Enabling a Participatory Culture using Creative Commons Licenses | Beth's Blog

Enabling a Participatory Culture using Creative Commons Licenses

Digital Strategy

Photo by Pratham Books: Snapshots from Bookaroo 2010 : Children's Literature Festival

Note from Beth: Lately, a question on my mind is whether or not the concept of Networked Nonprofits is a global one as I’ve had the opportunity to share some of the ideas beyond the US borders in Kenya and UK.    I think Pratham Books, an NGO in India,  is a networked nonprofit.  I first discovered the organization about a year ago when I taught some workshops in India.

Subsequently,  I invited Gautam John who works with Pratham Books to write a guest post about their social publishing strategy where he briefly touched upon their  use of Creative Commons licenses.  In this post, shares more about how his organization uses Creative Commons licenses and why he thinks it is important for your organization to consider it too.

Like my friend Gautam John,  I’ve been an advocate and donor to Creative Commons. Why not join the campaign for creativity and innovation by supporting Creative Commons?

Enabling a Participatory Culture using Creative Commons Licenses  by Gautam John

Pratham Books is a non-profit children’s book publisher based in India and our mission, while simple, is also rather audacious – “A Book in Every Child’s Hand”. Being both a non-profit and a small one at that, has its own downsides – of limited time, money and resources. However, being a non-profit also allows for something very powerful – a community call to action around a cause, in this case that of reading. In a sense, our mission has two parts, one is to create more reading matter such that there is more available for children to read and the second really is a corollary – that we need to be inclusive in our reach; to get books to those children and geographies that need it the most and that the books need to be culturally and linguistically relevant as well.

This is where our challenge lies – to massively scale the production of high quality, low-cost children’s books for a massively multi-lingual and multi-cultural market. Looking at this challenge it is fairly obvious that this is not a problem that any one organization can solve. The solution has to be scalable, flexible and catalyse our fundamental mission as well.

At this point, we realised that there were several internal questions to answer and some of them painfully introspective. Questions as to whether the books we create and distribute have to be a Pratham Book, whether it implied that every book must be paid for by either the reader or an intermediary and, from being a publisher, questions as to whether we are gatekeepers of content or content curators, how we could create infinite good with finite time and resources and most importantly, how we can create more value than we capture?

Having answered most of these questions using “openness” (whereby, we asked ourselves whether allowing unrestricted access to use and re-use our content furthered our mission) as a test and finding that it did fit our mission, the second set of questions to answer was more technical – how, as a small non-profit, do we do this and not find ourselves overwhelmed. It was at this point that we had a moment of realization – that reading is an extremely social activity and that there are communities and organizations who were more than ready to help us achieve our goals.

Creative Commons to the rescue

It was at this juncture that we hit upon the Creative Commons licensing model as one that would help us achieve many of our aims of flexibility, scalability and being able to help catalyse our mission of a book in every child’s hands. In particular, three things stood out – a shared value system of sharing and openness, a community that was deeply embedded in these ideals and, from our perspective, it was scalable because it allowed us to license content to multiple organizations and individuals, both known and unknown, with a one time effort of releasing them under a Creative Commons license as opposed to the traditional model which involves time consuming negotiations and discussions with each known organization or individual who wants to use our content.

As an organization, we did spend some time choosing a license and, from our perspective, a choice between openness and sharing which reduced to a choice between the Attribution and Attribution-Share-Alike license. Given that our goal was being as open as possible, it followed that our license choices were essentially around licenses that allowed for the greatest possible use and re-use because our initial hypothesis was, and continues to be, that being open allows us to fulfil our mission better than a traditional copyright model allows.

We now use Creative Commons licenses everywhere! We license entire books under CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses, we license our illustrations similarly and even photographs and other publicity material too. Over the last year we have been building the foundations for a social publishing model – where we curate communities that are passionate about reading and help us create content. Such a model rests on the idea of a participatory culture and an essential ingredient is a permissive licensing strategy – Creative Commons licenses offers us this, a large community with shared values and an ecosystem to tap in to.


While this licensing and publishing model works well in theory, it has been extremely heartening for us to see it come to life – our communities have created multiple derivative works ranging from iPad and iPhone applications, to porting our works to OLPC laptops, to creating entirely new books from existing illustrations, creating community translations of books we couldn’t otherwise do and, my personal favourite, creating versions of our books for the print impaired – from DAISY and Braille books to rich audio books such that our mission truly does encompass every single child.

We have now now released 100 more children’s books (in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi and Gujarati) as well as the illustrations from these books under a CC-BY license.

I firmly believe that we would not have been able to achieve what success we have had without the help of Creative Commons licensing. These licenses and the values that they stand for are vital to building and strengthening a digital commons from which we all benefit. I hope you will consider supporting Creative Commons and licensing content that you own or control such that we all benefit from the growth of the commons.

Crossposted at the Creative Commons Weblog.


Gautam John is a lawyer with a focus on copyright laws. He has also been an entrepreneur, worked as a small wheel in the cogs of a large company and now works with two non-profits, Akshara Foundation, in the primary education space and Pratham Books, in the children’s publishing space. He is passionate about education, equality and equity and focuses on ‘access’ as a way to achieve these. Gautam was a TEDIndia Fellow in 2009, is part of efforts to set up a Wikimedia India Chapter and a Creative Commons supporter.


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  1. […] Enabling a Participatory Culture using Creative Commons Licenses | Beth’s Blog A blog post where the author invited Gautam John, who works with Pratham Books, to write a guest post about their social publishing strategy where he briefly touched upon their use of Creative Commons licenses. In this post, shares more about how his organization uses Creative Commons licenses and why he thinks it is important for your organization to consider it  […]

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