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Pratham Books: a Creative Commons case study


Pratham Books is a nonprofit children's book publishing house in India that uses CC licenses to further distribution, translation and reuse of its works. Its mission is simple, "A Book in Every Child’s Hand," and it has two parts: one is to create more reading matter such that there is more material available for children to read, and the second is really a corollary – to be able to get books to where children need it the most, which means that the books need to be culturally and linguistically relevant and must be in forms that foster inclusiveness.

License Usage

Pratham Books uses the CC BY 3.0 license as the default CC license for all of its books (and illustrations) that are published under a CC license with a fall-back to the CC BY-SA license in certain cases. Other content, such as the Pratham Books' blog is also CC BY-licensed, in addition to some of its promotional content on Flickr. However, when Pratham Books first began its experiments in sharing, it used a CC Attribution­-Noncommercial­-Share Alike 2.5 India license. Over the course of its journey, Pratham Books has seen the value in using the more open CC BY and CC BY-SA licenses.

Pratham Books did spend some time choosing a license and given its prior disposition to openness and sharing, the license choices were reduced to a choice between the Attribution and Attribution-Share-Alike license. Pratham Books decided that the Attribution license would be its default license with a fall-back to the Attribution-Share-Alike license in cases where needed. The publisher subscribed to the following statement by P2PU: "it emerged that our choice lay between two licences: Creative Commons Attribution and Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike... chose to use Creative Commons licences because Creative Commons have become a global standard and are supported by a large international community. Both licences are Free Culture licences and are more permissive than any of the other Creative Commons licences. In other words, the choice was not between two extremes but between two open licences at the same end of the licence spectrum.” Given that Pratham Books' goal is to be as open as possible, it followed that the license choices were essentially around licenses that allowed for the greatest possible use and re-use because the initial hypothesis was, and continues to be, that being open allows Pratham Books to fulfill its mission better than a traditional copyright model allows.


Pratham Books' motivation and challenge is to massively scale the production of high quality, low cost children’s books for a multi-lingual and multi-cultural market. This challenge is not one that a single organization can take on. The solution had to be scalable, flexible and catalyse Pratham Books' fundamental mission as well.

However, there were several internal questions for the publisher to answer: whether the books created and distributed had to be a Pratham Books' book; whether every book must be paid for by either the reader or an intermediary; and from a publisher's standpoint, whether Pratham Books is the gatekeeper or the curator of content, how it could create infinite good with finite time and resources, and most importantly, how it could create more value in the ecosystem than it captured by way of sales.

Having answered most of these questions using “openness” (whereby, Pratham Books asked whether allowing unrestricted access to use and re-use of their content furthered their mission) as a test and finding that it did fit their mission, the second set of questions to answer was more technical – how, as a small nonprofit, does the organization accomplish ”openness” and not find itself overwhelmed and sapped of resources. It was at this point that Pratham Books had a moment of realization – that reading is an extremely social activity and that there are communities and organizations who were more than ready to help it achieve its goals, such as Creative Commons.


The Creative Commons licensing model is one that has helped Pratham Books achieve many of its aims of flexibility, scalability, and its mission of placing a book in every child’s hands. In particular, Pratham Books identifies two specific outcomes: a shared value system of sharing and openness with a growing community of users, and increased scale of the project. Pratham Books has been able to license content to multiple organizations and individuals, both known and unknown, with a one-time effort of releasing them under a Creative Commons license, as opposed to the traditional model which involved time consuming negotiations and discussions with each known organization or individual who wanted to use its content.

This has formed one of the the foundations for a social publishing model – where Pratham Books curates communities that are passionate about reading and helps them create such content. Such a model rests on the idea of a participatory culture and an essential ingredient is a permissive licensing strategy – Creative Commons licenses offers this along with a large community with shared values and an ecosystem to tap in to.

While such a licensing and publishing model works well in theory, it has been extremely heartening for Pratham Books to see it come to life – communities have created multiple derivative works ranging from iPad and iPhone applications, to porting such works to OLPC laptops, to creating entirely new books from existing illustrations and creating versions of their books for the print impaired – from DAISY and Braille books to rich audio books such that it is closer to fulfilling its mission of reaching every single child.

Technical Details

Pratham Books uses Scribd to host most of their CC (and otherwise licensed) content and Flickr to host their illustrations that have been CC licensed and other photographic content. Similarly, they use SoundCloud to host CC licensed audio content.


In March 2013, Pratham Books posted an update to their CC licensed experiment that details the effect making CC licensed books online has had on the sale of the physical versions. They write:

Lastly, when we looked at the cumulative sales data for CC books that were available on Scribd vs. CC books that were not available on Scribd, we were astounded to see that the former outsold the latter in such dramatic fashion in almost a 3:1 ratio. While we would be hesitant to say, given the specifics of our market and our model, that making books openly licensed and available online increased sales, we are a lot more confident in claiming that, at worst, it does not seem to depress sales of those books. And that, in itself, is an important learning for us and as it should be for the rest of the publishing industry.

The full post can be read here: http://blog.prathambooks.org/2013/03/pratham-books-is-open-for-publishing.html



• Pratham Books' CC licensed books and illustrations are first uploaded to their Dropbox and then to Scribd and Flickr, as linked to below.

Books and Such

• Books in the Public Domain: https://www.scribd.com/collections/2383076/Public-Domain-Books

• Books created by Pratham Books and licensed under CC: https://www.scribd.com/collections/2300329/Creative-Commons-Originals

• Adaptations and Translations of Pratham Books: https://www.scribd.com/collections/2647987/Creative-Commons-Derivatives


• Illustrations created by Pratham Books and licensed under CC: https://www.flickr.com/photos/prathambooks/collections/72157619814442224/

Other Stuff

• Pratham Books' Creative Commons Tracker: http://blog.prathambooks.org/p/cc-tracker.html

• Gautam John of Pratham Books has lunch with Creative Commons: http://blip.tv/file/5042990

News coverage





Originally published on the Creative Commons wiki at https://wiki.creativecommons.org/wiki/Case_Studies/Pratham_Books under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license