Ok, I really should be doing my statistics assignment right now but I’m just bursting after discovering the most juicy back-and-forth on the question of whether ‘Creative Commons preserves copyright’ between David Wiley and Stephen Downes. Stephen makes an excellent point – albeit couched in a significant dose of paternalism – that people in developing countries don’t need CC because it wouldn’t help them in getting access to learning materials that are currently – and probably will always be – inaccessible via CC. He then extends this by making a pretty strong statement:
The upshot is that, by preserving copyright, open licensing may have actually made it harder to obtain such texts. Since the alternative of Creative Commons exists, there is much less pressure toward shorter copyright terms, and much less pressure for exceptions to copyright, particularly those involving fair dealing.
David Wiley responds with the headline ‘No Stephen…’ After saying that the argument is ‘just plain silly’ he rightly points out that we need evidence to point to such a thing:
This sounds like pure conjecture. I would love to see even a single statement from a person in position of influence over national intellectual property policy along these lines. I doubt one exists, but am always happy to be proved wrong.
I have absolutely no influence over national intellectual property policy, but let me point to an example of exactly how Creative Commons preserves – and in some cases actually helps support – the status quo of copyright.
This story comes from my own experience and my own discomfort at the kinds of conversations that I was having in my previous life with CC in South Africa. CC volunteers and staff are invited to do similar talks around the world where we are invited to talk to artists, students, educators, authors, creators about this new thing that had something to do with ‘copyright licenses’. My talk would basically go something like this:
1. Copyright is broken. Look at all the things you can’t do! Look at all the people who are getting sued! Look how expensive everything is!
2. CC is the solution! It is an alternative to copyright where you can license the material under ‘some rights reserved’ rather than ‘all rights reserved’
3. Look at all these other people who are using CC – some of which are sound businesses. You should too.
After I’m done, I open up to questions. Turns out no one really wants to license their own work, they want to find out what they can USE that is cc-licensed – they want to know what’s available (CC made it a policy not to curate content – they invite volunteers to do this now on their wiki but it’s limited to a listing of just the site title) and why they can’t just carry on using stuff in the same way they always did. The conversation would go something like this:
Audience person: Yes, I have a question. So you’re saying that I can’t just take an image and change it and then use it? I thought there was this 30% rule that you could change something by 30% and then it’s ok…
Me: Turns out that 30% rule doesn’t exist. The fair dealing provisions are really complex and available only in certain circumstances. Blah blah blah about fair dealing…
Audience person: Also, I thought you could make personal copies of things without paying anyone. But now you’re saying that actually I can only use CC-licensed stuff.
CC person: Yes, there are conditions in our copyright law that enable us to use copyrighted materials for personal use but you can’t technically put that stuff on your blog or your own site. I mean, it’s debatable whether you can or not and surely you want to be legally secure?
Audience person: Ah ok. So it looks like I really need to learn more about copyright law.
Jeez. I would feel a bit sick afterward. Here I was telling people about Creative Commons – hoping that they’d join the movement, add stuff to the pool and join the conversation – and I ended up telling them how the copyright cops were out to get them and they should use CC just to be legally sure because actually they can’t be legally sure about anything else on the Internet. Since so little content that people practically consume is available under CC, they end up finding out about the problem (copyright) and then about *the solution* which incidentally doesn’t attack the problem but provides what David Wiley calls a neat “bandaid” (Creative Commons).
More information is definitely better, I’m sure (at least that’s what I’m telling myself) but really, it got my asking myself: what is the value proposition here, really?
This is not only a problem that exists in Africa and China – it’s a great place to look at what the problem is but just because it has this effect in Africa doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the same effect elsewhere. I’ve given so many of these talks so many places and I feel like the key problem was that we were listening too hard to the publishers who were criticizing CC for all the wrong reasons – and in doing that, we stopped hearing anything else.
I guess the ultimate question is: we’re using this bandaid to stop a gushing wound… maybe we need to use something more effective? Maybe we’re putting all this energy into making the bandaid available in more countries without imagining that something else might do the trick more effectively.
Lessig talks about 4 ways in which copyright can be regulated: laws, norms, architecture and markets. In my next post, I’ll argue that norms of sharing are perhaps more effective in actually getting to the heart of the problem: affecting change in copyright law on the Internet.
Now to that assignment!