Creative Commons Developing Nations License

Creative Commons has released a “developing nations” license. It’s a simple solution to a complex problem – how does a publisher monetize her content in nations where it’s reasonable to sell it for a profit, but offer it with fewer restrictions in a market where she won’t see measurable revenues for many years to come? The new license allows a creator to license her works “attribution only” to people in developing nations. The legalese behind the license defines developing nations as follows:

“Developing Nation” means any nation that is not classified as a “high-income enconomy” by the World Bank.

(I assume that “enconomy” is a typo and will be fixed in a future revision. That, or I’m really behind in recent developments in the field of enconomics and should make an effort to catch up.)

My trusty World Bank Development Indicators 2002 tells me that only 52 nations are classified as “high-income”. That means the license allows non-royalty use of content in such poor countries as Saudia Arabia, South Korea and Argentina. Overall, the license applies to countries that house at least 5 billion of the people on the planet.

But I’m quibbling. And quibbling aside, this is a very good thing. I think it will have less of an impact on individuals choosing whether or not to release content under CC licenses as it will on large publishers. I’ve spoken to a number of publishers in the tech industry who realize that they’re unlikely to make money off the Armenian or Mongolian language version of their books any time soon. (Yes, there are lots and lots of people in both Mongolia and Armenia interested in tech books.) This license allows a geek in Mongolia to translate an O’Reilly book into Mongolian and sell it locally, probably the only way these books will get localized into certain languages in the near future.

O’Reilly is noteable because they’ve already stepped up and released many of their titles as “open books”. (They’ve also been tremendously generous to organizations like Geekcorps, donating piles of returned titles for use in developing nations.) It would be very interesting to see O’Reilly or other innovative publishers start using the Developing Nations license for the bulk of their catalog. There’s understandable concern about reimportation of digital texts… but there’s also an amazing social benefit to having this content available in markets where it’s not otherwise profitable to produce it.

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