The Creative Commons as a default rule
Reader Ben Lancini points me to this piece by John Dvorak, attacking [or rather, confessing to not seeing the point of] the Creative Commons License. This has prompted me to write a post I promised ages ago, in response to Kim Weatherall and Nicholas Gruen. I won’t recapitulate the debate, but just state my own position.
I’ve chosen the non-commercial, attribution, share-alike version of the Creative Commons License. This says that anyone can reproduce my work from the blog, with attribution and for non-commercial purposes, as long as they share it under the same conditions.
I’ve chosen this, not because it’s necessarily the best option in all, or even most cases, but because it’s the best default rule. Anyone who wants to use material from the blog in this way can do so without asking me. And share-alike is a good feature for a default option, because it means that re-use is similarly free under the same conditions.
But if Hollywood wants to use bits of the blog in the forthcoming hit movie Crooked Timber of Humanity, they are not confined to the CC license. They’re free to fly me to LA, and make a stupendously generous offer for the commercial rights. Similarly, if someone wanted to use the posts without attribution for some good reason, they could always approach me and ask for permission.
More generally, if someone wants to do things differently they can propose a contract with me. The optimal default rule is one that protects most rights I might want to enforce, while allowing (without special permission) most uses I’d be unlikely to object to. Public domain fails on the first count, and standard copyright on the second. I think the Creative Commons License, in the particular form I’ve chosen gets the balance just about right.
The general idea of a default value is familiar to anyone who’s done any computer programming and I imagine that if things were put to Dvorak in this way he’d see the point.
The ideas I’ve associated with default rules are commonly, but not, I think, very helpfully, discussed in terms of the supposedly ‘viral’ nature of licenses, particularly in relation to software and the Gnu General Public License. The idea of a default rule clarifies what is going on here. You can only have one default. At one time this was public domain (since it was necessary to make a specific claim for copright). Now it’s copyright, and advocates of strong IP take this as normal and natural. But if you want to use GPL or CC material with a share-alike license you have to adopt this default. From the viewpoint of people who take copyright as natural, but see CC material expanding, this is like a virus.
fn1. Nothing I do with the license affects rights of fair use (not that these are very extensive in Australia, but this may change for the better).