Creative Commons Q&A

I’ve found that releasing my Flickr pictures under a Creative Commons licence has been very rewarding. My pictures have been used in all sorts of places and most people are kind enough to drop me a line and let me know when they use one of my photos. Say, for example, that the site More Than Living wanted to illustrate the article entitled What is a manbag? with a very fetching picture of Richard.

By far the most prolific example was when one of my pictures was used in Iron Man. That story must have resonated with a lot of people because it spread far and wide; as far as some national newspapers in Spain. After the hubbub died down a bit, I was contacted by Jennifer Cassidy, a graphic design student in Dublin. She’s writing a thesis on Creative Commons licensing and asked if I would answer some questions for her. Amazingly, I actually responded (those who know me and my lackadaisical attitude to e-fail—or anyone who’s ever written to me expecting a reply—will appreciate how unusual that is).

Here are her questions and my answers.

  1. How did you discover/first learn about CC licensing?

    I’m not really sure. It might have been when I came across Cory Doctorow’s novel Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom, which was released under a Creative Commons licence. That was published in 2003.

  2. What does Creative Commons mean to you?

    Clarity. Creative Commons sets out quite clearly what uses are and aren’t allowed. That dispels a lot of doubt and uncertainty. Under standard copyright, it isn’t nearly as clear-cut as to what usage is and isn’t permitted. Given this uncertainty, I think most people assume that any kind of reuse is breaking copyright law (even in countries where situations like “fair use” are, in fact, permitted).

  3. Why were you attracted to this idea of “Some Rights Reserved” as opposed to “All Rights Reserved”?

    “All Rights Reserved” is a very blunt, black and white decree. That simply doesn’t map to most copyright holders’ view of their work. There’s a world of difference between somebody ripping off your work in order to resell it and somebody making a single copy of your work for educational purposes. “Some Rights Reserved” provides a good middle ground. A non-commercial licence, for example, clearly covers the use cases I’ve just outlined. If the only alternative to “All Rights Reserved” were “No Rights Reserved”, that would not satisfy most copyright holders (although some people do indeed relinquish their work into the public domain).

  4. Do you describe yourself as part of the free culture movement?

    Absolutely. The irony is that the Free Culture movement is viewed as some kind of modern, radical idea when, in fact, it’s more like a return to the natural state of culture as a shared commons. Traditional Irish music is a good example of this shared culture. The very recent addition of copyright into this mix hasn’t gelled well with the older system. I view the Free Culture movement as a return to a more comfortable human-centred system. In the long term, the twentieth century might just be an aberrant blip on the cultural timeline. Or, if the Free Culture movement fails, the twentieth century might be seen as the time when culture began to wither and die, asphyxiated by the choke-hold of de-facto copyright in perpetuity.

  5. Why do you feel the need to use CC licensing on your photography?

    To be honest, my initial reasons were quite selfish. I often received emails from people who wanted to use a photo of mine for some minor use; to illustrate a blog post, for example. Those people had to wait for me to reply and tell them that that would be fine. But I’m terrible at writing back to people (as you know) so I had a constant feeling of guilt that I hadn’t replied to somebody. By releasing my pictures under a Creative Commons attribution licence, I’m making it clear that anybody is free to reuse my work as long as they provide a credit. Mind you, I still get emails from some people asking me if they can have permission to use one of my pictures but now at least I don’t feel guilty for not getting back to them.

  6. Do you use it on any other types of creative work?

    Yes, when I speak at conferences—usually on the subject of web design—I publish the presentations under a Creative Commons attribution licence. I now regret that some older works of mine were published under more restrictive licensing. I’ve written two books and I wish that I could distribute the contents of those books more widely but the contracts I signed with the book publishers prevent that (for now).

  7. Do you feel that the development of CC internationally is highly important in this day and age, where the internet allows fast easy sharing, reusing remixing of ideas, knowledge and creations?

    Completely. And although I’m personally committed in the area of Free Culture, the success of a Science Commons is potentially the greater achievement. The World Wide Web was created to facilitate shared scientific work. The technology is now in place. Now it’s just a question of how long it takes legal systems to catch up.

  8. Are you against Copyright?

    Definitely not. Creative Commons licensing isn’t anti-copyright. Quite the opposite; it clarifies copyright and permitted usage. I am, however, against prohibitively long copyright terms. Copyright extension is inexorably leading to copyright in perpetuity, something that goes completely against the spirit in which the idea of copyright was first formulated.

  9. Or do you feel that CC licensing is just a continuation/development of Copyright, that gives you more freedom to choose exactly how your work is used by others and still giving you the protection you as an author actually want?

    You took the words right out of my mouth …which is permitted …as long as you include attribution.

  10. Do you yourself use other people’s work licensed under CC? If so, what resources do use, i.e. Flickr etc.?

    I’ve made copious use of Creative Commons licensed Flickr photos in my presentations (which are themselves released under a Creative Commons licence). I’ve also used Creative Commons licensed music—sometimes called podsafe music—in my forays into podcasting.

  11. Do you think that society as whole could benefit a great deal if people used CC licensing more often, if they were more willing to share and share alike?

    I do believe that but I don’t have any empirical evidence to support that view so that’s simply personal belief. However, there’s good evidence to suggest that restrictive licensing and prohibitively long copyright terms almost certainly lead to lost opportunity. So more sharing would at least provide a better ecosystem for society to flourish in.

  12. Do you not care too much about how people use your work, or do use CC for a bigger more substantial reason, i.e. for a better society and a greater common intelligence?

    I would love to say that I share my work for some greater good but I’d be lying. The truth is that an attribution licence is great for my ego. I can keep track of my pictures and boast about all the different places they show up. I’m such an attention whore.

  13. What is your stance on music downloading?

    I think it’s the greatest gift that musicians could ask for. Instead of being beholden to an industry of middlemen, musicians can now provide their music directly to the people who appreciate it.

  14. Gerd Leonhard, a leading futurist, states that Copyright is clearly not working. When it comes to the topic of illegal music downloads no can really argue that this statement is wrong. Copyrighting something is essentially useless if it is up-loadable, the internet providing the means. But music licensed under CC is making impressive headway. Im sure you’ve heard of the band NIN? Well they have released their album Ghosts I-IV under CC, allowing several of their songs to be downloaded, for free on their official website. This album, according to amazon.com was the best selling MP3 download album of 2008! This seems to prove that CC can work extremely well. Do you think that CC is the way forward for a healthy future in the music industry?

    I think it’s a great avenue for musicians to explore. Again, the real value is in the nuanced licensing that Creative Commons affords. If a band wants to release their music and allow it to be remixed or even resold, they can specify that. On the other hand, if a band wants to allow their music to be downloaded but not reused, they can specify that too.

  15. Do you think respect for each other has a lot to do with the legal reuse etc of creative works? By this I mean should we make it a more two way process, the creation and sharing of creative works, as opposed to people only being out for themselves and to make as much money as they possibly can without thinking about the negative affect on society and a common intelligence.

    I think that there’s a disparity between creators and distributors. Most authors simply want their writing to reach as many people as possible and make a living from it. The publishing industry, on the other hand, is concerned purely with the money-making aspect: wide distribution is seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The same applies in the music industry. The priority for most musicians is to get their music out to as many people as possible. But the music industry is geared around profit. There’s nothing wrong with that—all industry is based on making money. But it’s disingenuous to suggest that restrictive licensing protects the creators of cultural works. More often than not, draconian copyright enforcement protects existing industries that are built upon the works of others. These kind of industries often present a slightly schizophrenic adversarial attitude, treating their own customers as potential criminals. I don’t think that’s a healthy relationship. Suspicion breeds suspicion. Conversely, respect breeds respect.

Have you published a response to this? :