Creative Commons and the enemies of creators’ rights

It's a spectrum of rights for a reason

(Apologies to Aurelia and John for feeding the trolls). From time to time I come across an insidious, wrong-headed yet pervasive meme floating around the Internet; it can be encapsulated like this: Creative Commons is bad because it affects creators. How does it do it? There are two different versions of the meme. Firstly, it affects commercial creators because there are people out there making their work available for free, and it is difficult to compete against free. Secondly, creators are taken in by the fad that is CC, and they end up giving away important commercial rights that will affect them in the future. While this is F.U.D. at its best, I’d like to spend a little bit of time dealing with both.

However, first a little background about what has prompted this post. Yesterday’s post about Creative Commons in Portugal was retweeted quite a lot (to my surprise), and was generating a lot of hits. I was going through the referring tweets in the evening, and found some negative comments towards Creative Commons, amongst them this one. I did not agree with the tone, but hey, CC is not everyone’s cup of tea, so no worries, everyone is entitled to their opinion and all that. A few minutes later this one posted similar sentiments:

Time to move to Portugal! They're considering banning CC (and similar) licensing! http://bit.ly/mfDoXw (Thx @)
@LeslieBAP
Leslie Burns

Well, someone REALLY doesn’t like Creative Commons. Still no biggie, I’ve come across similar opinions before. However, some minutes later, the same person tweeted this message mentioning yours truly directly:

@ sadly, that blog is anti-creators' rights, but you'll get the meat of the proposal, at least.
@LeslieBAP
Leslie Burns

This comment really annoyed me at a basic level. There is no need to get defensive, but I really could not see in what way my blog implies that I am someone who is anti creators’ rights, whatever that means. I believe strongly in the creative process, consider myself a creator as well, and also give lots of presentations informing people about their rights and how they can use Creative Commons to their advantage. But perhaps there was a blatant post in these pages that prompted such comment. So I replied asking the poster what exactly makes me an enemy of creator’s rights. The reply is precisely what prompted this post. Ms @LeslieBAP wrote:

@ Anyone who supports CC is by definition anti-creators' rights. CC has put huge numbers of creatives out of business. @
@LeslieBAP
Leslie Burns

Yes, you read correctly, anyone who supports CC is by definition anti-creators’ rights because it is responsible for leaving several people out of business. So I asked that I would love to see the evidence of how many people have been affected by Creative Commons. This I believed was a reasonable request, after all, if CC is such a scourge of creators, there must be some evidence of it somewhere. I got another interesting reply:

@ There are no studies, of course, but that's why you asked for figures--you know there are none. Anecdotal? Tons. @
@LeslieBAP
Leslie Burns

There is no evidence that CC is affecting creators, but it must be true as there is some anecdotal evidence of it. The main problem I have with arguments like these is that it is clear that whenever the person is talking about creators, they are talking about a very narrow and specific type of creator. This is one of the issues that I always try to cover whenever I talk about open licensing in general, it is the idea that has been perpetuated in the collective psyche that there are a few worthy Creators, and then there are the rest of us, mere users. This is of course a false dichotomy, as the Internet has brought about a greater democratisation of the creative process. There are still cultural marketplaces, and these are still dominated by the few big sellers, but to imply that only the people at the head of the charts are worthy of the brand “Creator” completely misses what has been taking place in the last 15 years. It seems to me that the people who are still using such language are the people who were doing rather well in the pre-Internet days. Those were the times of the gatekeeper, where a small minority managed to profit from their work, and the rest of us were simply consumers. Nowadays there is a surplus of creation, and the old intermediaries are in crisis, and are being forced to change their business models, or are out of business entirely.

This is simply the reality of life in the Information Age (apologies for the use of this crass cliché). The intermediaries lose power, the gatekeepers are left guarding entry points while the walls all around them fall down. Technological changes have meant that I can write this blog without being a publisher, that you can upload a picture to Flickr, and that a person who attended a talk last week can upload a video on YouTube. Software has made it possible for more people to become musicians, editors and filmmakers. To ignore this reality is to deny the future and continue bemoaning the loss of an increasingly irrelevant golden era.

Creative Commons is not against copyright, it is simply the recognition of the new paradigm. CC allows the armies of new creators to publish their work online. This is the complete opposite of being against creators’ rights, it empowers larger numbers of creators to publish their work. CC does not work against copyright, it relies on copyright. Moreover, CC helps to strengthen copyright because larger numbers of people become owners. Copyright is not something that happens to a few pop stars and Hollywood producers, copyright is something that happens to every single person who crates an original work. By making people think about their own copyright, it also allows them to think about other people’s works.

Are there people hurting in the creative industries? Certainly! But this is not the fault of Creative Commons. The music industry is currently suffering from a combination of technological change, short-sightedness and piracy. Professional photographers are suffering from the fact that everyone is now a photographer, the surplus of digital cameras has created lots of competition. But again, CC did not create Flickr, it was already there.

In the last few weeks I have been presenting to creators here in Costa Rica about Creative Commons. Just last week I was inspired by the words of singer/songwriter Esteban Monge, who offers his music under a CC licence. He is one of the thousands of musicians who are not part of the minuscule minority who profit from contracts with large labels. He epitomises what I am talking about, he is also a creator worthy of respect. CC is working for him, I would like to see those who believe that Creative Commons is somehow against creators’ rights to have a quick talk with Esteban.

The world has changed, it is about time some people realised that 20th Century business models no longer work.

10 thoughts on “Creative Commons and the enemies of creators’ rights

  1. It's clear the type of interests these supposed guardians of rights stand for – their position has absolutely *nothing* to do with protecting creativity, instead it's about protecting the profit-making potential of the few while entirely disregarding the motivations of the many.

    I agree with you entirely Andres – and it saddens me that people would brand something which provides a framework for individuals voluntarily to share their works as 'anti creative'.

  2. Don´t feed the troll ;-). Came across the feed and thought what an $%&(=)(?=?. You give this guy to much credit. I want to hear about a singel person who went out of business cause of CC or OS-licensing.

  3. I know four professional photographers (three here in London, one based in LA). I've spoken with them all about the impact of digital on their work and careers and none of them have cited licensing as a concern.

    They have all faced much greater competition since the advent of digital. To some extent this has been due to the subsequent flooding of the market place by millions of free and low-cost images (particularly its impact on image library sales), but more importantly, by the increasing numbers of professional, semi-professional and occasionally professional photographers that the new technology has facilitated, new entrants who have driven down prices for commissioned work. As far as I can tell all four regard developments since the advent of the first affordable digital SLRs, as a practical issue, not a moral one, I'm pleased to say.

    The Twitter account in question seems fishy to me. The dogmatic language, the refusal to acknowledge the rights, concerns or desires of stakeholders other than those in the commercial world, all reminds me of the kind of propaganda you see from the collection societies and the lawyers that they typically retain.

  4. I am a creative person who is involved in projects that release collaborative music free of charge under CC. CC protects our right to do this and not have our work ripped off. There are other ways of making money from free content. Free content means that creators who live under the old model need to up their game or adapt their business models. I've found that creators generally do not mind this. It's the barnacles who act as agents to the creators that are stirring up this FUD. The world has changed. Adapt or die.

  5. So…how about some evidence to back up the claim that CC puts "creators" out of business, hmm? OH WAIT.

  6. "The music industry is currently suffering from a combination of technological change, short-sightedness and piracy."

    You forgot a couple. Competition from 5 million artists and bands on myspace and facebook. Competition for peoples time including Games, blogging, web surfing, farmville, etc. Competition for peoples entertainment money, how much did that cellphone, game system, game, iPad, etc cost you. The loss of replacement sales from format changes (8 track, cd, mp3), and damaged good replacement.

    • The loss of sales from format changes is something that has not often been brought up. It is a very good point. Perhaps the music industry should be pushing the SACD or DVD-A formats harder. There are plenty of audiophile titles sitting on analogue masters that have not yet received this treatment. I suppose piracy is still an issue though.

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