While we have in the past spoken about the dangers of an aggressive and severely restrictive copyright regime, we haven’t focussed enough attention on the use of alternative licensing mechanisms and the social benefit that accrues from such a practice.
For that reason, I will cover in this post, the efforts of Pratham Books, a non-profit children’s book publishing house and their persistent campaigns for openness and unrestricted access to content suitable for children’s books, by advocating the use of Creative Commons licenses, to achieve the twin objective of creating more reading content for children, and at the same time, ensure that it reaches the desired demographic with maximum penetration.
Use of Creative Commons Licenses
For those unfamiliar with the way Creative Commons (CC) licenses work, the experiences of Pratham Books might serve as a useful guide to choosing the perfect license, based on your specific requirements. It is seen that Pratham Books began with a CC Attribution¬-Non commercial¬-Share Alike 2.5 India license but has, over the years, moved towards the more open CC BY and CC BY-SA licenses. While the former license prevents the content from being used for commercial purposes, the CC BY and CC BY-SA have no such restrictions.
But how does the use of such licenses fit in with their overall objective, one may ask. Given their elementary motivations and simple objectives (ensuring that works published by them are open to the public to distribute, translate and reuse) the CC licenses seem like the perfect choice. While the Attribution license is their preferred default license, the Attribution-Share Alike license guarantees that those who build upon earlier CC licensed works, will have to distribute the resulting work under a similar license, creating a thriving ecosystem of openly accessible derivative works. This is similar to the way the GNU General Public License, written by Richard Stallman, operates, wherein derived works must be distributed under similar copyleft license terms.
What emerges is simply this – the traditional copyright system just does not fit well with the philosophy nursed by the folks at Pratham books. The publishing industry is famously aggressive for its lobbying against progressive copyright reforms (see our posts on the proposed amendment to S.2(m) of the Copyright Act) and strict enforcement strategies. It comes as no surprise then, that Pratham Books should choose to utilise a licensing model that rests on the doctrine of openness and collaboration.
Success Story at Pratham Books
Unsurprisingly, the use of the Creative Commons licenses has allowed Pratham Books to realise most of its objectives. What they are perhaps most proud about though, is the growing community of participants who are willing to collaborate and embrace the philosophy of openness, severely undermining the hitherto unchallenged belief that the traditional copyright model that involves frequent negotiations (mostly on insignificant details) and high transaction costs, is the appropriate way to license content in the publishing industry.
Given that they have been able to license content to multiple organisations and individuals, their success remains unmatched. The evolution of an entirely different licensing and publishing model is genuinely heartwarming given the underlying purpose of the entire exercise – to place a book in the hands of every child. In fact, they seem to have gone one step further with derivative works being produced in the nature of iPad and iPhone applications, new books with colorful illustrations and books specifically designed for the print impaired.
There used to be a time when the wisdom in using an open license such as a CC license, was routinely questioned. But if the above results are any indication, their use must certainly be considered a viable alternative in the publishing industry.