Why Creative Commons Licenses Help Rather Than Hinder Struggling Artists

from the exactly-wrong dept

Creative Commons (CC) has been with us for nearly a decade, so you would have thought people might understand it by now. Apparently not, judging by the title of this blog post: "How Creative Commons Can Stifle Artistic Output."

The author, George Howard, begins reasonably enough:

Now, the servicing of the muse is not compelled by money, but, rather, other impulses. However, absent some type of financial return for the artists’ work, bad things happen: artists begin to believe that their work is without value, and they stop; or, artists have to subsidize their artistic income by working a soul-crushing job that eventually diminishes their ability/desire/time to create…and they stop. In either case, art stops being created. This to me is unacceptable. I defy anyone to give me a good argument against the creation of more art.
Clearly from that description Howard is concerned mainly with artists that are relatively unknown and/or struggling, and his point about their need to make money is a fair one. But from that premise he then makes this extraordinary leap:
All of this is why I react negatively to proponents of the so-called “copyleft” movement.
He goes on:
As a bit of background, the copyleft movement originated from software development, where hobbyist programmers desired to make software free (or very cheap) in order to reduce/eliminate piracy.
That is wrong in just about every respect. Copyleft, which actually depends upon copyright in order to work, was invented in 1983 by Richard Stallman. Far from being a "hobbyist", Stallman was one of the best programmers of his day. Moreover, copyleft – specifically the GNU General Public License – was devized not to "reduce/eliminate piracy", but almost its polar opposite: to encourage and facilitate sharing.

The author's understanding of how Creative Commons licenses work seems equally shaky:

There are several justifications for an artist or songwriter to give up copyrights. The first is reasonable: that by providing a means for artists to more easily exchange rights, reduces transaction costs, and thus encourages collaboration.
Artists employing Creative Commons licenses do not "give up copyrights": they always retain them. But they grant additional permissions to others – to share, to adapt, to sell. That's not about "exchanging rights" – there's no quid pro quo required, and rarely does this result in any artistic collaboration; instead it's from a desire to see your work enjoyed or re-used more widely.
The second — that current copyright law enforces and encourages a restrictive permission culture to the detriment of the public good — is not. By this I mean that the idea that copyright somehow impedes creativity and artistic development is just plain wrong.
The idea that copyright on a work impedes "creativity and artistic development" refers to its effect not on the original creator, but on other artists, since by definition copyright is a monopoly that forbids them from building on the creations of others unless they ask permission – often expensive or impossible to obtain. Creative Commons licenses, by contrast, encourage this kind of activity by granting permissions upfront to everyone, making them particularly beneficial for those rising creators with limited means but plenty of ideas.

Despite this, Howard insists the problem lies not with copyright itself, but elsewhere:

what really impedes creativity and artistic development is the artist’s perception that his or her music is valueless/the inability of the artist to monetize his or her output.
And yet it's copyright that exacerbates this perception among struggling and still unknown artists that their art is valueless, not CC licenses. Copyright places obstacles in the way of sharing your enthusiasm for a creative work by passing it on so that it can be explored and enjoyed by others. All CC licenses permit this, and it is precisely this spreading of the word that is likely to lead to the creator becoming better known and appreciated.

Nor does making works more freely available preclude the possibility of earning money from them. Fans may buy the work in other formats – for example as a book, CD or LP as well as a download. People may want to make direct contributions to support the artist to encourage them to produce more. Techdirt has devoted many posts to the different ways in which revenue can be generated from CC-licensed goods that are made available online.

Howard concludes:

Artists tend to have — at best — an uncomfortable relationship with the monetization of their work, and need no encouragement to devalue it. Rather, artists need to be reminded that their contribution to this deeply troubled world is valuable. The exchange of value between an artist and his or her fans, is a means to allow the artist to continue creating art, and thus is crucial.
His own words emphasise that what is crucial is an "exchange of value between an artist and his or her fans". Copyright, with its ever-expanding range of restrictions and harsh punishments for those who overstep the mark – even unwittingly – hardly promotes that exchange. Creative Commons licenses are the true allies of artists who are struggling for recognition and remuneration, thanks to their broad permissions and explicit encouragement to share and enjoy, which promotes and enhances that exchange - and helps to generate that crucial financial return too.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+

Filed Under: artists, creative commons


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Oct 2011 @ 6:16am

    That people are trying to talk it down is a great sign that CC is not unnoticed in some circles and even presents a threat.

    Open culture is not just a license is an ethos.

    Value is not only given by financial status, that is the mistake. To believe things only have value if they have a price tag on it.

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