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Doc Searls and others have been writing about Vendor Relationship Management — infrastructure facilitating relationships where the customer is the vendor’s equal, contra Customer Relationship Management.

Searls’ most recent essay on VRM, Building an Relationship Economy, says that Creative Commons licenses have a role to play:

Let’s ignore the record companies for a minute. Instead, lets look behind them, back up the supply chain, to the first sources of music: the artists. Part of the system we need is already built for these sources, through Creative Commons. By this system, creative sources can choose licenses that specify the freedoms carried by their work, and also specify what can and cannot be done with that work. These licenses are readable by machines as well as by lawyers. That’s a great start on the supply side.

Now let’s look at the same work from the demand side. What can we do — as music lovers, or as customers — to find, use, and even pay for, licensed work? Some mechanisms are there, but nothing yet that is entirely in our control — that reciprocates and engages on the demand side what Creative Commons provides on the supply side.

Yes, we can go to websites, subscribe to music services, use iTunes or other supply-controlled intermediating systems and deal with artists inside those systems. But there still isn’t anything that allows us to deal directly, on our own terms, with artists and their intermediaries. Put another way, we don’t yet have the personal means for establishing relationships with artists.

Although Creative Commons licenses by themselves don’t by themselves enable relationships, we’re very interested in helping to create infrastructure that complements CC licensing and does facilitate relationships between artists and consumers — often one entity is both — and other roles, e.g., commercial user, patron, remixer, tastemaker — the same.

On the technology side we’re exploring protocols and applications that could be among the building blocks for media-oriented VRM. Machine readable licenses have been a hallmark of CC from the beginning. Things we’ve done to build on this vision have included creating tools to visualize and search licensend content, a that includes a , a protocol for embedding metadata such that the creator can be found even when media files are shared via P2P, CC Labs projects for machine readable attribution and complementary commerce metadata, and specifications for including .

How can Creative Commons help fulfill the VRM vision and vice versa? enabling ccHost and encouraging the many curators and repositories of CC licensed media to adopt advanced metadata and OpenID are no-brainers. (User-controlled identity plays a big role in VRM, and one can easily see it playing a big role in helping creators manage creative assets and creative relationships across many sites, rather than only within individual silos.)

Next week as we refresh our developer challenges leading into the Google Summer of Code 2007 application process, we’ll be keeping these opportunities in mind. VRM thinkers, keep in mind the role CC licenses and technologies can play in VRM and give us .

Posted 15 February 2007