Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Creative Commons

Today's post is dedicated to Creative Commons licenses and the non-profit corporation that created them, something I care very much about.

For those who don't know, Creative Commons licenses are rights licenses that fill in the grey area between copyright and public domain. If the creator of a work releases that work to the public domain, they no longer have full control. Anyone is free to use the work in any way they want. By contrast, copyright means the creator still has full control over how other people are able to use the work. Creative Commons fills in the space between. Certain rights are still owned by the creator while others are released.

How the rights are set up is decided by the creator. Creative Commons licenses have different conditions that can be applied in any combination: Attribution (by), Share Alike (sa), Non-Commercial (nc), and No Derivative Works (nd). For more information about what these mean, and about the different ways they can be combined, I encourage you to read the page about licenses on the Creative Commons website.

Creative Commons (the company) are currently involved in a bit of a struggle with ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, the main group in the US for protecting copyrights of its members and collecting licensing fees on their behalf). The president of ASCAP recently sent out a fundraising letter (I was unable to find the letter itself, though I have seen it, so here are two Twitpic posts of part 1 and part 2 of the letter) to ASCAP members claiming, among other things, that money was needed to fight groups like Creative Commons that want to undermine copyright and "spread the word that [their] music should be free." When Creative Commons attempted to rebuke the claims, ASCAP claimed that Creative Commons were attempting to silence them.

The problem with ASCAP's claims is that Creative Commons is merely a relatively relaxed alternative to full copyright. As they themselves argue, Creative Commons simply would not work without copyright. If copyright didn't exist, there would be no way to enforce the Creative Commons licenses. The other main argument against ASCAP's claims is that there is nothing forced about Creative Commons. It is a completely voluntary thing. Creators CHOOSE to use a Creative Commons license because it's less restrictive than a full copyright. Many creators who use Creative Commons also use traditional copyright, including several members of ASCAP.

I first heard about Creative Commons through a folk-punk band called Defiance, Ohio. All or nearly all of their work is available for free through Creative Commons. They use the CC by-nc-sa license, which means that anyone can use their music in anyway as long as the original work is attributed to them, the use is non-commercial, and any works created with their music (covers, remixes, music videos, etc) is made available under the same license. I thought that was really neat and it gave me a greater appreciation of the band and what they were trying to do.

Two notable users of Creative Commons licenses are Wikipedia (scroll down to the bottom of any entry, you'll see the CC claim) and Quote Unquote Records (who also use the CC by-nc-sa license). Quote Unquote (founded by Bomb The Music Industry! frontman Jeff Rosenstock) is a donation-based record label that gives all of their music away for free or a donation decided by the purchaser. I hope to write a full entry about them someday, as they are a rising force in the punk industry (what a terrible phrase) and just might be indicative of the future of the music industry.

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