"Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." Mark Twain made that statement when print was the only media available. The Internet adds tremendous complexity and raises questions that will take a few years to sort through. Attorneys who posses a mastery of current copyright laws – the experts – and average Joes who agree with Mark Twain, are trying to keep pace with the exponential growth of the Internet, and the special copyright challenges it presents.
I began a discussion on the social media platform, Smaller Indiana (a Facebook for Indiana Professionals), by posting the question, "will Creative Commons licensure stand up in a court of law?" Creative Commons (CC) is a user-friendly way to protect your intellectual – or not so intellectual – property on the Internet.
From my amateur perspective, intellectual property laws are in place to protect the author's idea (or artist, musician, etc.) so that someday their creative product may pay them a living wage. This gives the author freedom to create more. Current intellectual property laws erect hurdles that restrict access to the idea (or painting, or song, etc.). Only those who pay for the privilege can access the author's work, severely limiting the number of people who might enjoy it. This seems counter-intuitive--don't most authors WANT a larger audience?
Obviously I know very little about copyright law, which is why I am a Creative Commons advocate; it makes SENSE to me. CC mirrors the grassroots persona of the Internet, and allows an infinite number of people to access the idea, and sometimes build on it, as long as the author gets credit for the original contribution. If enough people agree, it spreads organically to even more people who are like-minded. If the groundswell of support reaches critical mass, a publisher will see an opportunity to profit from converting the digital intellectual property into print, or other broadcast media, introducing the idea to a larger and more diverse audience.
Over the course of three days, five other community members responded to the Creative Commons question posted on Smaller Indiana. Ernest Rando uploaded a TED Talk regarding this topic, Mike Seidle, an IT professional, stated CC use on the Internet is prevalent, and Noah Coffey mentioned this topic would be covered at the Blog Indiana Conference at IUPUI. Two attorneys freely shared their expert opinions, as well:
Attorney Matthew Schantz of Bingham McHale, LLP:
"This is a good question to ask, Amy. There are certainly risks to using CC material, but I think they're better risks than with many other arrangements by which you use content created by others. The fact that the terms in CC licenses are standardized helps you know much more easily what you'd be getting into than in a general license negotiation…
These are just my thoughts, not those of my firm or clients, and not legal advice to be applied to any particular person or situation."
Attorney John R. (Dick) Troll of The Law Office of John Richard Troll:
"Amy: To answer your specific question: will a creative commons license stand up in a court of law? The answer is of course it will! … But the mainstream producers of creative works do not subscribe to the creative commons POV… the digital age has challenged copyright law in new and more difficult ways. Sampling and unlimited copying of digital files- audio or video- are but two examples. More fundamentally there is a deep sense that it simply is NOT wrong for me to make a copy of your photo, music file or video since I am not depriving you of your copy. God fearing folks who would never take money from the cash register think nothing of making a copy of their favorite Jimmy Buffett song…"
According to these experts, Creative Commons licensure IS a valid FIRST step in protecting digital intellectual property, but when the stakes are high, an attorney must be engaged. (The discussion in its entirety is freely accessible in the archives section at www.smallerindiana.com/profile/amystark.)
This discussion provided valuable information but it also showcased a striking example of the power of social media platforms. Smaller Indiana provided a public space through which this dialog occurred among six people who were NEVER in the same room at the same time. What is the likelihood that any TWO of the individuals from this group would meet each other, let alone all SIX? I call this "bridging social-capital collaboration" in action.
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