(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:
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:
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:
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 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.