Will working for free ever work?

Lawrence Lessig hates copyright. Or at least that’s the impression I get from reading his work and listening to his lectures. He believes that it’s unnecessary, that it stifles creativity, and that remix culture is not only the way of the future, but it has actually been the way all along. We just haven’t realised it.

To his credit, he co-founded Creative Commons (CC) to fix this. Providing an alternative to copyright for people who believe that sharing is caring, or rather that sharing is creating. There’s no denying Creative Commons is useful. If I want to put an image in a slideshow for my school project, or share it on my personal blog, why should I have to ring up some faceless corporation in Hollywood to make sure they won’t come knocking my door down over 10 cents.

That said, however, whether CC and other general licensing schemes such as GNU or FLOSS, can be viable alternatives to copyright in the long term, remains to be seen. At the end of the day, CC and others rely fundamentally on the belief that people are happy to have their works distributed and remixed, (usually) for free. While this may be fine for those who, as Medosch puts it are “still very young and live in a squat or have very rich parents or both”, whether the creative professional, the struggling musician, or the fledgling artist can live with this (and more precisely live off this) seems unlikely.

Personally, I think it is naive to believe that in a capitalist society, such a model can become the viable alternative to the current, even if extreme, model of copyright.

But it sure would be nice.

One day...

AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Toban Black


Medosch, Armin. ‘Paid in Full’: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’. in Deptforth. TV Dairies II: Pirate Stratagies, London: Deptforth TV, 2008. pp. 73-97.


Creative Commons Licence

Week 10:

Following week 10 tutorial’s exercise, explain why you chose the Creative Commons license that you added to your blog and discuss the relevance (or not) of adding the license.

Like all original works, this blog is protected by copyright from the moment I press ‘Publish’. It’s automatic. It’s free. It’s comprehensive.

In fact, copyright is so thorough that it can often stifle the creativity of new artists, authors and musicians. In this digital age, the extent of copyright can reach far beyond the physical copy of a book on your bookshelf, or paper in your photocopier. New technologies are now working, often without our knowledge, to protect copyright in ways few actually understand. (Take DRM technology: everyone knows it stops copied music, just no-one knows how). While this is all done in the name of reserving an author’s rights, often such measures end up going too far.

If copyright is too protective, then we need an alternative. A different system by which an author’s rights are respected without leaving them open to misuse and abuse. Cue Creative Commons.

Creative Commons

[Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by jorgeandresem]

Co-founded by anti-copyright campaigner and lawyer, Lawrence Lessig, Creative Commons (CC) licences provide a (legal) alternative to copyright. As its website puts it, Creative Commons seeks to create “a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.”

I’ve chosen to licence this blog with Creative Commons because I believe that, at least for certain things (like a Uni blog), copyright is far too strict. So go ahead. Rip off all my stuff. Do what you will with it. (Conditions apply)

Wait. Conditions? What conditions? Isn’t CC just anti-copyright?

No. Not at all. A common mistake.

Creative Commons does not and was not designed to replace copyright, it just turns down the level of control over a work to a more acceptable and practical one. All Creative Commons licences allow people to re-distribute someone else’s work, unmodified, for free. But within the CC licences there is still room for variation. In fact, there are six possible licences, founded on four fundamental conditions:

1. Attribution (BY) – you must attribute the work to its author.

2. Share Alike (SA) – you can make derivative works, as long as they have the same or a similar CC licence.

3. Non-Commercial (NC) – you can’t make any money from someone else’s work.

4. No Derivative Works (ND) – you can’t make any derivative works based on someone else’s work.

From these conditions I have chosen the BY-NC-SA (version 3.0) licence.

Allow me to elaborate:

1. Attribution: If you acknowledge that it’s mine, then I’m fine with you sharing my work with others. Besides, you have to do this anyway, copyright or CC, so get used to it. (Unless you are a plagiarizer, in which case, carry on.)

2. Share Alike: Again, if you attribute the original work to me and acknowledge that your work is based on mine, then great. Good on you. Go for your life. I won’t be suing anybody today.

3: Non-Commercial: Ahh, now we have something. I’ve chosen the NC condition for my CC licence because, well frankly, if you happen to find a way of making money from something that I’ve created, then I want some too. This may sound selfish, and beyond unlikely, but I don’t care. I’m a Uni student. I have $20 in my wallet, and $50.78 in my bank account, so if you’re making money off my ideas, then I had better be as well.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s easy to advocate the idealistic principles of culture sharing and remix culture, but in practice its much harder to defend. I doubt Lawrence Lessig goes home to a one-bedroom share house, full of guitars and trashed manuscripts in between his lectures at Harvard. Not that I do either, but you get the idea.

In any case, that is the licence I’ve chosen. I’m not sure how relevant it will be, since I doubt anyone wants to remix my posts. But, on the off-chance that it is, now you know how you can use, copy, distribute, edit, remix and build upon it, all without going to jail.

Thanks, Creative Commons Man.

Creative Commons Man

[Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Mickipedia]