested to varying degrees in participating. While, surprisingly, no one volunteered to donate the entire body of their work to CC, the writers, a classical composer and the filmmaker all had immediate ideas on how they might contribute: the writers were interested in creating pieces specifically for CC, the filmmaker suggested that it would be an excellent venue for outtakes and background material, and the composer has written some folk-based pieces and religious choral music that he feels belong in the public domain without reservation.

The rest of the interested artists all felt that there might be many benefits to placing their work on CC, including exposure to and feedback from a wider audience, the “fun – sort of” of seeing their pieces transformed into derivative works, and a venue for experimental works that “haven’t gone anywhere.” But they agree that the matter required careful thought and more specific legal information about the licensing structure, etc. All had objections and specific restrictions they were interested in, which follow in the next section.

The last question I asked in all the interviews was: How do you feel you would use the site? and I was surprised by the responses that I received. Several said they would use it only to check to see if their own work had been visited, and several also said they might check to see what else was posted; all said they would not use the work of other artists as a source of inspiration for a project of their own.

In most cases, they simply do not want to rely on an outside source for their work, but the filmmaker had a specific practical objection: He relies for funding on organizations such as HBO, PBS, etc., who in turn expect partial ownership of the final project. If the resulting work would have to be in the public domain under the license terms, he would probably not be able to get funding for a proposal based on a work from CC.


By far, the artists’ most common objection to placing their work on the CC site was the possibility of a profitable derivative work being made from their work without receiving any royalties in return. One adult fiction writer agreed that she would find it unacceptable for a major commercial project – i.e., movie – to be made from one of their short stories without compensation. In short, they’d like their work to be widely and freely available to the public to read or play or alter, to classrooms – but not to Disney.

Other miscellaneous objections and possible impediments that were raised during interviews:

By Everyone: A basic reluctance to see their work altered – characters used for pornography or violence, films cut, pictures physically changed, etc.

By Many: Artists are already undervalued (read: underpaid) by society, and possibly should not start giving their work away.

By photographers and visual artists: All have signature style and find the idea of letting work with “their” imagery go into the public domain “a little scary.”

By the filmmaker: Most filmmakers make very little money, but films can have surprisingly long shelf lives. Years or even decades after a movie may seem to have run its course, renewed interest in its subject can spark new and lucrative interest in it.

By the sculptor: You can get the exposure through the Web, without letting go of your rights.

One last note: Several interviewees said, in essence, that they need the money from their work now, but would be happy to have their work go public upon their deaths rather than protected for several additional generations.


Several of the artists with whom I spoke simply had no interest in Creative Commons, or even found the entire idea rather awful. One of the painters, who feels that artists are generally under-appreciated, can’t imagine giving away her work. The sculptor creates “private objects, made singly…with no grand public value.” A songwriter, the son of a labor union man who has worked hard to get to the point where he can support his family with his music, is proud of every penny he makes. A well-known short story writer has a profitable, if not lucrative, career and can publish virtually everything he writes without giving up his full rights.


Without the input from artists, writers and musicians, there can’t be a Creative Commons. Although this was by no means a statistically valid survey of the creative community, I feel that we did receive enough encouragement to proceed with CC, confident that we’ll have some material with which to proceed. How much, what quality, and under what conditions remains an open question.

Many of the objections raised by potential contributors might be resolved through the licensing structure that is chosen. In addition, more interest could probably be generated through more education. As most of the artists had never considered the value of the public domain before, the longer we had to discuss – or even debate – the topic, the more enthusiastic they became.

Based on the responses that I received, the easiest fields to start CC with would be literature, music and perhaps film. If the project proceeds, I would suggest beginning with one or two subject areas, and forming working groups of artists to explore in depth the practical ramifications of whatever business plan and licensing structure are chosen, and other details of establishing the Creative Commons site from the viewpoint of the creative community.