Creative Commons: Beware the backlash

Potentially damaging rumblings threaten to dent the progress of the Creative Commons movement. First up was the foray over Virgin’s use of a CC-licensed Flickr image in a major poster ad campaign, where the subject objected to the company’s legitimate use of the image. Then the Register reported that science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin had objected after BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow uploaded a short piece of hers, under the erroneous impression that it was CC-licensed. The tone of the article, while consistent with The Reg’s irreverent style, makes some ridiculously uninformed and accusatory statements about both the CC movement (“the autistic person’s answer to a problem that doesn’t really bother anyone”) and Doctorow himself (accusing him of a “Trotskyist-style takeover” of BoingBoing), presumably in an attempt at bitchy humour. The problem comes when this stuff starts cropping up in searches and being repeated unchecked by mainstream media. If people fear CC licences, they will simply not use them – and popular sites like Flickr will be less likely to encourage their use.

While of course traditional copyright still has a place, in many instances it was stifling the growth of creativity and online ventures (both commercial and non-commercial). CC licenses were a brilliant and necessary ‘bottom-up’ response to an outdated legal framework, and have helped immeasurably in boosting creativity and creative collaboration across the globe. Although he’s now turned his attention to political corruption (and his introductory lecture on the subject is well worth a watch), free culture champion and instigator of the CC movement Lawrence Lessig was prompted to write a blog post in response to the Virgin/Flickr affair last month. “This case does demonstrate that there is work to be done beyond the scope of what CC has tried to do so far. The CC licenses, for example, don’t purport to deal with rights of privacy,” says Lessig. But, as he also points out, if CC licenses can be made to work better, they will.

[EDIT: Just learnt about ORG’s new Creative Business initiative, which is just the sort of thing that’s needed to counter this potential backlash.]

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