Report iCommons iSummit 2006

iSummit 2006 was held in Rio de Janeiro from 23rd – 25th June 2006, at JW Marriot. There were 250-300 participants from various countries and regions, notably the Americas. Some were sponsored through IDRC, Revver, Shuttleworth Foundation, Linden Lab, OSI and Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft. Three days before the Conference, Creative Commons (CC) announced that Microsoft will embed a tool in its Word, Excel & Powerpoint, a CC tool [note: Lawrence Lessig was reported to be "excited", while Gilberto Gill was reported to be "thrilled"  . Participants (some) were disturbed].

iSummit 2006 was held in Rio de Janeiro from 23rd – 25th June 2006, at JW Marriot. There were 250-300 participants from various countries and regions, notably the Americas. Some were sponsored through IDRC, Revver, Shuttleworth Foundation, Linden Lab, OSI and Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft. Three days before the Conference, Creative Commons (CC) announced that Microsoft will embed a tool in its Word, Excel & Powerpoint, a CC tool [note: Lawrence Lessig was reported to be "excited", while Gilberto Gill was reported to be "thrilled". Participants (some) were disturbed].

This year’s theme is entitled, "Share the past, create the future", and was structured around three main themes:

* Tools. Developing effective, relevant tools to forward creativity and innovation.

* Policy. Strategies to ensure international, regional and local policy conducive to the development of the commons.

* Practice. Learning from the experience of others to develop effective models for open content worldwide.

The days were organised into keynote panels in the mornings, where 4-5 keynote speakers will present their area of work related to the topic in question within 10-15 minutes, and a chairman (intentional) will introduce and facilitate about 15 minutes of Q & A. The topics were:

Day 1: ‘Towards a Global Commons Community’.

Chaired by Ronaldo Lemos; presented by Gilberto Gil, Paulina Urrutia, Lawrence (Larry to friends) Lessig and Joi Ito.

Day 2: ‘Towards a bridge between the commons in science, art and innovation’.

Chaired by Ronaldo Lemos; presented by James Boyle, Jenny Toomey, Niva Elkin-Koren, John Wilbanks.

Day 3: ‘The International Commons’.

Chaired by John Wilbanks; presented by Jimmy Wales, James (Jamie to friends) Love, Glenn Otis Brown, Nhlanhla Mabaso, Cory Doctorow

In the afternoons, participants break out into streams of smaller panel discussion sessions and/or workshops. These were (with descriptions in inverted commas):

Day 1:

a) Creative commons policy workshop, – discussions around "the success and challenges of issues relating to Creative Commons licence development, cc Version 3.0 and Creative Commons’ WIPO strategy";

b) Create! workshops, – "result(ing) in a key group of people working on localizing creative hubs for different communities around the world".

Day 2:

a) Music, video and multimedia: the cultural commons – "this workshop will introduce a variety of new approaches to the cultural commons from both the community and commercial sectors. The speakers all represent pioneers in their sectors – experimenting with new methods of distributing music, video and multimedia and connecting with participants of a new digital age."

b) Frameworks for open science – "this workshop will introduce Science Commons projects, as well as the experiences of 3 practitioners from South America, Africa and Europe who have been engaged in open access initiatives in their communities. The outcome of this interactive workshop will be a framework for implementing an open access strategy at a university."

c) The enterprise commons – "the enterprise commons workshop explores innovative business models that employ some form of open or accessible content in the digital environment, and proposes projects that build on the ideals of enabling creators to sustain their work."

d) Expanding the ‘glocal’: Translations, cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge  "how does open content licencing fit with the challenges of both protecting and ensuring the distribution and access of indigenous knowledge? How do we build a commons that builds on the past and encourages communication between cultures around the world? This workshop will introduce and provide some solutions to these challenges, encouraging participants to think of their own solutions to challenges faced by developing and small nations."

In short, presentations of projects and initiatives by people who work in the fields of music & arts, science & technology, businesses as well as socio-cultural heritage & anthropology. These presentations were meant to initiate discussions through the Q & A session.

Day 3:

a) The education commons – "kicked off by MIT’s Open Courseware initiative, Universities around the world have started creating online learning resources that are available free of charge to anyone with an internet connection. Secondary and primary education initiatives are also using the combination of online learning technology with a Creative Commons approach to ownership and sharing to increase affordable access to education – especially in developing countries. However, while opening up learning materials is a step in the right direction, it marks the beginning of a journey towards the education environment of the future. This session undertakes an informed speculation on what this future could look like, and mention some of the key issues that need to be addressed along the way."

b) The public sector commons & building the national public domains – "from studies on the use of Creative Commons licences in the UK public sector, to Creative Commons and its role in the access to Australian government materials, to public domain digitisation projects, and larger views of the role of the Commons in the public sector, this session presents the views of researchers, practitioners and policy-developers in an area that is becoming critical to the success of the Commons at both a national and international level."

At the last hour from 6-7pm, there are smaller group discussions by different leads who bring up particular topics, such as "building an Asian Commons community", and around particular projects and initiatives, such as "Moving 600 authors to the Commons: The Open Democracry Story". If I am not mistaken, these discussions have a common template of points to raise and think about for those present, such as "project name", "points of success", "challenges & problems".

The summit also produced at morning of the last day, three "declarations" around the issues of Open Access (, Digital Rights Management ( & the Proposed WIPO Treaty on The Rights of Broadcasters ( These are up on a wiki, and the Open Access declaration is open for comments until 13th July 2006. I was not able to attend the final session, so I am unsure where the declarations will be taken to. Andrew Garton will have more information on this.

APC staff and members presented were Andrew Garton (c2o & Open Channel), who presented at the Cultural Commons workshop & is also one of the contributors to the iSummit coverage site, Julián Casasbuenas (Colnodo), Clio Bugel, who is writing a newsletter about the event, and Jac sm Kee.

iCommons site:

iSummit 2006 Coverage site:

openDemocracy coverage:


2) Reflections (quite a long post, feel free to skip)

I will try to be brief about this. I came to the summit with uncertain expectations, having arrived from the Asia Commons experience, where the only ‘common’ outcome was that there was no common acceptance, understanding or strategic application of the concept of ‘commons’. Nonetheless, a lot of collaborative and political initiatives were being formed, and debates around the epistemological grounding and relevance of ‘commons’ as a concept, as well as strategies to counter the current IP regime was something I participated a lot in.

In some ways, I expected iSummit to be an extension of this, except with wider regional diversity and different kinds of issues thrown in. What I did not expect was something akin to an ‘organisational meeting’ with all themes and issues anchored to Creative Commons (CC), a non-profit organisation that works on creating licences that enable producers of information to grant some of their rights as authors to the public. Being someone who is unclear of APC’s working relationship with CC (I later find out from Andrew Garton that basically all of APC’s website are licenced under CC, replacing the old copyleft licence that actually a software licence.. is that the only one?), as well as a wary implementer and recommender of CC licences in my own work (see last paragraph), I felt a little like an agnostic in a cult.

All the sessions centred around CC’s strategies, affiliations, best practices, champions and incubator projects. It was hard for me to see where the opening for a non-CCer (or ‘Commoner’, as the term was increasingly used) but an advocate for freedoms of expression & information like me could fit in. Even participation to WIPO was presented as something along the lines of "CC has been invited as an official observer of the meetings. You should come too!" as though it is a novel idea and strategy that has not been implemented by others prior to CC’s engagement. It was a little odd. CC was presented as an invaluable stakeholder in the IPR field because it worked within the framework of IPR that not only looks at the protection of creator’s rights, but also has the capacity to enable content sharing and access by the public. Unlike AsiaCommons, where the whole concept of public domain, commons etc. was debated and problematised, here, intellectual property rights is assumed as a non-problematic thing, necessary for motivating creative content. As such, CC is being heralded as a good alternative, workable solution, because it works within that framework.

There were some visible proponents of collaborative content producers (e.g. the founder of Wikipedia) and advocates of Open Access and copyleft who presented in the sessions. Due to time limitations, some of the more difficult questions raised by participants were not fully engaged with. Notably, WIPO’s director of copyright e-commerce mentioned about the 110 proposals set down for the Development Agenda, but didn’t (couldn’t?) respond to the question of WIPO’s stand that impact assessment on treaties (e.g. Broadcast Treaty) as being unnecessary since no such research were conducted for previous treaties like TRIPS. International policy advocacy platforms that were mentioned included WIPO’s Development Agenda; APEC on IP; UNESCO and their work on heritage and culture; WHO and their efforts on medicines and patents; DOHA in TRIPS; US FTAs with different countries and their obnoxious IP chapter; advocacy on national levels to bring up issues in WIPO negotiations..

Niva Elkin Korel from the University of Haifa, Israel was a very brave woman to openly interrogate some of CC’s impact on creators/producers of information at a keynote panel. She reminded everyone that CC is at the end of the day, a licence, which is a legal tool. Although it has been greatly effective in educating the public about IPR issues, and also for enabling creators to share their content, it also normalises licencing and the legalisation of information to everyone who produces information (I will add, the concept of ownership & property to all aspects of creation). She then calls for CC to have a firmer principled stand on its politics and what kinds of freedoms it stands for, and to see if this matches up with the kinds of licences it is offering and the impact of them. She was not engaged with, and in fact was mostly misconstrued and asked in a (what I thought to be unneccessarily) hostile way, if she would agree to someone else chopping up her work and changing the meanings (which is really not the point of her presentation).

When she was speaking, I felt that the discussion was finally opened up from evincing success purely on the basis of applications to the ethics, politics and political impact of CC. But I was disappointed in the response. This was blown over with platitudes like "we don’t prescribe what freedoms people should have", "we are humble", "we make mistakes". The fact is, CC is prescribing particular kinds of freedoms, such as the freedom of individual choice (through prioritising creator’s rights to choose how to dispense with their information) and the four ways in which it can happen, and as explained by Niva, with significant impact on social norms. Its widespread and increasing use by online communities from all over the world is precisely why these are important issues to be engaged with more adequately.

Another thing I felt disturbed with was the lack of discussion on the unequal access and impact of ‘sharing’ that was bandied about as though it was self-explainatory. Although the point of carefulness that needs to attend concepts of cultural sharing, particularly in post-colonial realities (notably by Eric Kansa of Alexandria Archive & Nhlanhla Mabaso from CSIR, South Africa), this was minimally engaged with. The thrust was still an almost ‘trade-show’ like demonstration of how CC can enable sharing, and have potential for financial sustainability through various projects and initiatives. This is a serious question, and one that took up a substantive amount of efforts and time in discussions and follow-up initiatives for AsiaCommons. In this event, I almost felt sorry for the presenters for the lack of engagement. A notable amount of the ‘cool’ projects were also presented by ‘Commoners’ from developed countries, which didn’t help my discomfort.

I am also wondering about the appropriation of concepts related to ‘sharing’ and ‘commons’ by the branding strategies of CC. This is something I have to think about more, but what really struck me was when I could not use the term ‘commons’ without it implying that I was speaking about CC and its affiliates/derivatives. I think this possible impact of presenting CC as the ‘only alternative’ to current IPR needs to be taken with care. Niva mentioned that CC’s impact of raising awareness on IPRs to many content producers is interesting in that it creates a situation where individuals can write their own laws around IPR. But the branding strategy doesn’t really lead to that, especially with iCommons (which as far as I can tell, is different from CC the licence, and is around building a global community of creators that use CC or strategise around it somehow through ‘nodes’ – not sure what that means. On the website: "iCommons, which oversees the internationalization of the Creative Commons Idea". Note: Heather Ford I think has been nominated as the Chair for this initiative at the last session, which I missed most of).

Lawrence Liang told me at Asia Source, FOSS Tech Camp in Bangalore 2005, that I should just write my own copyleft licence instead of using CC. He mentioned the potential ‘McDonaldisation’ (this is probably something I coined in my head later since the conversation was over a year ago) of Open Access and copyleft concepts if CC is seen to be the only alternative. I have to say I agree. I also got irritated by the naming of CC as a ‘movement’ instead of an ‘organisation’. I really wanted to know what are the characteristics that constitute CC as a movement when the politics behind it seem to be obscure and apologetic at best.

I realise that I am being a bit harsh. In a lot of ways, I can see how the application of CC and its initiatives are doing really cool stuff. Some of the projects shown were truly inspiring, like Trama internet music company in Brazil, that also has public education tours universities across the country about CC. I just wish they would bite the bullet and be more clear about what they stand for, surface its contradictions and complexities for self-interrogation (maybe the impact assessment that was called for WIPO ) and be more ‘open’. Although there were three declarations suddenly sprung upon participants on the last day, the whole experience of the iSummit left me wanting to question and question its legitimacy. Maybe I have somehow missed out on these discussions, or maybe a lot of the assumptions sailed by me because I am new to the issue of Open Access etc., or maybe it is because it was only 3 days, lots of people are enthusiastic about the success off CC, and are impatient to collaborate with each other on newer and cooler projects. But I do think that the bigger you get, the more accountable you have to be for what it is that you do.

Sorry that this is not really brief as promised. I really tried!


3) Glossary Break (not all terms used in the reflections, but terms that were in constant circulation at the event)

1) free culture – a social movement that promotes the free distribution of creative works on the Internet as well as other mediums, and objects to overly restrictive copyright laws, which members of the movement argue, hinder creativity. Closely associated are FOSS movement and CC organisation.

2) commons – Public property, or property that can be enjoyed and must be maintained by a community and upon which no restriction or rights can be applied other than for public interest

3) digital commons – Digital property in the public domain, especially intellectual property, when expressed and reproduced using digital formats.

4) public domain – Body of knowledge and innovation (especially creative works such as writing, art, music, and inventions) in relation to which no person or other legal entity can establish or maintain proprietary interests within a particular legal jurisdiction (usually through copyright or patents). This body of information is considered to be part of a common cultural and intellectual heritage, which, in general, anyone may use or exploit, whether for commercial or non-commercial purposes. When a work’s copyright or patent restrictions expire, it enters the public domain and may be used by anyone for any purpose.

5) copyright – A set of exclusive rights granted by governments to regulate the use of a particular expression of an idea or information. At its most general, it is literally "the right to copy" an original creation. In most cases, these rights are of limited duration. The symbol for copyright is ©, and in some jurisdictions may alternately be written ©. Copyright covers only the particular form or manner in which ideas or information have been manifested, the "form of material expression". E.g. the copyright of Mickey Mouse prohibits unauthorized parties from distributing copies of the cartoon or creating derivative works which mimic Disney’s particular anthropomorphic mouse, but does not prohibit the creation of artistic works about anthropomorphic mice in general, so long as they are sufficiently different.

6) patent – A set of exclusive rights granted by a state to a person for a fixed period of time in exchange for the regulated, public disclosure of certain details of a device, method, process or composition of matter (substance) (known as an invention) which is new, inventive, and useful or industrially applicable.

7) sharing – The joint use of a resource.

8) creative commons – A non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative work available for others legally to build upon and share.

9) open access – The free online availability of digital content, best-known for open publishing of academic/scientific journals.

10) access to knowledge – The Access to Knowledge movement (also known as "A2K") is a loose collection of civil society groups, governments, and individuals who seek to link access to knowledge to fundamental principles of justice, freedom, and economic development. The goals of Access to Knowledge are embodied in a draft treaty, emerging from a call from Brazil and Argentina for a development agenda for the World Intellectual Property Organization. The treaty is intended to ease the transfer of knowledge to developing nations, and to secure the viability of open innovation systems all over the world. Proposal can be found here:

11) TRIPS – The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) is an international treaty administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which sets down minimum standards for most forms of intellectual property (IP) regulation within all member countries of the World Trade Organization. It was negotiated at the end of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) treaty in 1994.

12) DRM – Digital Rights Management or DRM (also called Digital Restrictions Management by critics such as Richard Stallman1) is an umbrella term for any of several technologies used to enforce pre-defined policies for controlling access to digital data (such as software, music, movies) and hardware. In more technical terms, DRM handles the description, layering, analysis, valuation, trading, monitoring and enforcement of usage restrictions that accompany a specific instance of a digital work.

13) remix culture – A term employed by Lawrence Lessig to describe a society which allows and encourages derivative works.

14) cult – A cohesive group of people devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream. Its separate status may come about either due to its novel belief system, because of its idiosyncratic practices or because it opposes the interests of the mainstream culture. Religious or non-religious groups may display cult-like characteristics. (okay, this is a little joke…)