Thursday, October 27, 2005

Support Creative Commons

Did you know that over fifty-million objects on the internet are linked to a Creative Commons license? When you see a Creative Commons link or button on a site you can use it to instantly determine what rights an author or media producer has afforded you to utilize and/or distribute his or her work. No calling, writing, or e-mailing the author to ask him or her what you can or cannot do with the material--the license lets you know on the spot. Just click the link to find out. Simplicity itself!

This is a remarkably efficient system in the age of the internet for informing the consumer of their rights to content that they may wish to utilize in their own work or share with others. "Some Rights Reserved" sums it all up. It is often stated that "information wants to be free." Now, instead of locking it all up with the ominous & threatening ©2005 BigTimeMedia ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (don't even THINK about copying this and giving it to your buddy or your mom), Creative Commons licenses afford you the option to “share the wealth” as much or as little as you would like.

In my case, I have chosen to apply the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 license to this blog. While I still own the copyrights to my work, this license informs you that (in addition to your Fair Use rights) as long as you don't use my copyrighted works in commercial ventures & you attribute my work to me, you can do the following:
  • "...copy, distribute, display, and perform the work"
  • "...make derivative works"
There you have it! No need to e-mail me to ask permission, you already know what you can & can't do. No hassle for either the producer or the consumer. Now there's innovation!

You may be thinking, "big deal, who cares about this loser's blog anyway?" That's not the point. The Creative Commons concept is the point. And, there are some really interesting options that they have drafted for your use as a content creator & content consumer.

Let me share one of these options that I find particularly important and interesting. It is called the "Founder's Copyright".

Did you know that under current copyright law your ownership of content you produce lasts your lifetime plus seventy years?

That's Great! ...Right?

Uh, no... No, not really...

In fact it's actually an abuse foisted upon consumers designed by big media companies to maintain their grip (for as long as possible) on the very things that shape our common culture & heritage. That was definitely not the intent of the framers of the US Constitution. From what I have read, it was their intention to establish balance. From the Founder's Copyright background section at the CC site:
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that copyright was about balance — a trade-off between public and private gain, society-wide innovation and creative reward. In 1790, the U.S.'s first copyright law granted authors a monopoly right over their creations for 14 years, with the option of renewing that monopoly for another 14. We want to help restore that sense of balance — not through any change to the current laws — but by helping copyright holders who recognize a long copyright term's limited benefit to voluntarily release that right after a shorter period.
For the big media companies, 14 or 28 years wasn't enough I guess. They pushed Congress for massive extensions to copyright limits, and they got them. In doing so they have tried to usurp our collective culture in the name of profit.

Others have written more eloquently then I could on this matter. For more information and a detailed account of just how these things have transpired, please refer to the excellent article, THE MOUSE THAT ATE THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: Disney, The Copyright Term Extension Act, And eldred V. Ashcroft. See also Why Would an Author Choose a Creative Commons License? by Pamela Jones of Groklaw.

Now, where were we? Oh yes, life plus seventy years! Sounds like a prison sentence doesn't it? As a content producer, you don't have to lock your work up in this lop-sided scenario. The Founder's Copyright is designed to bring the original balance back into play:
Rather than adopting a standard U.S. copyright that will last in excess of 70 years after the author's lifetime, the Creative Commons and a contributor will enter into a contract to guarantee that the relevant creative work will enter the public domain after 14 years, unless the author chooses to extend for another 14. To re-create the functionality of a 14- or 28-year copyright, the contributor will sell the copyright to Creative Commons for $1.00, at which point Creative Commons will give the contributor an exclusive license to the work for 14 (or 28) years. During this period, Creative Commons will list all works under the Founders' Copyright, along with each projected public domain liberation date, in an online registry. (Creative Commons, Founder's Copyright--How it works)
This allows the content producer to hold exclusive rights to their work for 14 or 28 years after which the material is released into the public domain to be copied, distributed, and utilized in any manner by anyone, anywhere for whatever purpose, commercial or not. The producer benefits, and the public benefits. Bringing back balance.

Why would you want to do any of this? Why wouldn't you want to reserve all rights exclusively for as long as you possibly could?
The idea underlying Creative Commons is that some people may not want to exercise all of the intellectual property rights the law affords them. We believe there is an unmet demand for an easy yet reliable way to tell the world “Some rights reserved” or even “No rights reserved.” Many people have long since concluded that all-out copyright doesn't help them gain the exposure and widespread distribution they want. Many entrepreneurs and artists have come to prefer relying on innovative business models rather than full-fledged copyright to secure a return on their creative investment. Still others get fulfillment from contributing to and participating in an intellectual commons. For whatever reasons, it is clear that many citizens of the Internet want to share their work -- and the power to reuse, modify, and distribute their work -- with others on generous terms. Creative Commons intends to help people express this preference for sharing by offering the world a set of licenses on our Website, at no charge. (Creative Commons FAQ--What is Creative Commons?)
Again, it is often stated that "information wants to be free". Creative Commons licensing allows the innovator to strike a balance between their ownership of the material while letting the consumer know what they can do with that material. It allows producers to share their wealth of talent, art, and/or information with others while maintaining their copyright ownership. It's no longer an all (Public Domain) or nothing (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) game. These licenses open up the entire spectrum of options from exclusive ownership to public domain, as this graphic illustrates:

Now there are options that previously (unless you could afford a lawyer to draft the legal code for you) were not available to the vast majority of content producers (particularly those publishing on the internet). This balance, this sharing & distributing of art and information and the ability granted to the consumer to create derivatives from this material enriches our cultural wealth, our collective knowledge base, and our individual creativity. A quick example: Have you ever seen an image on Flickr and wished that you could use it in your own work? Opps, darn it, there's that pesky ALL RIGHTS RESERVED thingy. So there the photo sits. Nice to look at but that's all you get to do with it. Now find one with that “Some Rights Reserved” tag (see the ccPublisher) and you just might be able to do a little more with it--like simply posting it to your blog without having to ask permisson or otherwise bugging the photographer...

Rusty Screw by code poet
Published 26 Oct 2005
Some Rights Reserved

The point is, ideas are not formed in a vacuum. As a guitar player I guarantee you that today's great players are "standing on the shoulders of giants" that came before them. Isn't this true in just about every field? Think about it. Being able to make derivative works from Creative Commons licensed source material is a marvelous cultural gift. If you doubt it, check out Project Gutenburg some time. Look at all of that material that is available to the world because it is in the public domain. It's an amazing collection and a worthwhile project indeed.

Now let's take a look at a hypothetical situation based on a widely known body of work available in the public domain. What would happen if one company owned the rights to Shakespeare? How many adaptations, variations, or other works have been performed or derived from these works? Could that have happened if one company held exclusive rights to the material? Concepts from Shakespeare are known the world over, because no one entity controls it. I'm certain this would not be the case in the alternate universe we picture here. In fact, it would probably be lost to the world almost entirely. At any rate, man! Would there ever be a lot of movie & publishing houses owing that company royalties if copyrights lasted forever...Whew!!

Exclusive Rights - Creative Commons - Public Domain. Balance. Balance is a wonderful thing...

I will finish by addressing the question that you're just dying to ask: where's the money? How am I as a writer, musician, whatever going to make any money if I give up some of my rights to the consumer? If I can't lock them in, what am I going to do?

I will answer with some examples. The first one that comes immediately to mind for me is Magnatune. Go to their site. Check out what they do and read why they do it this way. Find out why they let you sample any and all of the music they provide at high quality, and let you set your own price for materials you wish to purchase. I know their business model based around CC Licensing works because I have bought more then one album from them myself. Recordings by artists I never would have heard of or even considered had they not been featured on Magnatune, and I not had the opportunity to listen to their material first. But what does the artist get out offering high-quality streams of their entire recordings? Why, they get half the sell on each purchase! There's no record company I know of that does this for the people they represent. None! This is revolutionary in so many aspects: from advertising & PR, to sales & distibution, and probably the biggest difference for the artists--half the proceeds on a sell as opposed to (literally) pennies per sale. It is win-win for consumer, artist, and label alike.

In the Magnatune scenario, artists are given exposure to a vast audience that they almost assuredly never would have gotten in any other way. There is so much unknown and untapped talent out there. I read recently that the folks at Magnatune get approximately 400 submissions a month--musicians wanting to sign up with them. They select about 10.

Another example from my own experience is the Bruce Perens' Open Source Series of books from Prentice Hall. Now they don't utilize a CC license for the works they've made available, they use what's called the Open Publication License. It is similar to a CC license at any rate by all appearances. The book Samba-3 by Example: Practical Exercises to Successful Deployment is an invaluable resource for use when working with Samba (' Open Source/Free Software suite that provides seamless file and print services to SMB/CIFS clients." Samba is freely available, unlike other SMB/CIFS implementations, and allows for interoperability between Linux/Unix servers and Windows-based clients.'--from What is Samba? ). I bought the book, it's that good. I highly recommend it. You want to see how good it is do you? Well, just go ahead, download it and see for yourself!

Finally, Wikipedia. The free internet encyclopedia. I don't know if anybody is making any money off of it, but it is certainly one of the most valuable resources of information on the internet. It is constantly being edited and updated. This is possible because, you guessed it, it's published under a CC License style license...

So... how have you benefited from Creative Commons licensed materials? Do you utilize a license they have produced to distribute your own work? Fifty million objects are linked to a CC License. Some of us are definitely finding this work useful. Maybe all of us, indirectly. Who can say?

The Creative Commons organization has recently announced their First Annual Fall Fundraising Campaign with a goal of reaching $225,000 by December 31st of this year. I think they can do it. I think all of us who benefit from their work can help. Tomorrow is payday. Tomorrow I will show my support for this worthy effort with a monetary donation. Because I believe this is important, because I believe that we need balance in a lot of areas in life, and this is a big one that affects us all.

I'm thinking about fifty million licenses that are freely utilized in an effort to benefit both producers & consumers. Imagine if the CC organization received just $.50 for each one of those. $25 million? I imagine that would sustain their work for a nice long time.

What's it worth to you?

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