Home > Intellectual 'property' > The Creative Commons as a default rule

The Creative Commons as a default rule

July 20th, 2005

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[1].

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).

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  1. Terje
    July 20th, 2005 at 18:20 | #1

    I like your default rule. It seems like the basis for a good community spirit. In other words enjoy but don’t exploit my good will.

  2. July 20th, 2005 at 21:43 | #2

    Dvorak seems to troll for slashdottings. Opensource licenses and the Creative Commons are representations of commoditization in my opinion. Proprietary licenses and copyright dont let the creators make their works true commodities. OSS and CC give the creators that freedom to make the use of their work have zero cost.

  3. reader from nowra
    July 20th, 2005 at 22:35 | #3

    And if a senior high school student admired your work on – say – globalisation so much that she (or he) decided to quote great slabs of it in their Trial HSC examinations, would that count as “reproducing my work from the blog, with attribution and for non-commercial purposes”?

  4. July 20th, 2005 at 23:05 | #4

    reader from nowra,

    I assume that it would indeed count . That doesn’t mean that it would meet with the approval of the examiners of course, any more than quoting great slabs of public domain writing would. To compare, open source software is available for a wide variety of different problems, but not widely submitted for university computing assignments for the very good reason that the requirement is that you hand in your own work, not just any piece of work that it’s legal to reproduce.

  5. snuh
    July 21st, 2005 at 10:00 | #5

    “And if a senior high school student admired your work on – say – globalisation so much that she (or he) decided to quote great slabs of it in their Trial HSC examinations, would that count as “reproducing my work from the blog, with attribution and for non-commercial purposesâ€??”

    the key words are “with attribution”.

  6. Michael S.
    July 21st, 2005 at 11:44 | #6

    Some libertarian publications in the states experimented wth this only to find some unfavorable re-use of their articles. I think one particularly bad case involved an article critical of Israel by a prominent libertarian winding up in the Journal for Historical review – a leading source of holocaust revisionism.

    I don’t suggest you discontinue use of the license John but how will you cope if it turns around bites you on the bum? Do you really want to find yourself in a CEC publication?

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