23 June 2006

Uncommon Nonsense on the iCommons

Originally I was going to leave this article on iCommons and the global digital commons alone, since it doesn't really deserve Margaret's "oxygen of publicity", but upon re-reading parts of it, I feel that some of the crasser assertions shouldn't go unchallenged.

For example:

The Creative Commons project is a curiously inverted attempt to use a private property regime to reproduce a "common" (understood, for me at least, as a non-owned culturally shared space of culture, knowledge or ideas). Put another way, Creative Commons seems to be attempting to create a shared public resource through a clever bit of tweaking of copyright, without the messy and difficult problems of educating citizens to the important of a public domain (or "common" good).

Well, actually it's just doing what Stallman did with the GNU GPL 20 years ago: if you understand the GPL, you understand what the Creative Commons is trying to do, and how.


In one way this raises questions about to what extent national states' sovereign control of their intellectual property law can be transcended in this way. It raises important questions about how this project might be perceived as a threat to the national interest of any single state. Will governments be happy to watch their cultural products seep away into an American founded "common" or will they legislate to make Creative Commons type projects illegal or regulated?

The idea of the commons is well-nigh universal concept that has only been lost in recent years; moreover, by definition, it's for everyone: it doesn't take away, it gives. "[I]ntellectual property law", on the other hand, of whatever "sovereign nation", nearly always takes away, because it simply defines the intellectual monopolies it grants.

Or even:

There may also be concern from a western perspective about the leaking out of protective national spheres of certain technologies and knowledges (issues raised by encryption software or GNU /Linux giving a technological boon to software development skills in China, for example).

I'm speechless: so we're worried about all those nasty furriners getting all this dangerous high-techy stuff like encryption (which they have already) or even - Heaven forfend! - that these Chinese devils might learn to program.

There, I knew I shouldn't have given it that blast of oxygen.


Anonymous said...

To be honest I think you are making a mistake thinking that free software GPL and Creative Commons are the same. They are not. RMS has always been clear that the moral of free software come first. for him sharing code is a 'human right'. Creative commons has no such core value as Niva Elkin-Koren clearly points out in this recent article. And RMS leaving Creative Commons was a clear demonstration of the difference between the two.

Secondly, I think the article is spot on when trying to present the dangers implicit in unilaterally creating these supra-national copyright regimes (i.e. Creative Commons which *is* a copyright regime). No doubt about it, national governments will get twitchy about it. Of course, this means that CC and others will need to get their education hats on to make sure any paranoia is explained away. But the article is merely highlighting this as a possible future problem.

Lastly, creative commons is NOT a common. It is a clever space created through copyright, but it is a very different concept to that of a true common. There is no need to obfuscate that fact, like you try to do in this post. Hats off to creative commons, of course, but lets not be completely sycophantic.


Glyn Moody said...

You're certainly right that there is a big difference between why Stallman is doing what he doing and the Creative Commons' motives, in that the former is concerned with ethical issues, and the latter are pragmatic. In this, CC is closer to open source than free software. But my point is that both, paradoxically, are using copyright not to restrict users' rights, but to increase them. So the ends may be different, but the means are identical.

And yes, the national governments may well get twitchy about it: but does that matter? Free software and Creative Commons are about giving to users, not to national governments. In fact, government's role is rather negative here: it creates and assigns the intellectual monopoly we call copyright. So if Creative Commons cuts across that to allow users – the people, shall we say – to receive more than their governments deign to grant them, great. You can hardly call such philanthropic acts American cultural imperialism.

Finally, I don't understand how you can say that Creative Commons is not about the commons. The 150 million or so items that are now covered by CC licences create different kinds of commons, it is true, but the majority are things that are made available for anyone to use, subject to varying constraints (just as physical commons like parks or roads are also available subject to constrints). So what is the difference?