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State of the Commons

Collaboration, sharing, and cooperation are a driving force for human evolution. Creative Commoners have known this fact all along, and recently there has been a flurry of new research to explain why. We are hardwired for sharing. Harvard professor on evolutionary dynamics Martin Nowak calls it the essential “snuggle for survival” – evidence that sharing is not just a selfless act. Sharing has concurrent and lasting benefits, multiplied for the giver, the receiver, and communities at large.

The online communities that we’ve created together are a global platform for sharing. If we want to live in a digital world that is fair, diverse, vibrant, serendipitous, and safe for everyone, we will have to choose to make it that way. If that world is going to be accessible, equitable, and full of innovation and opportunity, it will require our leadership to foster and defend these ideals. Founded in 2001, Creative Commons has created legal and technical infrastructure that is fundamental to the Web we know and love. Today, our work goes beyond the ubiquitous CC licenses to foster cooperation and sharing, support collaborative communities, and drive engagement across the spectrum of open knowledge and free culture.

Creative Commons is a global charity, with an powerful affiliate network of researchers, activists, legal, education and policy advocates, and volunteers who serve as CC representatives in over 85 countries. Together, we lead this ever-growing global movement. Whether it’s open education, open data, science, research, music, video, photography, or public policy, we are putting sharing and collaboration at the heart of the Web. In doing so, we are much closer to realizing our vision: unlocking the full potential of the Internet to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

I am proud to share with you our 2015 State of the Commons report, our best effort to measure the immeasurable scope of the commons by looking at the CC licensed content, along with content marked as public domain, that comprise the slice of the commons powered by CC tools. We are proud to be a leader in the commons movement, and we hope you will join us as we celebrate all we have accomplished together this year.

Ryan Merkley
CEO, Creative Commons

Wow! Over 1 billion CC licensed works in the Commons in 2015

CC licensed works have nearly tripled in the last 5 years.

Total licensed works Year
140 million 2006
400 million 2010
882 million 2014
1.1 billion 2015

CC and its suite of licenses are the global standard for legal sharing, embedded in major content platforms from Wikimedia to Europeana, and adopted by foundations and governments from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the White House.

Note: Data includes content licensed with the full CC license suite, along with content marked with CC public domain tools. This is a low bound estimate based on what we could count. Dig into our data sources.

More people are choosing to share with “Free Culture” licenses

License/tool Percentage of works Free Culture License?
CC0, Public Domain Mark + retired PD tool 3% Yes
CC Attribution (CC BY) 24% Yes
CC Attribution ShareAlike (CC BY SA) 37% Yes
CC Attributon NoDerivs (CC BY ND) 2% No
CC Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY NC) 6% No
CC Attribution Non Commercial ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) 14% No
CC Attribution Non Commercial NoDerivs (CC BY NC ND) 14% No

From more open to more restrictive – less restrictive FREE CULTURE licenses allow for both commercial use and adaptations.

Note: Data includes content licensed with the full CC license suite and marked with our public domain tools. Dig into our data sources.

The CC marked public domain has nearly doubled in size over the last 12 months

Year Retired PD tool PDM CC0 Total
2006 3.2 mill. - - 3.2 mill.
2014 5.7 mill. 1.5 mill. 10.3 mill. 17.5 mill.
2015 10 mill. 2.6 mill. 22.3 mill. 34.9 mill.

Note: Data includes content under the CC0 public domain dedication and Public Domain Mark, but not unmarked material in the public domain. Dig into our data sources.

In 2015, CC licensed works were viewed online

136 billion times

= 1 Billion

CC licensed work is retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed in infinite ways. We captured just a slice of this massively distributed collaboration by measuring the number of times CC licensed work gets accessed from the global pool of content.

Note: Data tracks downloads on CC license buttons, or the number of times CC licensed content was viewed on a web page. Dig into our data sources.

Diversity and global visibility

Creative Commons is a truly international movement with active communities on every continent (yes, even Antarctica). A significant milestone was the 2013 launch of Version 4.0 and CC’s first official translation policy for internationalizing the license suite. To date, the 4.0 license suite has been officially translated into 7 languages, with 3 more to be published in 2015.

People are sharing with CC licenses in 34 languages with more than 90 million views of CC’s deeds in the last 10 years.

(العربية) (Arabic)
беларускі (Belarusian)
Català (Catalan)
中国 (Chinese*)
hrvatski (Croatian)
čeština (Czech)
danske (Danish)
Nederlands (Dutch)
English (English*)
Esperanton (Esperanto)
suomi (Finnish)
français (French*)
galego (Galician)
Deutsche (German*)
ελληνικά (Greek)
Magyar (Hungarian)
bahasa Indones (Indonesian)
italiano (Italian)
日本語 (Japanese)
한국어 (Korean)
Latvijā (Latvian)
Lietuvos (Lithuanian)
Melayu (Malay)
te reo Maori (Maori)
norsk (Norwegian)
فارسي (Persian/Farsi)
polski (Polish)
português (Portuguese)
Română (Romanian)
Русский (Russian)
Español (Spanish*)
svenska (Swedish)
Türk (Turkish)
Український (Ukrainian)

Note: Data reflects total views of CC deed pages from Jan 1, 2005 through Nov 3, 2015. * Category includes variations on that language for simplicity, eg. Chinese includes simplified and traditional Chinese. Dig into our data sources.

From research to cute cat photos, the Commons offers a treasure trove of content.

Content type Number of works
Images (photos, artworks) 391 million
Open Educational Resources 76,000
Research (journal articles) 1.4 million
Audio tracks 4 million
Videos 18.4 million
Texts (articles, stories, documents) 46.9 million
Other (multimedia, 3D) 23,000

Note: Data only reflects media on 16 platforms + Directory of Open Access Journals, just a slice of all available CC media on the web. Dig into our data sources.

CC is everywhere:
Millions of websites use CC licenses, including major platforms like Wikipedia and Flickr and smaller websites like your grandma’s blog.

Platform Number of works in the commons
Flickr 356 million photos
Bandcamp 1.95 million tracks
Wikipedia 35.9 million articles
YouTube 13 million videos
Jamendo 496,000 tracks
500px 661,000 photos
Vimeo 5 million videos
Internet Archive 2 million files
FMA 86,000 tracks
Wikimedia Commons 21.6 million media files
Tribe of Noise 29,000 tracks
PLOS 140,000 articles*
Europeana 20.9 million digital objects
Skills Commons 24,000 career training materials
Boundless 49,000 open educational resources
MIT opencourseware 2,300 courses

(* Total Open Access articles across the web under CC BY, 675,000; under any CC license 1.3 million)

In 2015, more platforms added CC license options for their users, including Medium and edX, with Flickr adding support for CC0 and the Public Domain Mark. Expect growth on these platforms in 2016.

…and many more!

Note: Data reflects total CC licensed works on each platform, only 16 websites out of millions. Dig into our data sources.

2015 Impact:
CC + Open Education

CC is at the very heart of the open education movement; our licenses put the “open” in Open Educational Resources (OER). CC and our open education partners are leading an international OER campaign to make it easy for educators and students around the world to freely share curriculum, textbooks and research at near zero cost. CC is also helping governments add open licensing requirements on publicly funded educational resources.

Countries with Open Education Policies

Countries with legislation, policies, or funder mandates at the national, provincial/state, or institutional level that lead to the creation, increased use, or support for improving OER.

Argentina, Australia, Canada, European
    Union, India, Indonesia, Slovenia, Mauritius, Slovak Republic,
    Netherlands South Africa, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Poland,
    Romania, Scotland, United States, Uruguay and Wales have legislation,
    policies, or funder mandates at the national, provincial/state, or
    institutional level that lead to the creation, increased use, or
    support for improving OER.

Open Textbooks have saved students

$174 Million to date

with an additional $53 million projected through academic year 2015/16

Note: *European Union is a collection of member states but included in this country list for reporting purposes; Data reflects savings for students in Canada and the United States; Data provided by the open education community. Dig into our data sources.

2015 Impact:
CC + Foundation Open Policy

CC continues to lead the way in advocating for major philanthropic foundations to adopt open licensing policies. Foundations can exponentially expand the impact and reach of their grantmaking through a “default open” policy that ensures that all grantees openly license any digital outputs of their work, an important shift that has a tremendous ripple effect.

In 2015, the following major foundations adopted open policies:

These foundations set their default to open from closed, collectively granting approximately $1.9 billion in 2015.

2015 Impact:
CC + Cultural Heritage

Creative Commons has fundamentally changed the way the world can share, use, and preserve our cultural heritage now and generations to come.

Museums and cultural institutions are choosing to share every day.

Over 50 cultural institutions have made their permanent collections or records available for unrestricted use around the world under CC licenses or public domain tools, including:

Rijks Museum

Brooklyn Museum


York Museums Trust

The Art Walters Museum


SMK (National Gallery of Denmark)

Thanks to CC’s public domain tools, digital images of outer space are made freely accessible and more broadly available to the public than ever before.

A collaboration with NASA, the Project Apollo Archive makes available thousands of images of the iconic Apollo moon missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s under the Public Domain Mark.
SpaceX, a private corporation, dedicates its photos to the public domain using CC0.

#FREEBASSEL: Lead of Creative Commons Syria, Bassel Khartabil is a key contributor to projects that digitize, preserve, and share cultural heritage. He has been illegally imprisoned in Syria since March 2012. CC and its Board of Directors continue to call for Bassel’s immediate and safe release.

Building on his invaluable contributions to the commons, Bassel’s #NEWPALMYRA project features the 3D models of the ancient ruins of Palmyra, one of Syria’s greatest archaeological treasures. The online community platform and data repository is dedicated to the preservation and creative reuse of data about Palmyra.

2015 Impact:
Regional Highlights

Creative Commons Affiliate Network includes over 500 researchers, activists, legal, education and policy advocates, and volunteers who serve as CC representatives in over 85 countries. Working alongside non-governmental institutions, universities, and public agencies, CC affiliates employ region-specific approaches to copyright and intellectual property that help solve local and global challenges. CC affiliates impact the growth and quality of the commons across all sectors from education, science, and research, to cultural heritage, data, design, and hardware.

Middle East and North Africa




North America

Latin America

Thank You For Sharing!

Thank You For Sharing

It’s been a remarkable year, most notably for the more than 1.1 billion works under one of the CC licenses, CC0, or the public domain mark. CC licenses offer an elegant solution; a release valve to the constraints of copyright. But it’s much bigger than that: Creative Commons has become a steward of our global commons, a universe of openly-licensed content that has the power to spark everyday ideas and solve global challenges. We’ve unlocked the door to an alternate reality of free and open content, powered by millions of creators who share our values.

But the key challenge facing the commons today isn’t quantity – it’s usability, vibrancy, and collaboration. Today’s web is social and interconnected, and it has completely changed the way we share, tell stories, and build communities. While integral to many kinds of creativity and sharing, Creative Commons has yet to fully activate the content and creators in our movement. We need our contributors to be able to talk to each other, find new content, give feedback, offer gratitude, get analytics, and build networks around the content they are creating. We need to light up the global commons.

We hope you’ll join us and help build a more creative, free, and open commons. Together we’ll be much closer to realizing our vision: unlocking the full potential of the Internet to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

Thank you to our Creative Commons Affiliate Network who work tirelessly everyday to protect and enrich the commons. We also owe our thanks to Google and the many CC platforms, partners, institutions, and individuals from the broader open web community who contributed the essential data and information for this report. Simply put, our 2015 State of the Commons report would not be possible without your valuable contributions. Thank you!

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