A commons key is a financial contribution that funds creative work in a way that benefits everyone, not only the contributor.
In a 2019 article, Tim Carmody named this model of funding creative work “unlocking the commons” and described it as: “Fans support the person and the work. But it’s not a transaction, a fee for service. It’s a contribution that benefits everyone. Free-riders aren’t just welcome; free-riding is the point.”
Here, we define the name commons key to describe the contribution that benefits everyone.
The Commons Key Mark
Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Download assets
Next, we define the three kinds of common benefits that can be unlocked by Commons Keys.
1. Common Access
Common Access contributions unlock free access to creative work for everyone.
- membership fees for a website or newsletter unlock free access to the content for everyone.
2. Common Copies
Common Copies contributions unlock free copies of a creative work for everyone.
Example: purchases of physical book unlock free ebook downloads for everyone.
3. Common Use
Common Use contributions unlock free use of a creative work for everyone.
Example: purchases of an art print unlock the art itself into the public domain.
For a purchase or contribution to be a Commons Key, it must meet these two requirements.
1. Unlock at least one Common Benefit
A purchase or contribution might offer other benefits, and might give contributors additional benefits, but it must unlock at least one Common Benefit.
2. The benefit must be unlocked universally (free for everyone)
The Common Benefit must be unlocked for everyone, without preconditions. Common Access can't require an account, for instance. Common Copies downloads can't require sharing an email address.
It’s OK if:
- Contributors are given additional benefits
- The unlocked creative work continues to be sold, as long it also continues to be free (name your own price)
- Contributors are given additional benefits
- The benefits only become free after a certain goal is reached (crowdfunding)
- Cheap duplication of information products (cheap to scale a website, offer ebook downloads, etc)
- Up front funding or subscription funding give creators reliable compensation
- Buy a physical piece of art that releases art into the public domain, downloads
- Membership that enables membership benefits to extend to everyone
- Buy a book that releases free ebook
- Buy a CD that makes downloads free
- Small cost of distribution
Some key points:
Examples of common key purchases: Examples: Creative work: music Purchase: buy a vinyl record Key: if
Examples: Music. Books Journalism Newsletters Podcasts TV and Film
Attributes of project that might fit
- Releases a free copy of itself
- Releases part of all of work into public domain Physical item Membership
https://www.patreon.com/tcarmody “The most economically powerful thing you can do is to buy something for your own enjoyment that also improves the world.”
https://kottke.org/members/ Kottke.org membership model Some:many (a few people fund the work, which is released to everyone) Common Access (paid membership keeps site free for all visitors) Contributors pay membership fee ($30/year), keeps the site free Some benefits accrue only to contributors
https://www.robinsloan.com/books/annabel-scheme-serial/ Robin Sloan, book Annabel Scheme and the Adventure of the New Golden Gate Some:many Common Copies Contributors paid $9 each to buy a digital edition for themselves, unlock web version for everyone Some benefits accrue only to contributors
https://craigmod.com/membership/ Craig Mod, Special Projects membership Newsletters, podcasts, ambient recordings, walking videos, essays, open-source projects Some:many Common access Contributors pay ($100/year) Some benefits accrue only to contributors
The result of the purchase must “unlock” something.
Must move something into the public domain, make something freely accessible,
The idea has been around. Developed by others. The Commons Key name and specific criteria was developed by Matthew Howell for his project 1024 Lemons.
Commons keys can be: 1:1 One purchase unlocked one part of a creative work
1:many One purchase unlocks many parts of a creative work.
many:1 Many purchases, combined, unlock many parts of a creative work. This is the crowdfunding model.
Not Commons Key
- Benefits https://www.brendanschlagel.com
commonskey.org commonskey.org exist to describe, standardize, and help people find these models.