Barbara Lattanzi on Tue, 12 Feb 2002 15:25:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Fwd: All Hail Creative Commons

>From: Tom Damrauer <>
>Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 15:07:30 -0500
>Subject: All Hail Creative Commons
>X-Sender: (Unverified)
>All Hail Creative Commons: Stanford professor and author Lawrence Lessig 
>plans a legal insurrection Hal Plotkin,
>Special to SF Gate (SF Chronicle) Monday, February 11, 2002
>Stanford law professor and author Lawrence Lessig and a small band of 
>collaborators at MIT, Duke, Harvard and Villanova are about to embark on a 
>new endeavor that could help reignite the global high-tech economy.
>A prolific thinker, writer and doer, and a national authority on 
>intellectual-property law and a former columnist at The Industry Standard, 
>Lessig is perhaps best known as the author of two of the most important 
>books yet produced about computers, the Internet and how our legal system 
>deals with them: "Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace," and his more recent 
>work, "The Future of Ideas."
>In an interview last week, Lessig confirmed the basic details about his 
>latest venture, Creative Commons, which is slated to be formally unveiled 
>in a few months.
>In a boon to the arts and the software industry, Creative Commons will 
>make available flexible, customizable intellectual-property licenses that 
>artists, writers, programmers and others can obtain free of charge to 
>legally define what constitutes acceptable uses of their work. The new 
>forms of licenses will provide an alternative to traditional copyrights by 
>establishing a useful middle ground between full copyright control and the 
>unprotected public domain.
>The first set of licensing options Creative Commons plans to make 
>available are designed mostly for people looking for some protections as 
>they move their wares into the public domain. Those protections might 
>include requirements that the work not be altered, employed for commercial 
>purposes or used without proper attribution.
>Lessig adds that it's possible Creative Commons' licenses may eventually 
>evolve to include options that permit or enable certain commercial 
>transactions. An artist might, for example, agree to give away a work as 
>long as no one is making money on it but include a provision requiring 
>payments on a sliding scale if it's sold. As participation in the Commons 
>project increases, a variety of specific intellectual-property license 
>options will evolve in response to user needs, which in turn would create 
>templates for others with similar requirements.
>Within a few months, artists, writers and others will soon be able to go 
>online, select the options that suit them best and receive a custom-made 
>license they can append to their works without having to pay a dime to a 
>lawyer, let alone the thousands of dollars it typically costs to purchase 
>similar legal services.
>"We also want to facilitate machine-readable languages," adds Lessig, who 
>will be taking a partial leave from Stanford to help jump-start the 
>Creative Commons effort.
>In Lessig's model, an MP3 song or a document or any other intellectual 
>property would contain a special machine-readable tag that specifies the 
>exact licensing terms approved by its creator. That means film 
>studentsmaking a movie, for example, could do a search, say, for jazz 
>songs released under public domain-friendly licenses that they can use for 
>their soundtrack without charge.
>At the same time, Creative Commons also plans to build a "conservancy" to 
>facilitate the preservation and sharing of intellectual property.
>A Win-Win Proposition
>In one masterstroke, Lessig and colleagues will empower creators of 
>intellectual property by giving them more control over their work while 
>also increasing the communal technical resources that contribute to 
>innovation and growth. The result will be a new spark of life for the 
>Internet, and for the tech sector in general.
>Rather than abandon an outdated software program, for example, a computer 
>company would have the option of donating its source code to the Creative 
>Commons conservancy, where people could build on it to create other new 
>and useful products.
>Some of that activity, of course, is already taking place within the 
>often-chaotic open-source software community. But many mainstream business 
>executives have been reluctant to hop aboard the open-source bandwagon. 
>Some of them have expressed fears that the origins and ownership of 
>certain open-source code projects could eventually come into question. 
>Many of them would prefer to play it safe, deal with proprietary vendors 
>and not take any chances.
>The Creative Commons conservancy will address some of those fears, in 
>part, by providing access to more reliable legal protections that will 
>make participation in open-source projects more likely. The implicit 
>guarantees that usually accompany most open-source projects will be turned 
>into the more explicit, ironclad licensing language that helps build 
>confidence among information-technology professionals. Once an owner has 
>formally conserved a piece of work, for example, any risks of inadvertent 
>copyright infringement related to that work will be greatly reduced, if 
>not eliminated entirely.
>The project's backers hope that over time, companies and individuals may 
>even receive tax breaks for donating works to the conservancy. That 
>outcome could encourage the release of additional technical resources that 
>everyone can use.
>The Problem With Copyright Law
>For years now, Lessig and other critics have maintained that inflexible 
>copyright rules as they exist often just protect entrenched -- and usually 
>uncreative -- interests at the expense of virtually everyone else, 
>including many of those the copyright rules were originally supposed to 
>He points out, for example, that when Congress first enacted copyright law 
>in 1790, the protection extended for a term of 14 years, which could be 
>renewed for another 14 years if the author was still alive. Congress has 
>since increased that term to the life of the author plus 70 years. Given 
>current life expectancies, that means a corporation can now bank on 
>preventing a piece of intellectual property produced by a 30-year-old 
>today from falling into the public domain for more than a century.
>Lessig says such practices run contrary to one of the main reasons 
>copyright law was conceived in the first place. Originally, he says, 
>copyright and patent laws sought to balance two competing interests: 
>protecting and rewarding innovators for their work, but also making sure 
>innovations were available for reuse or repurposing by others after a 
>reasonable length of time.
>The rationale for that policy goes something like this:
>The first person who figures out a new invention -- say, the wheel -- 
>deserves to get rich. But that person should not have a right to prevent 
>others from using his or her invention for so long that future progress is 
>hampered. What's often missed by the most ardent private-property 
>stalwarts (usually big-company lawyers, incidentally) is that the intended 
>goal of the copyright system was to provide incentives for creativity not 
>only for the originators of new ideas but also for others who want to use 
>and build on those ideas in other ways.
>Unfortunately, over the years concentrated financial interests have 
>convinced Congress to steadily shift that balance. Privatized rights have 
>won favor over the public interests that were once a far more essential 
>aspect of copyright protections. That trend has only accelerated recently, 
>as Congress has caved in to one demand after another from big media firms, 
>Microsoft and others to "strengthen" copyright protections for a variety 
>of high-tech digital goods.
>On one level, the Creative Commons idea is all about commerce. But its 
>deeper significance does not involve commerce in its usual form. Lessig 
>isn't just trying to make his own cash register ring. Instead, his goal is 
>to get millions of others ringing by making it easier to create new goods, 
>products and services. In a larger sense, the goal is to make the world 
>safer for innovators by nurturing the conditions that lead to economic 
>growth and technological progress.
>Not a Moment too Soon
>In his most recent book, Lessig makes a convincing case that the health of 
>the Internet and the tech sector in general is being choked off by 
>increasingly successful efforts to erect proprietary bottlenecks that 
>prevent competition. The most obvious example is Microsoft's Windows 
>operating system, which remains the subject of federal antitrust 
>litigation. But there are many other similar, although less 
>well-publicized, cases that could prove equally worrisome over time.
>A company called Thomson Multimedia, for example, owns patents to the 
>popular MP3 digital music format. So far, the company has made it 
>relatively easy for others to adopt the technology, which has facilitated 
>its wide use and rapid acceptance. But like Microsoft, Thomson could 
>decide at some future date that the time has come to more fully exploit 
>its dominant position as the key enabler of online music-delivery systems. 
>Thatuncertainty puts at risk the business plans of every company or artist 
>that relies on MP3s, which is just one of the reasons there are so few 
>investors interested in online music ventures these days. It's just too 
>risky building a business in a sandlot someone else owns.
>Lessig says the solution to that and other problems can be found in the 
>age-old idea of the commons -- that is, the notion that society and the 
>economy are better off when certain resources are protected and made 
>freelyavailable. Public streets, for example, provide accessible places 
>where businesses can set up shop and where goods can be transported. 
>Likewise, laws that prevented phone companies from discriminating between 
>voice and data traffic allowed free use of those lines for other purposes, 
>which in turn helped create the Internet.
>The Creative Commons conservancy service is intended to extend that 
>approach to as many other areas as possible.
>"One of our goals is to lower the cost to give something away, and to make 
>it harder for people to be ambushed [by proprietary claims]," says Lessig.
>The result will be a more robust, healthier high-tech economy.
>And this time, remarkably, a lawyer will actually deserve credit for 
>helping make it happen.
>Veteran Silicon Valley writer and broadcaster Hal Plotkin is also a 
>contributing writer at Harvard Business School's publishing division.
>Tom Damrauer
>PGP fingerprint: D9 29 D2 9D E7 92 87 23  9B B7 4B FB 56 3B CF BB
>My public key is available by fingering me or on public key servers.

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