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Commoner Letter #5 – Mike Shaver


My name is Mike Shaver, and I’m proud to consider myself a Commoner. I work as the Chief Evangelist at the Mozilla Corporation, a part of the Mozilla Foundation chartered to oversee a project I helped found a decade ago. Mozilla produces world-class open source software, most notably the Firefox web browser, but we also produce something else: a participatory and transparent culture of creation. In many ways, this is even more important to us than the actual product itself, because it’s what makes the software and a whole lot of innovation possible in the first place.

When we began the Mozilla project, one of the first tasks that we faced was to determine the license we would use for our software, which is to say that we needed to establish the terms under which we, as a project, would build upon each other’s work. This was not a trivial task, as we wanted to make sure that the code we produced could be combined with proprietary code, while still requiring that changes to our code were made available for others to build on. We were very fortunate to have Mitchell Baker in charge of the process, and since then the Mozilla Public License and very similar derivatives have been used on hundreds of open source projects. Mitchell was able to create a tool for making open source happen, in addition to meeting our own project’s needs, and it’s been great to see that work help others in sharing their code.

Similarly, Creative Commons has produced a set of licenses that helps not only software developers, but photographers, musicians, authors, bloggers, videographers, poets, DJs, painters , documenters, and journalists. This means that anyone who produces a creative work, which is virtually everyone on the planet, can share their work in ways that they choose. CC recognizes that different creators have different needs and expectations, and provides a set of clear and meaningful choices based on legal expertise and pragmatism. That is a monumental achievement, given the complexities of copyright law, and a tremendous contribution to the intellectual and artistic growth of the world.

The Web has been successful in part because people are able to share and learn from each other. Unfortunately, people had to individually learn and understand the interactions of copyright law and their desired uses in order to effectively and legally build on each other’s work. Creative Commons has changed the game forever, and more people than ever before understand their options as creators, the value of contributing to a commons, and the power of building on each other’s work. Even as legislators and industry lobbyists work to erode fair use and other critical rights, CC demonstrates that copyright can be used to promote dialogue and shared goals, not just restrict and confine.

Mozilla is a proud supporter of Creative Commons, and we’re glad to have them as an ally. The Web and the world are much better for their leadership and vision.

Posted 17 December 2007