Sunday, December 16, 2007

So What is this Creative Commons thing?

What is it?
Did you know that the moment you create something, anything, which could be considered intellectual property it is automatically protected by copyright law? It might seem surprising, but the angsty teenager who just ranted on his myspace blog has every bit as much protection under the law as a published novelist. So let's say you find a photo on flickr of a cat that you absolutely must put a caption on and show to all your friends. By default, all rights are reserved by the person who took the photo, and unless you actually track that person down and ask him/her if it's ok to use it for your own purposes, you're breaking the LAW (gasp) with every "i can haz cheezburgerz".

Now, imagine that you're the photographer, and you would have no problem with anybody using that picture of your cat if they asked you. In fact, you think it'd be really cool to see your cat displayed with a demeaning caption in some random corner of cyberspace. You need to license your work under something less restrictive than default copyright. You could choose to make it part of the public domain, but you don't really like the idea that somebody could make a million bucks off of it without you seeing a penny (-cough- Crazy Frog -cough-). And, you know, it'd be kind of nice to be given credit for the original photo when the version with that hilarious caption shows up on the front page of Boing Boing. You need Creative Commons. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial in this specific case.

Creative Commons (some rights reserved) acts as a middle ground license between copyright (all rights reserved) and public domain (no rights reserved). It gives you the flexibility to allow people to use your original content in whatever ways you'd like them to without forcing you to give up complete control over over the work.

Why should I care?
Big business i.e. the RIAA i.e. "The Big 4" have ruined the community and creativity of our musical culture. And we, the docile apathetic consumerist American, have allowed it to happen. Copyright was originally created to foster creativity and progress in the arts and sciences. But as it is now being exploited to herd consumers like scared cattle, copyright is doing the exact opposite of what it was intended for. It is stifling expression and stamping out creativity with a steel toed legal boot. It's clear that the interests of consumers and those of the music industry are becoming more and more misaligned. It's clear that our judiciary system's modern interpretation of copyright is failing.

Wikipedia has been accused of killing traditional repositories of information such as encyclopedias. Openly available consumer tools like craigslist have been accused of killing traditional real estate agencies and print media classified ads. Priceline, Hotwire, and the like have been accused of killing travel agencies. Yet all of these things are a win for society because they get better information and tools in the hands of people who need them. This is clearly progress, and anybody who would speak out against it is simply unable or unwilling to adapt. Don't believe me? Take a look at the perspective of Doug Morris, CEO of Universal Music Group. So the MP3 and broadband connections may very well kill the CD. So what? That, too, is progress.

Of course all of these conflicts are short-lived. The dinosaurs will eventually die and we'll continue to move closer to a free information culture. But your actions as a consumer have and will continue to be the primary force in shaping that trend. It's up to you to demand that freedom of information. As artists, it's really what most of us want too. We don't want gold plated pools and fancy cars. We just want to be able to support our families doing what we love. Some of us are just too afraid our fans won't provide the financial backing that will allow us to keep creating music. In fact, it's a basic tenet of traditional economics that consumers will only pay the lowest price possible for a good or service.

So it's also up to you to prove that a system of patronage not only works but is the only real solution for the sustainability of a culture of creativity. Personally, I'm not worried about it. We're not ultimately after you buying into us with your wallets. That's a one time transaction and a fickle river that could dry up at any moment. We want you to buy into us with your minds, your interest and enthusiasm. Those things are infinitely more valuable.

In that spirit, feel free to distribute, copy, and burn our music as much as you'd like. Chop it up and make your own mixes. Use it in your youtube videos. Plaster a life sized print of our photo on the ceiling above your bed. (Ok, that's kind of creepy, but also completely within your rights to do.) Inspire us with your creativity and let us inspire you with ours. And, most importantly, spend your time enjoying what we've created for you instead of worrying about what you can or can't do with it.

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