Let the Money in the Door: Opportunity in the Case of an Independent Artist

Flying dollar signs.Leonard Kirke is an author, blogger, and video artist based in Ohio. A believer in the ideals of Free Culture, he releases all of his work into the public domain via CC0, and is currently at work on a fantasy novel, the first in a series, aimed at children and young adults. His blog The Vertigo of Freedom can be found at leonardkirke.wordpress.com.  He is also a regular contributor to the surreal multimedia art project known as The Jeremy Kellerman Advice Hour Archive, which can be found on YouTube, Blogger, and the Internet Archive.

Many stories surrounding the debate over copyright today are focused on purely corporate affairs: film studios cracking down on illegal file-sharing, fair use being trampled on Youtube, record labels hunting down cover bands, and the efforts of lobbyists to pass far-reaching anti-copyright infringement legislation, such as SOPA earlier this year, that threaten internet freedom.

Recently, however, a story has been making the rounds online via social media that is certain to draw both the sympathy and righteous indignation of struggling independent artists everywhere. The story, and the following built by the man at the center of it, highlights some of the popular, often-unquestioned assumptions about the supposed inherent justice of copyright law.

As recounted in a post on his Tumblr account, the story begins back in 2008 when freelance artist Max Hancock, who often works under the pseudonym Kouotsu, created both a 2-D and 3-D character model design for a robot girl as part of an assignment while he was in art school and posted it to the popular site DeviantArt.

He goes on to explain, "I failed to put my name/info on the image though, so it has been spread around the internet and some people have modeled it without my permission (just for the record you don’t have to sign something for it to be protected by copyright). They usually find out who made it later and gladly credit me. So I don’t mind!"

That is, he adds, "Until someone tries to sell it."

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Nina Paley's "Seder-Masochism": Support her work via QCO Working Fund!

If you'd like to support Nina Paley's work on her upcoming freely-licensed film Seder-Masochism, you can donate via the Question Copyright Artist-in-Residence Working Fund. Let me repeat that word for emphasis: "donate". There.

(Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent permitted by law; see here for details.)

Seder-Masochism, Nina Paley's next project.

Nina's trailer for Seder-Masochism has already received over 400,000 views on various video hosting sites (Internet Archive, Vimeo, YouKu, YouTube), and was written up in Ha'aretz yesterday. People who saw our tweet (yes, that's a hint to retweet or redent) have have already started donating to the Working Fund. We encourage everyone who likes high-quality, free-licensed films to join the club!

The Future of Creative Commons: Examining defenses of the NC and ND clauses

This guest editorial by Kira of Students for Free Culture makes a powerful argument that the hoped-for "drag the center in our direction" effect of the non-free-culture licenses offered by Creative Commons isn't working, and that a different approach is needed.  We felt Kira's points were compelling enough to be worth airing -- they're the right questions, at least, and one heartening sign is that (as noted in the editorial's first link) Creative Commons has started helping people distinguish free licenses from non-free ones, with their “Approved for Free Cultural Works“ seal and their freedom-displaying license chooser.  The question Kira raises now is, is continuing to offer the non-free licenses the best way to advance Creative Commons' mission?

Creative Commons licenses arranged all in a row.

A few weeks ago, Students for Free Culture published a detailed and thoroughly cited post calling for the retirement of proprietary license options in Creative Commons 4.0. Already the story has been picked up by Techdirt and Slashdot and it has spurred lots of heated debate around the value of the NonCommercial (NC) and NoDerivatives (ND) licenses to Creative Commons and to rightsholders, but not a lot of discussion has been framed around the official mission and vision of Creative Commons.

Creative Commons has responded to the post stating that adopters of NC and ND licenses "may eventually migrate to more open licenses once exposed to the benefits that accompany sharing," maintaining that these licenses have been a strategic measure to approach that goal. The name Creative Commons itself highlights the aim of enabling a network of ideas and expressions that are commonly shared and owned or, as we usually call it, the commons. To be very explicit, one need not look any further than Creative Commons' mission statement (added emphasis) to see that this is what they work for:

Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

 

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

The NC and ND clauses are non-free/proprietary because they retain a commercial and/or creative monopoly on the work. Legally protected monopolies by any other name are still incompatible with the commons and undermine commonality. There is no question as to the purpose of Creative Commons or the definition of free cultural works. What Students for Free Culture has offered is not primarily a critique of proprietary licenses, but a critique of Creative Commons' tactics in providing them. The idea that the non-free licenses "may eventually migrate to more open licenses once exposed to the benefits that accompany sharing" is a reasonable one, but one that deserves careful reflection after a decade of taking that approach.

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