Thursday, July 21, 2005

I'm hip and elite and I have the code to prove it

... According to John C. Dvorak, that is. He wrote a two-screen long diatribe against Creative Commons in his PC Magazine column. Most of the mistakes in his column are corrected elsewhere (Joe Gratz does a particularly good job). I thought I'd put in what I think CC gains me. Basically, I want to be read. I want my work attributed to me, and I want others to be able to copy and improve on my work to their own desires. That's the essence of my Attribution-ShareAlike license. Granted, for a text-only blog, most quotes are probably small enough to be covered under fair use and never have any copyright issues, even if I didn't include the CC license. But, if anyone does want to copy off all my work in its entirety, it's fine with me. I'd be flattered.

Dvorak spends about a paragraph wondering why some bloggers/artists differentiate between commercial and noncommercial use. He says:

This means that others have certain rights to reuse the material under a variety of provisos, mostly as long as the reuse is not for commercial purposes. Why not commercial purposes? What difference does it make, if everyone is free and easy about this? In other words, a noncommercial site could distribute a million copies of something and that's okay, but a small commercial site cannot deliver two copies if it's for commercial purposes. What is this telling me?

It's telling you that you can use, distribute and/or modify someone else's work, as long as you don't intend to make money off it. If a third party wanted to use it for profit, they'd have to negotiate permissions with the copyright holder. The agreement might include a share in the profits that party would make off the author's work. If someone just wants a copy, or to improve on the work, no further negotiations required. Seemed simple and fair to me. "Mostly" — don't know where he got that from. Incidentally, it's something I don't do (I don't see anyone selling my blog anytime soon, either), but I can understand it.

The no derivative works (NoDerivs) tag is something he doesn't discuss at all. Again, I don't use it, but I see why it's there. An author may want wide distribution, but may think that derivatives would corrupt his/her work. This is, I think, especially relevant for opinion pieces.

He also makes a big deal about CC:public domain. Looks to me like a lot of words about nothing. Yes, it's true that you don't need CC to assign a work to the public domain. A simple notice will suffice. But, CC does add a recognizable logo and (optional) computer-readable RDF code that identifies a digital work as being in the public domain.

His grand finale really takes the cake though:

Years ago, to gain a copyright, you had to fill out a form and send in the material to the Library of Congress. Now you just use the word "copyright," add your name and a date, and publish it. What could be easier? Apparently simplicity was more than some people could handle, so they invented Creative Commons to add some artificial paperwork and complexity to the mechanism. And it seems to actually weaken the copyrights you have coming to you without Creative Commons.

Firstly, he misstates how one currently obtains a copyright (the real answer: write something down). Secondly, he confuses the “simplicity” for the author with simplicity for obtaining rights to a work. Let's say Dvorak were to run away to a cave tomorrow. How would I obtain rights to redistribute his column? (As if I'd want to). It would remain locked in copyright for nearly two generations.

I'm in full agreement with Dvorak that today's copyright durations are too long, and the terms are overly restrictive. But, until those laws change, choosing Creative Commons is part of the solution.

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