Should the Blogosphere Adopt the Creative Commons Licensing Model?

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A posting by Kevin Smith on the Scholarly Communications @ Duke Blog explores the argument that the academic world should consider adopting the Creative Commons Licensing system for their academic works. The article got me to thinking: should the blogosphere consider adopting the same model?

Smith's argument is that the problem with the current copyright system is that it does not necessarily protect attribution or moral rights that the writer has in the work that he or she created. Thus, if the ownership right is transferred to a publisher or just another entity, then that publisher or entity has the right to republish the work and could easily do so without making any attribution to the author.

Smith writes:

There was a story in the higher education press about six months ago about a professor who found that his short book, published several years before and since out of print, had been incorporated whole into a larger work from the same publisher that carried the name of a different author. Because the professor had transferred his copyright to the publisher, and the US has no moral right of attribution, he had no recourse to continue to get credit for his own scholarship. For an academic author this is a dreadful fate, since scholarly publication is done more for reputation and standing in the discipline than it is for money. . . .

So, what exactly is the Creative Commons License?

Well, the Creative Commons License is actually a series of six licenses:

1) The Attribution By License

2) The Attribution Share-Alike License

3) The Attribution No Derivatives License

4) The Attribution Non-Commercial License

5) Attribution Noncommerical Share-Alike License

6) Attribution Non-Commerical No Derivatives License

The Creative Commons Website provides a short overview of each licensing model as well as a series of videos explaining how they work. The inspiration for the Creative Commons License is, of course, the open source model in software. The Creative Commons Website explains as follows:

Too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes. At one pole is a vision of total control — a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and in which “all rights reserved” (and then some) is the norm. At the other end is a vision of anarchy — a world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation. Balance, compromise, and moderation — once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally — have become endangered species.

Creative Commons is working to revive them. We use private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are cooperative and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them — to declare “some rights reserved.”

Thus, a single goal unites Creative Commons’ current and future projects: to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules.

Creative Commons’ first project, in December 2002, was the release of a set of copyright licenses free for public use. Taking inspiration in part from the Free Software Foundation’s GNU General Public License (GNU GPL), Creative Commons has developed a Web application that helps people dedicate their creative works to the public domain — or retain their copyright while licensing them as free for certain uses, on certain conditions. Unlike the GNU GPL, Creative Commons licenses are not designed for software, but rather for other kinds of creative works: websites, scholarship, music, film, photography, literature, courseware, etc. We hope to build upon and complement the work of others who have created public licenses for a variety of creative works. Our aim is not only to increase the sum of raw source material online, but also to make access to that material cheaper and easier. To this end, we have also developed metadata that can be used to associate creative works with their public domain or license status in a machine-readable way. We hope this will enable people to use our search application and other online applications to find, for example, photographs that are free to use provided that the original photographer is credited, or songs that may be copied, distributed, or sampled with no restrictions whatsoever. We hope that the ease of use fostered by machine- readable licenses will further reduce barriers to creativity.

Like most attorneys, I am always a little reluctant to step out of the normal legal regime that I am accustomed to, but I think that in light of the recent fair use controversy launched by the Associated Press on the blogosphere (see my June 20, 2008 posting), it may just be time for bloggers to consider stepping "outside the box" on copyright law. For those of you new to the blogosphere, this is because in our world, it is advantageous for us to be quoted as many times as possible. Indeed, unlike the traditional journalism model, we are not looking to collect a license fees from our web publications, but we are looking to give a voice to our views and share a perspective on the web, which many of us hope will assist in developing our reputation in our respective professions as well. I, for one, am pleased to see myself quoted elsewhere, regardless of the number of words that are quoted, provided that my quotations are properly attributed and not taken out of context.

Going back to Smith's article: wouldn't the same rationale that argues for the use of the Creative Commons license in academia apply to many of us in the blogosphere as well?

While I am not quite ready myself to strike all of the copyright notices off my blogs and other online publications, I think that there is something to be said for this argument. As traditional journalism continues to grapple with the fact that society is moving away from print publications to the web, the blogosphere is going to have to deal with the fact that traditional journalism is still trying to come to terms with how to be viable online, and this may result in additional challenges to fair use. If that is the case, we as bloggers may just have to take another look at the Creative Commons Model, and decide whether this alternative licensing model is how we should be distributing our work online.

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