Friday, May 07, 2004

A New Look at Copyright

I spent a part of the morning today listening to a presentation by Stanford Law Professor and blogger, Lawrence Lessig. Mr. Lessig was promoting his Creative Commons Project, which is a new way to look at copyright and licensing of artistic product. Of course, as someone involved in both software used by creative professionals and as a photographer, I was very interested in what he had to say.

If I may attempt to summarize his thesis, and I hope do it a bit of justice... Lessig makes the point that copyright law derives from 18th century technology, and as written, causes a lot of problems with 21st century technology. Since the 1980s it has been assumed that copyright is granted upon time of creation. I.e., hit SAVE and it is your property. The onus is on the person seeking to use your material to seek permission from the artist. But what if the artist would like to share their works, but set reasonable limits. Copyright law does not provide for a method for the artist to do that up front.

That is where Creative Commons comes in. The artist simply goes to CreativeCommons.org and makes some choices on a web form. Such as, does he want attribution, is he sharing for non-commercial purposes only, are derivative works to be bound by the same contract? And voila, 3 documents are generated. A human readable license agreement, one in legalese, and a machine readable document.

The goal is that at some point using metadata that digital creations will be able to link back to the license, and creative persons will be able to see to what extent they can use or repurpose artwork created by other artists.

"All creativity is based on the past," says Lessig. And he hopes to remove the intermediary where no intermediary is necessary between creative individuals, and hopefully foster an explosion of creativity.

He doesn't seek to replace copyright, but instead to offer a method to "opt in" to a more open system. I'd be interested to hear from those of you who are creative types yourself, and from my creatively legal friends as well.

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