Creative Commons Licensing Success Stories: Pratham Books

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.
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8 thoughts on “Creative Commons Licensing Success Stories: Pratham Books”

  1. Hi Amlan,

    I had a couple of questions on this post:

    (i) You have stated that Pratham Books is a success story. Could you give us some numbers or statistics to establish the exact nature of this success? I’ll admit that I know very little about Pratham Books.

    (ii) What is the link between Creative Commons and the success of Pratham? If they don’t want to enforce their copyrights can’t they just relinquish their copyrights? There is a procedure for that under the Copyright Act, 1957.

    (iii) Isn’t is unfair to compare Pratham Books with a conventional publishing house? I say this because Pratham receives substantial grants and support from a number of organizations. They don’t even have to break even.


  2. Hi Prashant,

    1. My use of the word ‘success’ is centered more on the fact that they have managed to utilise an alternative licensing model that helps to increase their readership base. However, for plain statistics, you could go here
    (figures for views and downloads have been provided)

    2. While relinquishment of copyright is certainly an option, use of CC licenses ensures two things: one, it allows them to initially control the way in which Pratham Books’ owned content is used and distributed and to promote an eco-system of openness and collaboration that is best served through CC licensing; and two, it allows them to properly promote and reward their own illustrators and authors, which the attribution clause in the CC license, guarantees.

    3. This is certainly a fair point. But putting economics aside for a second, I think Pratham Books deserves the credit it gets for simply taking the lead in making children’s books more readily accessible (other children’s book publishers are following suit). But even so, their website shows two claims – one, that they have
    consistently sold and shipped more books year on year; and two, they have managed to break even, despite the generous grants and such.

    So overall, I think they are doing a great job and a little encouragement couldn’t hurt.


  3. Hi Amlan,

    I completely agree with you, that they do a good job and a little encouragement couldn’t hurt.

    But I think we can agree to disagree about the contribution of the Creative Commons licence to this success.


  4. Hi Prashant – Gautam from Pratham Books here. On the contrary, I think the CC licenses have been crucial for two reasons:

    1. To maintain the chain of attribution and to maintain interoperability with open licenses. Also, because it is instantly recognised.
    2. CC licenses save us time and effort which we would have otherwise had to invest in negotiating agreements for use of content with each of the individuals and organisations who have used or want to use our content. That is bandwidth we do not have.



  5. Hi Gautam,

    Thank you for joining the debate and many congratulations on the success of Pratham Books.

    My main issue with Amlan’s post is the glorification of the Creative Commons concept. Most of the Creative Commons licences are absolutely unworkable for most mediums and the few licences which have succeeded, bare little resemblance to the original idea behind the Creative Commons. The original objective of the Creative Commons, as I understand, is to create a system where people could share works with the commons with the guarantee of not only attribution but also the guarantee that the person who improved on the work would also share it with the commons. This in my opinion was the original intent of the Creative Commons and this was the truly creative component of the Creative Commons licence.

    However as even you have noted in one of your interviews, there are not too many takers for these share-alike licences because there will be small enterpreneurs who don’t want to share any further innovations that they have created.

    As you have stated in one of your interviews the most successful licence has been the CC-BY licence which basically requires only attribution and does not requires sharing any derivative work with the commons. I don’t see anything ‘creative’ about this licence. What it is basically does is that it makes you relinquish your copyright. I simply fail to see the big deal about that.

    I’m not aware of the American law on the point but Indian law is quite clear on relinquishing your copyrights. Section 21 of the Copyright Act allows an author to relinquish his copyrights while retaining certain rights. So all that Pratham has to do is make a form to the Registrar of Copyrights seeking to relinquish all rights except for the Section 57 rights i.e. moral rights. The Registrar will publish it in the official gazette of India and as we all know the gazette of India can be a fantastic advertisement. If anything it may get Pratham more people to collaborative.

    Let me clarify, I mean no disrespect to either you or your organization.


  6. Hi Prashant – no disrespect taken at all. And thank you for engaging.

    I’ll dispute your statement about CC licenses being all about the share-alike model – it’s about giving people a choice and a range of options. It is a way to have uniform compatibility of licenses and content and a way to work outside of the traditional ambit of copyright. That said, might I point you to Wikipedia which is CC-BY-SA licensed and a modest success?

    As far as why we chose it and not the relinquishment – like I said, there is more to the choice than a purely legal one – market acceptance and understanding being important too. And that our content is used globally. I’d argue that the CC choice has brought us far more ‘advertising’ that a relinquishment would have.



  7. I just wanted to add a comment here to mention thanks for you very nice ideas. Blogs are troublesome to run and time consuming thus I appreciate when I see well written material. Your time isn’t going to waste with your posts. Thanks so much and stick with it No doubt you will definitely reach your goals! have a great day!

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