I’ve thought for a while that it would probably be useful to have a page clarifying why I use Creative Commons licenses, and how I intend them to be viewed. As users of CC come from a variety of standpoints - from those who feel that ‘piracy’ will save to music to those who simply don’t like branding their listeners criminals for sharing tracks with friends - it seems necessary to clarify where I’m coming from. This post (minus the preamble you’re currently reading) will also be a seperate page on my website.
FIRST: I AM NOT A COPYRIGHT EXPERT, AND THE FOLLOWING IS ONLY INTENDED AS AN IMPRESSIONISTIC GLOSS. I HOPE THAT IT CONTAINS NO GLARING ERRORS, THOUGH THERE ARE ALMOST CERTAINLY MISTAKES IN THE DETAIL. PLEASE FORGIVE MY IGNORANCE.
Why Creative Commons?
Go read Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.
OK, I guess telling you to read a book just to know why I do something is a bit silly. Especially as I didn’t write it. And it’s not specifically about Creative Commons. At least it’s free.
OK fine, quick run through: culture is about the exchange of ideas. Ensuring that ideas (in the broad sense, encompassing artworks, compositions, novels and so on) reach as many people as possible is good for the general health of our culture. It is also good if people are free to develop and respond to these ideas or creations. Over the last couple of hundred years, the copyright and intelectual property systems were developed to help ensure that creative people could distribute their ideas widely. This was achieved simply by creating a legal framework for people to make money from ideas and creations. Thus industries grew up based on the distribution of these works, allowing the development of culture on an unprecidented global scale. Along the way, distribution seemed to become a more important aim than creatively sharing ideas, as it was through distribution that money could be made. As a result of this, the freedom to creatively build on other people’s work (which had initially not been affected by copyright) was gradually closed off until we reached the current situation where permission is needed to do almost anything. If you open a book published in the UK you will find a copyright warning informing you that if you wish to sell or loan or even give the book to someone it must remain in its current binding/cover.
An example: under eighteenth and early-nineteenth century copyright laws, you could go and make a Star Wars film yourself. You wouldn’t need anyone’s permission. You’d need permission to sell the original, but to make your own version, or a sequel, or (yawn) a prequel, you were entirely free.
My point is not that copyright is somehow evil. It is merely one idea about how we deal with distributing and sharing creative ideas. It has been very useful, and in the industrial age I think it would have been difficult to improve upon as a legal framework for cultural exchange.
HOWEVER, we live in the information age. Publishing new creations to the world via the web is cheap or free, depending on the nature of the creation*. The creation of new work itself involves a cost, but the old copyright laws were really concerned with distributing works. The question of how creators ought best to be renumerated, now that no huge profit can be made through distribution, is a large societal issue which I cannot gapple with here. I think that models will be found in the end. The important thing in the meantime, as far as I am concerned, is to try to contribute to a healthy cultural exchange, which is where Creative Commons comes in.
Briefly, Creative Commons licenses are a subtler alternative to the All Rights Reserved model. The creator preserves SOME rights, and can allow others various grades of freedom in their use of his or her works. Details can be found on the Creative Commons website, what follows is a brief guide to the main licenses I use:
THIS IS MY GLOSS ON HOW THESE LICENSES WORK. FOLLOW THE LINKS FOR FULL DETAILS. IF YOU NEED CLARIFICATION ON ANYTHING, PLEASE ASK ME BEFORE USING MY WORK. IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING WHICH ISN’T COVERED BY THESE LICENSES, AGAIN, GET IN TOUCH AND WE’LL TALK. I’M UNLIKELY TO STOP YOU DOING SOMETHING UNLESS I THINK YOU’RE BEING COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS.
You can freely copy, distribute and share the work, so long as you always link back to where it came from.
You can use it in your own work, so long as any new creations remain under the same license, and you link back to the source (i.e. me).
This is exactly the same license, except for the fact that you can not use the work in any commercial way or setting.
(Any rights not granted under Creative Commons licenses remain with the creator, exactly as if they had labeled their work All Rights Reserved)
*I mean from the point of view of the creator. Of course there IS a cost involved in online publishing, but compared to industrial manufacture and distribution it is laughably small.