Monday, December 17, 2007

Creatively Common

creative commons license logoIf you look closely at any of my presentations, you'll see the Creative Commons logo at the end. I'm using the "Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike" license, which means that you can use this presentation for whatever purposes you like as long as:
  • you say that it came from me originally
  • you don't make money directly from the work
  • you have at least as liberal license on your derived works (meaning that you have to share what you create as well)
For those not familiar with the Creative Commons, it's an alternative to copyright which gives consumers options. The problem with copyright law is that it is very restrictive, based on old models of interaction. It is in fact based on what Lawrence Lessig refers to as a "read-only" view of works. This makes sense before the technology we have today. Copyright prevents anyone from taking a book and going to the neighborhood Kinkos, making copies of it, and selling it as their own. And, it prevents anyone from taking a copyrighted presentation and saying that they created it. The problem with copyright is that it is binary: a work is either copyrighted or not (although I'm sure that intellectual property lawyers can haggle endlessly on the nuances of this). That means that I cannot allow people to base their derived work directly on mine through copyright.

Creative Commons is an attempt to create what Lessig calls a "read-write" culture, allowing specific rights for derived works. We live in much more of a mash-up kind of world. Musicians frequently use samples and other pieces of other music to create something genuinely new, not just a low-fidelity copy. The place where this is playing out in a fascinating way is in Japan, around manga (see the article entitled Japan, Ink in the November issue of Wired magazine). In Japan, there are well established serial manga stories (graphic novels) with original characters. But there is a huge market for derived works, where new (generally amateur) artists take the characters from a well known series and create new stories, frequently in directions that the original author wouldn't go (these are called dojinshi - non professional, self published manga). Imagine creating a Star Wars variant where Jar Jar Binks and C3PO ended up in a gay relationship. It is doubtful that you could sell many copies of this before a platoon of IP lawyers from LucusFilms were crawling up, well, you get the picture. Yet that's exactly what's happening with manga in Japan.

But, Japan's copyright law is about as strict as ours. Here's the interesting part: the publishers tacitly agree to allow this to continue. Why would they do this? The market for manga is huge and fickle. The dojinshi show them which series are waxing or waning in popularity. And, it provides a breeding ground for new authors. The very best of the dojinshi authors can become the next generation of legitimate manga authors. Because there is no structure in place in Japan, the publishers allow millions of dollars of dojinshi sales, with the looming threat of a lawsuit if they ever become too aggressive. The publishers are doing the smart thing: allowing a "read-write" culture which provides them lots of benefits: real-time market research based on actual sales, new authors, and a vibrant culture around their works.

Clearly, with the abilities created by digital media, copyright is going to have to change. I'm doing my part by allowing anyone to use my stuff with fewer encumbrances than copyright because I think this points to a new attitude about all kinds of intellectual property. For an eloquent presentation about this (and an incredible presentation for it's own right), check out this captured keynote by Lawrence Lessig.

1 comment:

Rick DeNatale said...

I think that there's a confusion here between copyrights and licenses.

A copyright states the authors right to control use of the work.

A license transfers rights to the work under specified conditions.

So the creative commons licenses are not alternatives to copyright, in fact without a copyright (actual or implied) on the work being licensed, there really isn't anything to license.

And just having a creative commons (or other) license on a work isn't necessarily sufficient to allow someone to make use of a work. For example, if a photo containing one or more identifiable people has a creative commons license, the user still has an obligation to obtain copies of model releases from the photographer before publication. Creative Commons has been named in at least one law suit about use of a CC licensed photo in an advertisement, but the real culprit(s) here are the advertiser who failed to get the release, and perhaps the photographer.