Posts Tagged ‘creative commons’

The Tragedy of the Creative Commons

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The Creative Commons initiative fulfilled a major ambition last week – but it’s taken only days for the dream to turn to crap.

Google granted the wish by integrating the ability to search images based on rights licences into Google Image Search. Yahoo! Image Search has had a separate image search facility for years, but Google integrated the feature into its main index.

The idea of making the licences machine-readable was a long-standing desire of the project, and lauded as a clever one. It was intended to automate the business of negotiating permissions for using material, so machine would instead negotiate with machine, in a kind of cybernetic utopia. Alas, it hasn’t quite worked out.

As Daryl Lang at professional photography website PDN writes, the search engine is now choked with copyright images that have been incorrectly labelled with Creative Commons licences. These include world-famous images by photographers including Bert Stern and Steve McCurry. As a result, the search feature is all but useless.

Since there’s no guarantee that the licence really allows you to use the photo as claimed, then the publisher (amateur or professional) must still perform the due diligence they had to anyway. So it’s safer (and quicker) not to use it at all.

What’s gone wrong, as Lang explains, is the old engineering principle of GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out:

“The system relies on Internet users to properly identify the status of the images they publish, Unfortunately, many don’t… Many Flickr users still don’t understand the concept of a Creative Commons licence, or don’t care.

“It’s time consuming to put a different label on every image [in their collection], and there are no checks in place [our emphasis] to hold users accountable for unauthorized copying or incorrect licensing labels.”

So Google won’t take responsibility for the accuracy of the licensing metadata, and Creative Commons, as a small private internet quango, says it can’t afford to. (The disclaimer on the website is simple: go find yourself a lawyer.)

Just as we predicted, in fact: the filtering is less than perfect, and it’s a lip-service to creators. Now, why did it have to fail?

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Ursula le Guin dings surly Boing Boing

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Science Fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin has given the anti-copyright fanatics at the Boing Boing weblog a quick refresher in authors’ rights.

The blog posted a short piece by Le Guin, erroneously slapping a Creative Commons license on it.

“This is incorrect,” wrote her representative. “Ms. Le Guin has not placed this work under such a license and retains these rights. Ms. Le Guin has not given blanket permission for everyone to copy or create derivatives (which can include film, TV adaptations, etc.),” Andrew Burt told SF author Jerry Pournelle.

Robo-bloggers who act as repeaters of Boing Boing material – vital nodes in the Hive Mind, we like to think of them – added to the confusion.

“Numerous copies of her piece have been discovered on the web and attributed to boingboing, illustrating that many people are being mislead by this incorrect application of a Creative Commons license.”

“Given Doctorow’s intense interest in issues of copyright,” added Burt, “it is easy to imagine that he has let his wishes run ahead of reality, and so committed some serious ethical and legal errors, which he might wish to begin to redress by taking the Le Guin piece off his site and putting an apology in its place.”

Boing Boing has since truncated the excerpt, but declined to apologize or remove it. There’s more details on Pournelle’s letters page here.

It’s another example of the confusion generated by Creative Commons licenses – the autistic person’s answer to a problem that doesn’t really bother anyone. If even the most dedicated, foaming-at-the-mouth Commons evangelists can’t use it properly – what hope do us mortals have?

The license-abuser, Cory Doctorow, was recently a professor at the University of Southern California – where he was lecturing students about copyright.

In its first incarnation as a print ‘zine back in the late 1980s, “bOING bOING” (as it was) was one of the most highly regarded chroniclers of cyber culture. The title was revived in blog form as a self-promotional vehicle seven years ago.

This is how it looked before the Trotskyist-style takeover. And this is what it looks like now.

Quite a difference.

Creative Commons sued for deception

Monday, September 24th, 2007

A Texan family has been handed a harsh lesson in what the Creative Commons “movement” really means for creatives who use its licences.

Filmmaker Damon Chang uploaded a family photograph of his young niece Alison to Flickr, only to discover weeks later that it was being used by Virgin Mobile in an expensive advertising campaign. Neither Alison Chang nor her youth counsellor Justin Wong, who took the photograph, have received compensation for the use of the image – having handed over the rights without realising it. Damon Chang used a licence which permits commercial reuse – and even derivative works to be made – without payment or permission of the photographer: Merely a credit will do to satisfy the terms of the licence.

Both Changs believe the use of the photograph was insulting and demeaning, as Alison – a minor – became known as the “dump your pen friend girl”. And after taking legal advice, the Chang family is now suing Virgin Mobile USA and the Creative Common Corporation.

Virgin hoovered up over 100 “user generated” images for its ad campaign – saving itself a fortune. The lawsuit accuses Virgin of invasion of privacy, libel and breach of contract, but it’s the section of the lawsuit that names and shames Creative Commons that promises to have lasting consequences for “Web 2.0″ and “user generated content”.
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One-Click™ colonialism

Monday, August 20th, 2007

The music industry has a long and shameful history of robbing black artists of their rights. Now along comes some new software that will help speed up the job. Think of it as a sort of 1-Click “non-payment” system.

Liblicense is a project that Creative Commons hopes to integrate with MIT Media Lab’s OLPC, or One Laptop Per Child initiative. That’s the rubbishy sub-notebook designed for developing countries, that developing countries don’t seem to want very much. (Shockingly, the ungrateful recipients seem to prefer real computers).

The genius of the move is that instead of needing to hire shifty lawyers to bamboozle artists out of the right to be paid, Creative Commons makes the process not only voluntary, but automated, too. Liblicense will greatly ease the process of assigning a Creative Commons license to creative material straight from the desktop.

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"People misunderstand me from all directions" – Lessig at CISAC

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Professor Lawrence Lessig is used to hostile audiences – but he faced the most prickly and feisty gathering of 500 he’ll ever address yesterday in Brussels.

CISAC is the body that represents the collectives who gather up the royalties on behalf of authors, composers and songwriters – and this week it’s holding its first ever Copyright Summit.

A lot of money passes through these collectives’ hands – they distributed €4.3bn back to authors in 2004 in Europe alone. But these pots of money, so painfully clawed back from large media conglomerates, are distributed amongst very many original creators. So as you can imagine, Lessig – who extolls amateur “user generated content” and litigates against professionals – was always going to be in for a rough ride from people who barely scrape a living from their own creativity.

What was the audience really vexed about? Well, when Lessig talks “rights”, he means the right to specify how a work is used by other users of digital computer networks. This doesn’t include the right to be paid, which is why everyone is here in Brussels this week. This pits a very American kind of individualism – the right to express oneself, dammit! – against a very European tradition of collective action.

In particular, the audience is keenly aware of this tradition of rights won through collective bargaining. Any weakening of this movement for authors’ rights is regarded in the same way as a striking union member regards a strikebreaker: as scab labour. Yet Lessig styles himself at the vanguard of a “movement”, too, which riles them even more: the creatives see this as not only undermining them, but pinching their slogans and clothes.
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Doonesbury savages Pepperland's copyright utopians

Friday, February 25th, 2005

As anyone involved with the original Apple Newton project knows only too well, when Garry Trudeau’s satirical eye engages a target, there’s only one winner. The Doonesbury cartoonist has a gift for holding up a mirror to bad ideas so they collapse under the weight of their own absurdities. This week[*] Trudeau has turned his attention to the “Creative Commons” project.

Beginning with Monday’s comic, radio interviewer Mark questions aging rock star Jim Thudpucker about “free music”. Thudpucker returns with a barrage of techno utopian babble that suggests he’s been inhaling the heady vapors of the blogosphere.

“There are no rock stars any more!” insists Thudpucker. “With file sharing, we’re being liberated from the hierarchical tyranny of record sales… Careers henceforth will be concert-driven, fragmented, and small!”

“And fan bases?” asks Mark.

“Will be kept in Palm Pilots!” replies the blog-brained Thudpucker.
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