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04 March, 2008 • , , , ,


Playing within the rules: Free content communities and copyright

“no sé qué licencia aplica”:
© Stephan Baum, Sanbec, ttog, CC-BY-SA-2.5

It is commented sometimes that Commons is a haven for a particular variety of wikilawyering known as copyright wikilawyering. It is one of the most irritating types of wikilawyering to be on the receiving end of (and I have, several times), because for Wikimedians there is no trump to the “non-free content” card. It can seem utterly petty and pointless.

But (although we don’t have to be jerks about it) we have no choice. There are two ways to protest the current copyright system: use the existing system to subvert the traditional conclusions from within the system; or fight through courts and parliaments to have the system changed. If you use Creative Commons, or like to think of yourself as part of the “free content movement” like Wikimedia does, then you are part of the former.

And if you choose to play the game, you have to play it better than anyone. You accept the limitations as soon as you deal yourself in, and you work within those parameters. And that’s why you learn about freedom of panorama and sadly find yourself applying it to all kinds of previously-thought-free scenes. Just as Wikiquette has “Assume good faith”, Free content has “Assume unfree content”. They play off each other uneasily at times.

The benefits of this approach, of playing the copyright game, are that anyone can do it, today, right now. They can give up some of their copyrights and let people copy their work as suits them. Fighting in courts and parliaments is expensive and difficult with no great hope or guarantee of victory.

Cory Doctorow says

It would be nice if our lawmakers would go back to the drawing board and write a new copyright that made sense in the era of the Internet, but all efforts to “fix” copyright since the passage of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 have only made things worse, granting more unenforceable exclusive rights to an ever-increasing pool of “authors” who have no need or desire to sue the people with whom they are engaged in the business of “culture” — holding conversations, publicly re-imagining the stories that make up their lives.

Creative Commons aims to do what Congress won’t or can’t do — offer an approach to copyright that helps those of us who don’t want deal that Disney and their pals have insisted on for every snatch of creativity. Creative Commons achieves this through a set of licenses, legal notices that set out permitted uses for creative works.

In explaining the benefit of Creative Commons, he also exactly highlights its weaknesses. Lawmakers have failed us (most jurisdictions worldwide now have ridiculous copyright terms). Creative Commons is a soothing non-answer to this failure.

It reminds me, in a strange way, of how the media promotes outrageous ideals of beauty for women, and many women feel it is their personal failure for not meeting these ideals rather than the extremity of the outrageous system in the first place. It’s the twisted system that needs your attention, not your personal behaviour.

I like Creative Commons. But I wish I had an angry noisy anti-copyright-system movement to go along with it.

12 November, 2007 • , , ,

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