Copycense has a rather thought-provoking editorial pondering whether or not Creative Commons is good or bad for copyright
. I have to admit that I've long felt similarly about Creative Commons in general. I don't use any of their licenses, because I don't necessarily see the point. We've declared in the past that the content here is free for anyone to do what they want with it, and thus I feel no need for a Creative Commons license. But, at the same time, there were some underlying issues about CC that have bothered me, concerning its continued reliance on copyright as a basis for making it work. I admire
the folks behind it and the very idea of using copyright itself to carve out a more reasonable way of dealing with it, but I've always wondered if the use of Creative Commons, while a nice solution for many users, helps to cloud the problems with copyright law. This is the same point Copycense makes, noting that one of the major problems with it is that it takes copyright out of a policy debate, and makes it a contractual issue.
Copycense was okay with this in the past, back when it seemed unlikely that there would ever be a real national debate on copyright, but given recent events in Canada, it seems that such discussions can actually occur:
We conclude now... that the continued use and prominence of Creative Commons licenses actually obscures the real copyright issues we face in this country, and keeps Americans from settling on the proper parameters of digital information use, access, retrieval and preservation in the 21st century. It is too easy for a creator to slap a CC license on a copyrighted work, promote one's apparent knowledge of (and sensitivity to) copyright issues through a CC badge, and feel good about oneself, almost like the purchase of hybrid vehicle becomes one's outward signal to society that its owner is dedicated to stopping global warming.
Indeed, there seems to be a whole aura attached to using a CC license -- or perhaps more specifically, slapping that CC badge on a copyright-protected work -- because it seems to signal that the person using the license is thinking progressively about intellectual property, information policy, and related issues....
But we believe the real question to be asked is how we can calibrate copyright law to make it equally usable by, and effective for, all Americans. To this end, we believe the use of CC licenses actually avoids the question of what U.S. copyright should be in the 21st century, and how the law should best serve its citizens, who now are as likely to be creators of copyrighted works as your average conglomerate record label. This avoidance is particularly problematic given the prominence and use of CC licenses; the organization's position -- real or perceived -- as the antidote to a broken copyright system; and the very real possibility that few who use the licenses really know what they mean....
As Canada is doing now, the U.S. needs to have deep, complicated, and perhaps even painful conversations about information policy; the history, purpose, uses and scope of copyright law and policy in our digital information ecosystem; and the reform that needs to happen in both areas.
We do not believe the Creative Commons license scheme fosters that conversation. Instead, we believe the scheme muzzles this conversation by promoting a contractual bargain in lieu of balanced and calibrated legislation and policy. We hope that in the future, Creative Commons will put more of its considerable intellectual and economic resources toward resolving the problems with copyright law instead of promoting contractual workarounds. In the best case scenario, with a balanced and effective law that serves citizens and corporate owners equally well, a Creative Commons license is unnecessary. This should be the goal.
There's a lot
more at the link, but I did want to pull out those sections, as making some points worth thinking about. While I always cringe at calls for "balanced copyright" -- which I think misses the point of copyright (a truly successful copyright law involves making everyone better off, rather than "balancing" interests) -- it is worth thinking about Creative Commons impact on the debate over copyright.
But... I'm not sure that I would go as far as Copycense in condemning Creative Commons. Many of the people behind it went through (and are still going through) numerous battles to push back on the excesses of copyright. Creative Commons wasn't the solution -- it was a helpful (and hopefully temporary) oasis in a bleak desert, following numerous well-reasoned, but ultimately futile attempts to push back corporate expansion of copyright. And while I agree that there are problems with shifting the issue to a contractual agreement (and the post highlights some of the many legal problems CC licenses may cause), I think that CC, as a whole, did
turn a lot more people onto the some of the problems with copyright law as it stands today. In many ways, CC is an easy way for people to first start to understand the problems of copyright law, in understanding why CC is needed.
From there, many who do understand this have started questioning the larger issues around copyright -- and many of those involved with CC have continued to fight that good fight, rather than just assuming that CC is "the answer." So, in the end, I agree that we should be clear to recognize that Creative Commons and efforts to really rethink copyright are two separate things, but that doesn't mean that Creative Commons is necessarily bad for copyright policy issues. It has been, and hopefully will continue to be, a real stepping stone to getting more people to recognize these bigger issues. In fact, I'd argue that many of the folks now leading the debate for more reasoned copyright policy in Canada first came to understand these issues via their exposure to Creative Commons' licenses.