Licensing qualms.

Patented emotions by Nina Paley was translated into Hebrew and modern Greek. ♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Patented emotions by Nina Paley was translated into Hebrew and modern Greek. ♡Copyheart. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Choosing a license for one’s work sometimes opens up a can of worms. It forces one to consider questions beyond just sticking a CC icon at the bottom of the page.

Questions like: Does it matter that others might make money off my work without remunerating me? Does the fear of future enclosure by commercial entities surpass the desire to share as widely as possible? Why do I care about getting credit for my work? How much control do I wish to retain ? Given the inspiration gathered from various sources all along my life, can I honestly claim originality and ownership over ‘my’ work?

An apparently straight-forward choice of license, guided by deceivingly simple questions (do you want to allow derivatives? etc), launches you on a personal journey to look into these dilemmas and really start digging into the nature of creation, your own motivations for sharing, your fears.

Not everybody ends up documenting what I call the ‘qualms of licensing’ or the story of how they came to make certain trade-offs. Christina Hendricks did it at length on her blog. I recommend reading her successive positioning on non-commercial, share-alike and attribution which led to her licensing the texts of her blog under CC BY: you get the feeling that a lot of soul-searching went into these posts.

CC is non-commercial, right? Wrong!

But while we weigh our priorities against the reality of sharing online and compare the merits of the various open licenses, other dilemmas come to haunt us.

The whole point of open licenses is to enable downstream users to understand what they can and cannot do with a given piece of work. Yet confusion is rife and we too often see all the licenses lumped together, assimilated to non-commercial. In fact, it would be interesting to carry out a poll to find out how many people down your street know about creative commons. Out of those who declare an awareness of creative commons, how many think it only has to do with non-commercial activities? How many know the meaning of all the symbols?

Confronted with this issue around her film Sita sings the blues, Nina Paley went for a more radical expression of her desire to share. She waived all her copyright over the film using a CC0 license (no rights reserved) which, to her, is a way of refusing to let the law come between her and her audience:

CC-0 is as close as I can come to a public vow of legal nonviolence. The law is an ass I just don’t want to ride.

Here, openness is very much about letting go.

Copying is an act of love

In an attempt to keep the spirit of sharing alive beyond the legalese characteristic of licenses, Nina Paley went as far as to create her own license, called copyheart. Reasoning that the answer to legal problems does not lie in legal answers, she turned the problem on its head by speaking another language, the language of love:

Although we appreciate and use Free Licenses when appropriate, these aren’t solving the problems of copyright restrictions. Instead of trying to educate everyone on the complexities of copyright law, we’d rather make our intentions clear with this simple statement:

♡ Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

Could it really be that simple?

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5 thoughts on “Licensing qualms.

  1. I’m very wary of declarations and other non-licensing ‘solutions’ to copyright. Far from sticking it to the current copyright regime, these declarations have no legal foundation and therefore they make it very easy for people to claim to hold copyright on the work.

    It may be that the Copyheart declaration is a valid release of copyright, but let’s say it’s applied to a song that Sony later claims to hold copyright over. Who’s going to fight an entire expensive legal case to find out one way or another?

    The Creative Commons licences, on the other hand, have already been tested in the courts, they’re backed by Creative Commons which might help in a legal challenge, and the literally millions of people who use the CC licences all have a vested interest in making sure that CC licences aren’t ignored/are validly enforced in the courts.

    • The last sentence (Could it really be that simple?) was of course a rhetorical question. I’m all for peace and love but…it’s never that simple! In fact, I should probably have added a paragraph of caveats.

      What I see the copyheart doing is not replacing creative commons licenses – it can’t, for the reasons you have outlined in your comment – but rather expanding the horizon of the discussion. CC is a way of dealing with the issue of copyright as it stands but it isn’t an end-all solution. Whether one agrees with Nina Paley’s method or not, I think challenges should be posed to the system inside AND outside the system.

      On the inside, we have immensely useful legal tools like CC which are very powerful in challenging the current paradigms, as evidenced by the scale at which they are deployed and their resilience in the courts. There is also a legitimate place for taking a step back and refusing to comply. It doesn’t sound realistic, given the odds against the lone artist facing a big corporation, but it is a stance I respect.

      • Nina Paley’s copyheart is seductive for all the reasons she outlines on her website. An artist should be cautious in adopting ‘non-licensing’ solutions as both you and Sanglorian point out. Paley’s solution makes Wiley’s point that open exists on a continuum.

        Philosophically, I wonder if all copying is an act of love. I can see this reasoning for copying creative works but what about copying intellectual works or in the field of science? Is copying always an act of love? Is it love and other values? The creator might value sharing but the copier might value something else. In a sense, the only values that matter are the values of the creator since she gets to decide the type of license she will give her work.

  2. Hi Jeannette,

    I hadn’t thought about it in terms of a negotiation of values between creator and users or rather “downstream creators” if we consider the remixing aspect.

    Is there anything specific you have in mind when you say “The creator might value sharing but the copier might value something else.”. What else would the copier value for example? Time saving? Costfree material?

  3. Interesting discussion here–been out of town and busy, so just getting to it now.

    I do like the idea of expressing the value of copying, how it adds value to the original, through something like the copyheart notice. But I also wonder how different it is from something like CC0, really. The copyheart link you provided indicates that there are no restrictions to copying and sharing and using. Isn’t that what CC0 says too? Of course, CC0 doesn’t emphasize how copying is a good thing, and doesn’t ask people directly to copy and share, but I guess indirectly it does by allowing it. Just curious what the, rhetorical or otherwise, difference there might be between these two.

    And good point about Creative Commons being often confused with noncommercial. This issue came up recently (though it’s quite complicated, more than just commercial use), as discussed in a blog by someone here at my institution: e.g., here, and here.. I plan to write something up about this as soon as I can, as I do think it’s a concern that can easily be glossed over as, “well, they should have known this could happen.”

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