Rob Shaver asked some interesting questions in his comment on my Copyright Reinforced By Reinstatement of Tasini v. The NY Times post.
He’s right. We writers and other creatives need to think deeply about copyrights. One way to begin that discussion is to compare and contrast copyrights with the relatively new, and growing, creative commons licensing of creative works.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution established both copyright and patent law saying:
“the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
Originally, the length of a copyright was set at 14 years. It’s been extended over time to, in 1998, the time a work is protected after the author’s life was upped to 75 years. In 2002 that was reduced to 70 years and the length of a copyright for works for hire was set at 95 years.
These extensions mean, among other things, every generation fewer and fewer works will find their way into public domain. Public domain essentially means a work is no longer protected and anyone is free to use it.
Public domain is part of what’s known as the commons. The commons can be defined as those things we hold in common as a people. The National Park system is one example of the commons, so are the state parks. The interstate highway system, public libraries and public schools are part of the commons. Thom Hartmann defines the commons in this video, saying in part, the commons is “us taking care of us.”
Creative works in the public domain are also part of the commons. Think about Shakespeare or better yet, look at the top 100 books in Project Gutenberg, which is an attempt to list all the books in the public domain. I think you’ll agree the public domain is also worth protecting. What classics will be delayed entering the public domain by more than a generation because of copyright?
Is that really what we as a people want?
The Creative Commons is another approach or additional approach to protecting both the rights of creators and the commons. The non-profit organization says this about itself:
Creative Commons defines the spectrum of possibilities between full copyright and the public domain. From all rights reserved to no rights reserved. Our licenses help you keep your copyright while allowing certain uses of your work — a “some rights reserved” copyright.
A Creative Commons license doesn’t replace your copyright so much as let you decide what, if any rights you’re willing to let go of. They offer four licenses, each with a different level of protection.
For example, the Creative Commons license I’m gradually adding to my ebooks is Attribution. Quoting the non-legalese version is defined this way:
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licenses offered, in terms of what others can do with your works licensed under Attribution.
I could use Creative Commons to opt out of copyright altogether if I wanted with an official ‘no rights reserved’ option. Or, I can use other licenses based on my needs. It’s a nifty tool that gives me more options than I had before.
Creative Commons is also gaining at least some currency around the world and a Creative Commons license is free.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu