31 January 2009

I'm Sorry, Joi, I Can't Do That

Is Joi Ito barking?

In the future according to Ito: "Every object on the Internet will have a licence and copyright information and the author and the owner attached to the object, and if it's a derivative work, where it's a derivative work of." The licence Ito has in mind will be a Creative Commons one, but there seems no reason why other classes of licence couldn't use similar mechanisms.

And, "what will happen is, once we start building it into all the tools, into your camera, into Adobe Acrobat, into Google, you don't need DRM and watermarks. As long as it's built into the HTML, most of the people who matter will follow it."

In what way will they do this? "You downloaded some music, and say, 'I want to use this in my YouTube video,' it [the software] will say, 'Bap-bap! You can't do that because the copyright says you can't.'" Which does kind of look and feel like DRM, but as Ito says, it's not, it's a way to get away from DRM.

Great: we do away with DRM and end up with an even more intrusive and repressive system of total digital control for everything on- and off-line. That's what the Creative Commons is working towards? Where's Larry Lessig when you need him?

Update: Confused of Calcutta takes these ideas further in his great post "A simple desultory philippic about copyright".


Bill Hooker said...

It might not be so bad, if you imagine that the license most commonly encountered is CCZero, so the software says "sure, you can do anything you want with that"...

But I think it much more likely that non-CC licenses, and more restrictive CC licenses with widely incompatible terms (like CC-BY-NC or CC-BY-SA) will be the ones most people reach for.

Not only that, but the software won't be gently suggesting that you don't break the license -- you can bet that it will be *enforcing* the license whenever possible. Just like DRM.

And given the inevitable fate of DRM, I'd rather not have clever buggers the world over working to crack CC licenses! Better to keep the clever buggers on our side, no?

Glyn Moody said...

My thoughts exactly.

(Welcome back - how's the work going?)

Joi Ito said...

Cross posting a comment I just left on confused of calcutta... maybe I should write a blog post to clarify this...

Thank you very much for this thoughtful post. I agree with much of what you say here. The only defense that I have is that it's very hard to present a nuanced argument, especially to an audience mostly pre-disposed to disagree with you in 30 minutes and I had to drastically over-simply what we're doing.

Let me see if I can clarify a bit…

First of all, one of the risks we always run with Creative Commons is that people misunderstand that in no way does the contract itself diminish fair use. First of all, it can’t. Secondly, we would never want to. One of the things we always struggle with is to make this clear. See our blog post about the Gatehouse Complaint for an example of our position on this:


In my talk at DLD, I’m guilty of over-simplifying what RDFa does and how it might “prevent piracy”. I think the primary thing that it does is expose copyright information to users, creators and software and services so that things like attribution, payment for rights and other things that users might want to do will be easier and lower-friction. My assumption is that most users will want to follow the law if that choice is simple. If you are easily able to search for works that you may use legally, it is more likely you will opt to use these first. The primary driver for “protection against piracy” is the crowding out of content that is illegally used by content that wants to be used.

I think this happens in open source and free software and Wikipedia is a very good example. Actually, the process that is current managed by hand and a few scripts on Wikimedia Commons is a very good example of what could be made easier with RDFa. Currently, if you are writing an article and you need and image, you go to Wikimedia Commons and look for the image. A large number of volunteers scrub uploads and protect the Wikimedia Commons against copyright violations. When you upload a work, there are several ways that you “prove” it is legitimate work for the commons. There is an uploader that will grab the metadata from Flickr, you can cite an email or other document and assert that the owner has licensed it under one of the free licenses, you can assert it is your own work, or you can make an argument that the use is fair use in one of their forms.
What RDFa would do in this context is that an uploaded object could easily be checked for a free license. Such work would be immediately approved. Some day, if we have copyright registries, that may also help a work get “fast tracked” for approval. If the word doesn’t have verifiable or any RDFa information with a free license, then you would need to go through some work to verify whether the work was actually free to use, fair use being one of them.
RDFa is not like DRM in that we do not think it will prevent people from making illegal or fair use copies or remixes, but that instead it will reinforce and make easy the use and verification of free licenses and content and eliminate one cluster of illegal users who would use free content if there were a choice.
Also, I would add that I don’t think DRM will be successful. My point with respect to DRM is that those people who decide to ignore copyright notices in metadata are probably just as likely to use software to strip DRM. Exposing the underlying intent of the copyright owner will make “good behavior” easier since preventing bad behavior is nearly impossible.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that full reply.

I can see the positive side of what you're proposing, but what worries me is the negative side.

It seems to move us to a culture of assuming we need permission to access everything: that is, it reinforces the whole idea of lockdown, ownership and property. It gets people to focus on asserting their rights as creators rather than emphasising their debts to the work they build on.

At a time when people are beginning to understand the value of sharing - not least through the success of free software - it seems to me we should be moving in the opposite direction: *assuming* you have permission to share unless otherwise indicated.

The proposed system just looks retrogressive in its effects to me, even if its intentions are entirely benevolent.

Joi Ito said...

I can see your point. I guess my point is that the current copyright law doesn't allow us to assume we don't need permission. By making it easy to identify those works where we don't need permission and easily set your environment so that you have access to all of this work, it's more likely that this body of free work will grown. In the past, walled gardens like the Linux code base and Wikipedia thrived because they are basically "protected" against contamination by restricted content by its members.

I believe that we can turn a larger body of content into "free content" by decreasing the friction and creating a interoperable system, just like the Internet made email and other things interoperable after walled gardens and islands proved the concept.

Glyn Moody said...

I agree that the current copyright regime is the problem, and frankly that's where I think we need to keep up the pressure. As the younger generation of Internet users comes through, so will the understanding for the bigger picture - that we need sharing as a pre-requisite.

Although I recognise that you're trying to circumvent the problems with copyright in your work, my fear is that your efforts, in turn, will be co-opted by those same forces to create an even more effective gate on sharing.

In particular, my fear is that the content industries would be able to convince governments around the world that this would be the perfect tool for perfect control - something that has so far eluded them.

Ralf M said...

Sounds like a Xanadu (wikipedia entry) for everything. It's fiendishly difficult, as partly shown by how long it took to get a partial implementation for text. Don't hold your breath for this one that's a zillion time bigger.


Glyn Moody said...

That's a good point - I can sleep more easily....