Open Licensing #ioe12 – Post2

I have created notes from the Larry Lessig video for this section of the course. And I’ve written one reflective piece in response. However, I’ve looked back over the course requirement for Badges and am now wondering whether my meandering approach would meet the criteria, even though my own learning is benefiting. I think I’ll go through the content for each section and write a brief blog post from that, I can then look at things in more detail afterwards.

I’d hear previously of the ‘Remix Card Game’, I think it had been used at a conference and I read about it from there. I hadn’t really tried it out myself until I clicked on the link in the Open Licensing course materials, and I’m impressed with how good it actually is. I’ve created a game (not online but for in class use) in the past to inform people about tagging, so I know how useful this game based approach can be. I’m going to find the Remix Card Game very useful when explaining about Creative Commons License use with mixed media.

From it’s inception, the period of copyright has been for a limited time span. In this way, the creator or author of the works was able to capitalise on her/his interllectual property for a limited time with state protection. Initially, this protected period was quite short. The works would then move into the Public Domain for the public good. In this way, the works can be built upon by others for the furtherment of knowledge. This is, for example, a fundamental concept for the advancement of scientific discovery. Isaac Newton said “If I have seen farther it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Progressively, this period of copyright has been extended. In the US, Congress has periodically extended the length (outlined in this Larry Lessig interview), it now last for 70 years after the creator’s death. (In the UK a recent ruling has increased the period of copyright on music recordings from 50 to 70 years after date of creation.) In effect, Congress is granting a perpetual copyright, which some have challenged as being unconstitutional, but the courts have said that each of these changes is only for a finite period and that is constitutional. Others have argued that the falling of works into Public Domain following the copyright period amounts to confiscation, and that copyright should be perpetual and infinite, so that the creator can receive revenue. However, Larry Lessig dispels such arguments in his wiki on the subject.

The concept of Public Domain isn’t as straight forward as one might hope, because there is much work whose status isn’t determined. Copyright holders can’t be traced, or it is unclear if the work is actually Public Domain. These are termed ‘Orphan Works’.  And without a lot of effort taking place to resolve it this unsatisfactory situation looks destined to continue. So, rather than perpetual Copyright, we have perpetual Uncertainty.

The uncertainty related to the use of works by others is encapsulated very well in the ‘Bound by Law’ comic book that explains the dilemmas faced by documentary filmmakers, where the potential costs of using the works can be crippling, and prevents a fuller explanation or reflection of cultural values from being created.

So the main crux of the argument hinges on the period of protection that Copyright should offer, and what is Public Good. I have my own opinions on this, and that is why I’ve gone down the Creative Commons Licensing road for my own works. I feel that they offer enough protect for the works, and allow re-use and development to take place in a way that will allow greater and faster development of human knowledge.

The papers by Rufus Pollock make interesting reading, and resonate with my own thinking.

As Pollock explains, once knowledge is created then sharing it is non-rivalrous, it is not diminished if multiple people use it at the same time. For the benefit of society or humankind, once a piece of knowledge exists then the greatest value to be derived from it is to distribute it at cost (which could be zero or very close to it). However, the initial cost of production can be very costly, and this has to be paid for in some way.

Pollock suggests that there are four (non-exclusive) options for creating this ‘first copy’.

1. Up-front funding either by the state or by other entities – such as charities – followed by free (or marginal cost) distribution, e.g. BBC funding model.

2. Donations (spare time) or self-financing with free distribution e.g. Wikipedia, blogs and many open source projects.

3. The grant of monopoly rights in relation to the copying or use of the knowledge in the form of intellectual property such as copyright and patents.

4. Using imperfections of the market to obtain profit from being the creator of knowledge but without using monopoly rights. Such methods include secrecy, first-mover advantages, marketing and the sale of complementary goods that are rivals but for which an advantage is conferred by the production of the original knowledge.

Pollock goes on to put forward an interesting argument (developed from examining peer-to-peer illegal activity) about the added value derived from making works available via Public Domain and compensating artists for loss of revenue in other ways. Several countries are already considering or using levies elsewhere in the chain to achieve this; taxing broadband provision, or blank recording media. Additionally, the majority of ‘historical’ recording under copyright aren’t currently commercially available. This adds further to the Public Domain argument for increased value and greater creative potential from reuse.

In the second of the Pollock papers from the course reading, by developing an equation and using empirical data an estimate of optimal copyright duration is derived and the value comes out to be 15 years. This is much shorter than most countries set copyright to be. The argument therefore follows that policymakers could enhance social benefit by setting copyright to this much reduced value.

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