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What is Creative Commons (CC0)? NFT Projects Empowering Scalability and the Future of Digital Media

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Part of the promise of Web3, as it relates to digital media and online content in general, has always been true ownership -- where online creators can be appropriately credited and compensated for their digital works. However, the approach that most NFT projects have taken to-date in compensating their content owners is not unlike that of the older, more restrictive legacy media conglomerates of yesterday -- relying on exclusionary media licenses and online takedown notices to exercise their rights.

Such a dated approach has, so far, been the only prototype we have for enforcing digital copyright, at the expense of stifling creativity, derivation, and ultimately limiting the potential of what an NFT collection's intellectual property could be.

However, with leading edge NFT projects now entering their media into the public domain via Creative Commons, we have begun to see a transformation in how content owners and media organizations can treat and distribute their intellectual property, and ultimately capture the upside. Collections employing a CC0 designation flip the script on restrictive digital copyright by allowing anyone to remix and improve upon their original work, without worrying about infringement. This opens up a world of possibilities for media-rich content that can be composed of many different sources, making it easier for others to jumpstart their creative ideas and ultimately drive value back to the original collection.

For this reason, I believe that NFT projects employing the use of Creative Commons may represent the future of digital media as a powerful new way of building the next generation of iconic properties.

What is Creative Commons (CC0)?

Creative Commons (CC0) is a copyright designation that allows creators to waive all rights to their work and place it in the public domain. This means that anyone can use, remix, or distribute the work without having to get permission from the creator first.

This is fundamentally different from the standard creative copyright designation most creators are familiar with, where copyright law typically gives creators exclusive rights to their work upon creation. Innate copyright is meant to protect artists and creators from having their work stolen, but such protections have always been difficult to enforce on the internet, where media can be endlessly replicated.

It has not been until the introduction of NFTs that the issues with innate creative copyright have been appropriately addressed, where NFTs now facilitate digital provenance via the blockchain. Thus, NFTs represent a paradigm shift in digital ownership, as even with the ability to endlessly copy and paste content online, the blockchain now offers a single point of reference to determine "true" ownership over digital assets such as art, text, and video content.

Similarly, Creative Commons copyright designations in conjunction with NFTs now present a shift in the other direction -- enabling the free use and remixing of original works, without the issue of copyright infringement.

Why is CC0 important to NFTs?

CC0 is important to NFTs, and content overall for one key reason: it enables the scalability of digital media, in a way that both creators and curators of content can win. Let's consider the popularity of memes on the internet today.

It seems like only the most unexpected media properties such as SpongeBob and Peppa Pig wind up becoming the most prevalent in the world of internet memes. Yet neither of these properties were ever intended to be lifted and applied for use as content on ever-popular meme pages, where thousands of followers now feed their ad-based profit engines.

SpongeBob meme example (left), Peppa Pig meme example (right)

Where the images of SpongeBob and Peppa Pig have been co-opted by millions on the internet, and entire platforms have been built on top of creating and curating memes overall, some might argue that nothing is truly lost by the owners of that media. After all, the circulation of any media company's property doesn't truly detract from their image or value. If anything, the prevalence of a certain property, like SpongeBob or Peppa Pig, in popular internet culture as a medium for conveying jokes exemplifies how powerful they have become within the cultural zeitgeist.

This is precisely the kind of brand-building power that NFT projects employing CC0 copyright designations can seek to harness, where they offer their original works as a springboard for new creation. The strategy here is to essentially empower your NFT project's audience with the tools needed to co-create and advertise your project on your behalf, through derivative works, spin-offs, and more.

Of course, this is not to say that all NFT projects should release their works under CC0, but the free use of popular digital media can present a unique opportunity to NFT creators, and media giants alike.

What does the future hold for CC0 and NFTs?

The NFT market is a fast-moving space, so I won't pretend to know all of the answers here. CC0 may just be a passing fad for NFTs, like many other trends come and gone, as the market moves on to the next shiny thing. But the fact that both NFTs and CC0 are two concepts at the forefront of innovation in digital media, makes me think that there may be something worthwhile in this combination.

NFTs, for one, are a massive shift in how legacy media organizations are going to have to start approaching content commercialization, and perhaps even content creation itself.

Standard Media NFTs Create Value through Exclusivity

To date, the best use cases we have seen for NFTs in media has been in developing lucrative but exclusive media properties. (Which are not CC0.) The most popular NFT media properties such as Bored Ape Yacht Club, AZUKI, and CloneX behave like walled gardens, where an NFT holder has the opportunity to own a portion of that garden, and reap the benefits that ownership confers.

Typical benefits we have seen with these sorts of collections include: exclusive access to physical or digital events / spaces, stake in the NFT community's decision-making process, and even legal ownership over the artwork itself to do as you please. The value of these benefits lies in the fact that the media is exclusive (not CC0), and so only the owners of these NFTs can leverage them. It's possible that without exclusionary rights to the media, some of these collections might not be as popular.

Every collection makes different stipulations around the use of their artwork, where some (like Bored Ape Yacht Club) confer legal ownership of the work, while others (like Doodles) disallow derivatives, merchandising, and more.

Bored & Hungry restaurant (left), Seth Green's upcoming TV series (right)

No matter the format -- standard, "non-CC0" media NFT collections are focused on generating value through exclusivity. Exclusive perks, rights, and access. These benefits are only scalable on an individual basis -- where owners of Bored Apes, for example, have begun to leverage the exclusive IP to develop TV shows, open up restaurants, and appear in music videos.

CC0 NFTs Create Value through Scalability

In contrast to the closed nature of most NFT intellectual properties, CC0 NFT collections entirely disrupt this model of value creation by making the media accessible to anyone. NFT media falling within Creative Commons are in the public domain, and can therefore be used by both owners and non-owners.

This may sound counter to the entire idea of NFTs themselves -- after all, much of the digital art market especially is built around the idea of rarity, non-fungibility, and proof of ownership. CC0 media properties effectively belong to no one -- and therefore belong to everyone.

In effect, digital artwork placed in the public domain becomes a part of a virtual toolkit for anyone to lift and apply. Whether that is in creating your own derivative NFT collection, writing a short story about a particular character someone else owns, or developing an entire video game using the art itself as a springboard, the possibilities are endless. The big idea behind a CC0 NFT collection is that when owners and admirers of the collection pick up these tools to build something else, this will help drive value back to the original collection.

As more contributors lift and apply an NFT's media as tools for new creations, this will (hopefully) contribute to the tangible valuation of the original media, where the floor price of a CC0 collection may rise as new people try to buy into the project. For example, an NFT character that is used in a spin-off mini-series or short-story by an inspired fan of the project might see newfound value completely separate from the typical "rarity" scores that currently dominate the conversation on NFT art valuation.

Cryptovania's Storyverse: A Case for CC0 Media Scalability

Take my own CC0 NFT project, Cryptovania, as an example. Anchored around the idea of "story legos," each Cryptovania character comes with unique traits and attributes that we encourage our community to use as a part of the "prompt" for  writing out their own character's backstory. These stories come to life on the Cryptovania website where contributors can submit and "confirm" new tales, to collectively develop the lore of our shared, imaginary world.

Cryptovania Logo

By encouraging all of our contributors to write their own stories, and build upon the lore that is established by others, we are leaning far into the emergent possibilities only conceivable with a Creative Commons designation on all Cryptovania artwork and stories.

In this way, we are positioned as the only CC0, decentralized storytelling project on Optimism. As our community grows and contributors develop stories for their owned characters, we expect to see emergent trends between contributors which will develop a meta that we have dubbed the "storyverse." This is the basis of what makes Cryptovania more interesting than your typical generative art project. Collectively, we are writing a massive, decentralized fan-fiction, where contributors to the tale may be able to capture the upside.

Cryptovania's CC0 Media is a Springboard for Innovation

The Cryptovania community is only a couple of months old, and we have already seen builders in our storyverse start to develop their own frontends -- separate from the official Cryptovania website. These builders have elected to write stories collaboratively as "guilds," and have even begun employing the use of artificial intelligence to generate images that portray the descriptions of medieval heraldries and canonical locations they've begun to write about.

High Garden (left), Wolf Heraldry Banner (center), The Wolf & The Forefather (right)

All of this contributes to the broader value that Cryptovania offers to our community -- where anybody; owners and non-owners can jump in and contribute using our media as tools. The more interesting, popular, or adopted a particular creation is, (whether or not it's an "official" Cryptovania team creation), the more cultural value will ultimately be driven back to the original collection.

Where most media organizations might view spin-offs, derivative artwork, and secondary websites as competitors, and possibly even detractive to their media image, this is exactly the kind of behavior we want to encourage with Cryptovania. It's entirely possible and even likely that someone will come along and use our media more effectively than we are currently envisioning -- and that's okay!

Cryptovania's CC0 Media May Enable a New Form of NFT Rarity

Ultimately, a CC0 project such as Cryptovania creates value through scale and composability -- not exclusivity -- in that both owners and non-owners of Cryptovania media are driving relevance back to the project with every contribution. We have effectively set the stage for a positive feedback loop, where the value of a Cryptovania character is less reliant on things such as "rarity," and more based on how richly our contributors can develop the storyverse.

What excites us about Cryptovania is that an entirely "ordinary" character such as a medieval Peasant can appear plain and simple on the surface, but actually have a rich backstory, deep-set relationships with other characters in the storyverse, and even be featured as a central character in a piece of spin-off media.

This effectively elevates the cultural relevance of a character in a way that simple rarity cannot articulate -- and the owner of a well-supported character will be able to capture the upside as they leverage it in other ways. Ultimately, we are handing the power of value creation over to our holders and contributors who can take Cryptovania's media as far as they would like.

Photo of Omaralexis Ochoa, host of The Gay Pro, and author of this blog post.

Omaralexis Ochoa

Data analyst, podcaster, pasta-lover... I'm many things, but above all, I'm a creator. I created The Gay Pro because I love sharing stories of queer success, with the intention of empowering and inspiring other queer leaders.