October 23, 2011
The majority of regular people create art because they enjoy the creative process and would like to share the beauty they capture in their work with the rest of the world. When we take photographs and share them on Facebook or Twitter, we do not do it because we intend to gain any financial return from it, but because it is fun.
However, due to the way the copyright system works, every single picture we take is automatically protected from the unauthorised use of other people for the entirety of our lifetime plus 70 years after that. While some might argue that having a long period of copyright protection is necessary for investment to be made in some creative industries, it is surely not needed or desired by every single person.
This is detrimental to society because even though we have all these photographs, blog posts, and loads and loads of user generated content, society cannot take advantage of them or use them to build other creative works on top of them. Copyright requires the explicit permission of the author to allow the use of these works for any purpose outside the narrowly defined permitted uses.
The problem with copyright is not the nature of its protection or its duration, but the fact that this protection is granted automatically and does not require any sort of formality for the author to get the full protection.
The people behind the Creative Commons licences acknowledge that creativity does not come from a vacuum and that we are all inspired by the works of others and everything else around us. The Creative Commons provides authors with simple licences that help them indicate to the public that their works are available for everyone to use as long as they fulfil the licence conditions.
These conditions can be used together or independently and include the requirement to attribute the author when using the work, the requirement to use the work only for non-commercial purposes, and the requirement to have the result work licenced under the same licence as the original material.
Using the Creative Commons licences can make the lives of many people so much easier as teachers can use Creative Commons licenced works in their teaching materials without violating copyright. Students can also use these works easily in their school projects and other works. The Creative Commons therefore promotes a culture of sharing and remixing by encouraging the users of these licensing to put their works out in high quality formats that can be easily reused and remixed.
Some might argue that it is impossible to enforce a Creative Commons licence if you put your work online, as any person from another country may use it without attribution or use it in a commercial work when you explicit prohibit that. But we have to accept that piracy on the Internet is a fact of life and there is no point in mutilating our photographs and other works with huge watermarks and excessive notices when anyone can easily crop them or photoshop the watermark out.
What we need to focus on is giving back the community some of what we have taken, and hopefully other people will follow suit.
Riyadh Abdul Aziz is a blogger interested in the relationship between the web and society who works as a legal researcher for the government of Oman. He is interested in technology, intellectual property, and law. You can e-mail Riyadh at firstname.lastname@example.org