It's Not All or Nothing
Nov 4, 2003
Kate Bulkley reports on a middle way for copyright owners
It all started as a Mickey Mouse idea, but could change the nature of music coppyright. Last November, Stanford University law professor Lawrence Lessig failed to persuade the US Supremem Court that continual copyright extensions, such as Walt Disney's continued grip on Mickey Mouse, were a barrier to creativity.
But the case convinced him that the current laws recognised two extremes: absolute copyright where all rights are reserved or, no rights or public domain, where anything is allowed.
Lessig knew that some artists didn't actually want all rights reserved - they wanted to allow some usage as part of their creative process. Yet how could any artist tell that to the world? Lessig's answer was to set up Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation where artists can electronically choose a flavour of copyright that suits them.
Creative Commons or cc (its logo is cc in a circle, a variation on the famous "all rights reserved" ©) provides easy-to-understand copyright licenses that avoid lengthy legalese and are available to read and download from the cc website free of charge.
There are three main licensing options: attribution of the work; what commercial usage is allowed; and what modifications may be made. The more protective the artist wants to be, the more extras can be attached to the cc license, all downloaded electronically and attached in cyberspace to the artist's work.
At the recent Pop!Tech conference in Maine, USA, Lessig said that current copyright law is being used by organisations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) which is suing every downloader of MP3 files it can lay its hands on, as a bludgeon. "We should be changing the law to fit the changing technology, not go to war (with consumers)," says Lessig. "The really critical thing is to recognise that there is a space between piracy and property."
Since it was set up in the U.S. last December, more than 1 million cc licenses have been downloaded from www.creativecommons.org. A U.K. version incorporating U.K. copyright law will launch before the end of the year.