Common creativity at work (part 1)

I was chatting to a friend who works in the local music industry recently about the possible digital music download models we may see in South Africa in the near future and he passed a comment about the music industry’s reluctance to publish and distribute music under Creative Commons license because it can’t exactly give the music away for free! After all, this is a “for profit” industry, not some charity (he didn’t express this sentiment, I read between the sheet music). While the comment he made wasn’t exactly unexpected, it did bother me somewhat because his comment typifies a perception of Creative Commons that is both inaccurate and hampers adoption of Creative Commons licenses in in the commercial world.

I’ll pause for a moment and explain what I just wrote because you may not be too familiar with some of the terminology I just threw at you.

For starters, there is an organisation called Creative Commons which formulated a set of content licenses referred to as Creative Commons licenses. There are six core Creative Commons licenses. It isn’t necessary to discuss the distinctions between these licenses for the purposes of this article but I am happy to take you through if you would like me to (give me a shout, we’ll do coffee). What is important to know is that these licenses operate ion the context of copyright law so they are not alternatives to copyright itself but rather tools that rely on copyright for their efficacy. The reason why this is important to know lies in the nature of copyright.

Copyright is a form of protection that was formulated to encourage innovation and creativity by protecting creators’ rights to the works they created (in legalese the creators are known as “Authors” and the stuff they create is known as “Works”) and which ensures that their works may only be used in an authorised manner by people authorised by the creator to do so. Copyright protects forms of expression that may include written works (copyright vests in this article as well as in the doodles on your note pad), sound recordings, sheet music and videos, to name just a few types of works.

To put it another way, copyright is a bundle of rights in works which vest in the authors of the works and which are intended to protected works by limiting who can exploit those rights to the works. These rights include the right to make copies, create adaptations of the original works, sell the works and publish those works.

Essentially, once you reduce your ideas to a tangible form you generally enjoy protection through copyright. As a creator you are more likely to create more stuff if your ability to exploit your creations is protected and you are able to guard against any form of unauthorised use of your creations, certainly uses that run contrary to your intended use of your creations.

While it may have been conceived to stimulate creativity, the use of copyright has changed over time to effectively become a bar to creativity and innovation because copyright holders have elected to rather use copyright to lock down their works, preventing the exploitation of those works except in terms of licenses they grant. These licenses permit other people to make use of the works by granting them limited rights to the works concerned. Take a music CD as an example. Many people labour under the misapprehension that when they buy a CD from a music store they become the “owner” of that CD and can do with it what they wish. If you take a look at the tiny print at the back of the CD on your shelf you will notice that when you bought the CD you actually licensed the CD from the nebulous “music company” and you have very limited rights to the music which do not include the right to make copies of the music (whether onto another CD or by ripping the CD to your computer) or pass the music around. You can pretty much listen to the CD and appreciate the fine album art in the company of your personal CD playing devices. You can’t play the music in public or make a remix of your favourite tune and share it online. If you do anything outside the very limited parameters of the license granted to you when you handed over your hard earned cash to the cashier, you are committing copyright infringement. That is what licenses do, they set the parameters of your use of the content they are created for and any use outside the parameters of the license is unauthorised and constitutes copyright infringement.

In the second part of this three part series I write a little about the options available to someone who may want to make use of content protected by copyright. I also write about Creative Commons licenses and what they are.

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