Thursday, October 4, 2007

Licensing for the Public Domain? (Week 6)

I am still getting over my shock that almost EVERYTHING from 1923 on is copyrighted! And that, in essence, I'm breaking copyright when I cite someone's article in my scholarly article, except that I'm allowed to under "fair use". This thought leads me to several concerning this week's readings:

1. Why have we focused on developing new forms of copyright (GFDL and Creative Commons) instead of focusing on expanding and clarifying "fair use"?? Bound by Law - a comic that explains copyright - points out how ridiculous copyright can get for documentary makers - how a TV in the background showing the Simpsons may require the documentary maker to pay $10,000 to the copyright holders, or cut that scene out. I agree with the makers of Bound by Law, that it essentially prohibits the little guys from making films! So, why not expand fair use?

2. Lessig's Against perpetual copyright, and his interview, do a good job of explaining why we have copyright in the first place in the USA - "to promote science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors...the exclusive rights to their writings" (US Congress, cited in Carroll 2002). And how it is the balance between copyright and the public domain that helps further new works. However, I don't think that 'promoting the arts and sciences' are the reasons behind the lengthening of the copyright. I'm sure there is a huge lobby behind the push for longer copyrights. And I'm sure it is composed of those who are making a substantial profit from keeping things copyrighted (might Disney be a prime example?). And often government policies - or lack thereof - do not get made because it is in the interest of the public, but because it is the interest of powerful lobbies (e.g. lack of US commitment to legislation to control air pollution and global warming).

So, how do we refocus attention on the overall benefit to the public? Perhaps, as Lessig and Pollock suggest, this refocus may occur as we distinguish between the properties of physical and intellectual works? (Tangible goods being rivalrous goods, and private property too being connected to public works like roads). Pollock mentioned that the US Government's documents were all in the public domain, in contrast to European governments. I thought it was a very influential argument to show the economic benefits that resulted from this.

This week's readings did a very good job of teaching me about the values of both the public domain and the importance of copyright in some form. They also hinted at why new bodies like Creative Commons or GFDL have come about.

HOWEVER: I don't feel like I have a very good grasp of the differences between Creative Commons and GFDL (anybody that knows a great link to this, please comment!). And although David Wiley has asked us:
How much (what percentage) of [the value of the public domain] would you estimate is realized when works are licensed with a Creative Commons or GFDL license?
I actually want to rephrase the question to: what value of benefit to society, to promoting the creation of the "sciences and the useful arts" result from licensing through CC or GFDL? Becuase, public domain and copyright are intrinsically connected! And copyright is not necessarily bad. My understanding is that CC and GFDL are essentially just a freer and more explicit form of copyright - where people clearly are able to understand what use you as a creator are willing to give to your work! Am I wrong? In terms of the benefit to society through CC and GFDL, I think that it IS an incredible benefit (a high percentage!).

Wiley also asks:
To what degree would the open educational resources movement (and therefore the world) be additionally benefited if OERs were simply placed in the public domain?
In response to this, I think that OER should have some type of copyright - preferably CC based on my current understanding - as it helps give the organizations incentive to keep creating and posting the works - and yet OERs mostly seem to permit rejigging and recreation already - as long as attribution is there. I guess the benefit of putting OER in the public domain, however, would be that they possibly could be used in works that are commercial - and hence re-copyrighted. Economically beneficial. But I'm not sure if the additional economic benefit would equal the loss to the general public.

Any thoughts on these above are most welcome, as I'm really not firm in what I write here - still trying to muddle it out.

1 comment:

houshuang said...

Hi Meg,

this topic is really complicated, and I have thought and discussed a lot about it. One thing to consider is that GFDL and CC licenses are often not compatible. For example, if you license something under a CC BY-NC (non commercial) license, which is incredibly common in the OER world, you cannot use any of the material on Wikipedia or any other GFDL site. Also, the non-commercial option is incredibly complex (see David Wiley's "futuristic fiction about NC" - ...

For example, if you put a weblog and you have Google ads on the side just to deflect your hosting costs, is that commercial? How about you are an NGO in Indonesia, where most people don't have access to the Internet, and you decide to put MIT OCW on a DVD and have local pirate-DVD sellers distribute it (a favorite idea of mine - they are incredibly efficient and everywhere). Or you are a computer magazine in India who wants to distribute a bunch of open courses on their bundled DVD (bundled DVDs is a very important source of Linux software in Indonesia for example, because internet access is so expensive)...

Even the by (attribution) is problematic, since in some works the attribution might end up taking more space than the work itself. A good example was a huge collage made up of 400 tiny clips from different CC Flickr photos. The attributions ran on for 15 pages, the result was a one page photo. In academy we have a very strong anti-plagiarism and attribution policy - driven by academic honesty and ethics, not by copyright, and this would still exist, without CC by.

I will try to expand on some of these topics in my own posting this weekend.