Sunday, 30 October 2011

On copyright and CC Licensing

So here we are, this is my final blog post for this semester's class. I chose to write it on the topic of copyright and CC Licensing, so first off I'd like to speak a bit on why.

The main reason why I chose this topic is because I felt that the issue of copyright would be the most applicable and useful for me, even after this class ends, as an artist. Of course this is not to say that "non-artists" have no use of copyright, but when I think back on my first considered use of copyright and CC Licensing I find that for me the issue does have its roots in my artwork.

deviant art
deviantArt logo. Click to go to the deviantArt site.

I started a deviantArt account over 2 years ago, which for the uninitiated is basically like any other SNS (social networking service) site except that they have a focus on artists and artworks, which is to say that the "main" use of deviantArt would be to upload your sketches etc. and have other people view, comment, share and rate them. Japanese readers may draw comparison to Pixiv (which I think is cooler, because it's Japanese but I digress).

pixiv 開発者ブログ
pixiv logo. Click to go to the pixiv site.

So let's get back to the topic at hand. I dunno if Pixiv uses the same but deviantArt has you fill in various details about your works when you submit a new "deviation" and the last category is choosing the appropriate CC License (it's an optional category). CC License?? What is that? Copyright? I thought copyright was something you had to formally apply for, like a patent (but it's not) so I initially found the issue of CC Licensing both confusing and possibly unnecessary, but maybe that's just me.

CC Attribution logo. Click to go to the Creative Commons site.

This whole misunderstanding with copyright and CC Licensing I think, stems from the fact that I am neither a US citizen, nor a citizen or any Western country wherein ideals of freedom and personal property are often brought to the fore (and CC Licensing did start as an American endeavour). This is not to say that that I am opposed to the idea, but it does provide a different perspective on something that I think my Western counterparts consider a natural right because for people like myself it's something that we don't really ever talk about, not even after 12 years of standard schooling...and I'm not even from an authoritarian country! (although some people have said that I look like Korean actor Bae Yong Jun so maybe it's not too far off. By the way, not saying that South Korea is authoritarian, but move a little up North, and...)

Personally, I don't see the resembance...but someone else created this, so...

So now you kinda get the idea that the situation of copyright is a little different between countries yes? But I guess that's to be expected. Anyone can wax lyrical about one's inalienable rights but people across the border have different standards, different Constitutions, different legal systems so how are you gonna apply your lofty copyright ideals to the world? Well, you can't really, not unless you have some kind of cross-border group session thing going on like the European Union that purposefully exists to standardise various components across member countries (and even then it's not all sunshine and rainbows from what I hear).

European Union flags

But hold up a sec and stop the presses. We've been tossing around the word "copyright" for a bit now and some of you must be wondering how this is different from CC Licensing. What is CC Licensing? Well the main difference is that copyright is very much dependent on a country's copyright law, which is to say that copyright has the final say as to whether something is illegal or not because it is governed by a legal framework. There's also a lot to it, which is why people take other people to court to debate (not-so-nicely) about it, and also why you often see the "all rights reserved" phrase regarding copyright issues; it's just too much to put down. On the other hand you have CC Licensing (Creative Commons Licensing) which is entirely voluntary (remember the optional category on deviantArt?) and user-initiated, and restricted to a set of pre-defined combinations (you want this page for the breakdown). It doesn't replace copyright law, but works in tandem with it, like shorthand. CC licenses let you state from the get-go what you allow any other person in the world to do with your work, so they can go ahead without bothering you with a million e-mails on, "Can I use this here? And what about that?"

Creative Commons Welcome Pack

The other big difference about CC Licensing is that it has its roots in specifically Internet-derived  issues of copyright, addressing content created in an age where file sharing and user-generated content is nothing if not commonplace.
"Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet - Universal access to research and education, full participation in culture - to drive a new era of development, growth and productivity." -Creative Commons
It's a bold statement (and reminiscent of Project Xanadu), but is it true? Every day you use several sites and services that offer to store and put your works in an environment that is fully open to the public (i.e. the Internet); photos on flickr, videos on YouTube, artworks on deviantArt. Now think about it, strictly speaking if you automatically own the copyright to your works by default, nobody is supposed to touch that (some people still do, but we aren't talking about those people :P). That's fine, but the question CC asks is: In an age where pop culture is very much driven by mass communication and the instantaneous spread of information, wouldn't you prefer to join in and put your name out there? Is exposure better than absolute control for you? It's questions worth asking, and very similar to why big-names such as The Dark Knight used viral marketing in tandem with traditional modes of advertising: Because it works, and it works because that's how our world works today. It's not about holding on tight to royalties, it's about broadening the personal and commercial potential of your works by gaining maximum exposure. A crude metaphor would be that it lets you shout louder than all the other people in the room.

Shout it!

Still don't quite get it? Try this: Imagine buying food from the supermarket and looking at the packaging for expiration dates and preparation instructions. You expect that information to be there because that's what you expect the product to do for you, and you certainly don't want to make a phone call to the food company each time you buy your microwavable dinners (and they don't wanna deal with all of your calls either). Now compare this to any form of creative work. You don't necessarily think about the spread of your work by the time you put down your pen, camera, or mouse, but should you? Can you? The answer would be "Yes you can," and you can easily with Creative Commons Licenses because they are by far the closest thing to a global standard on copyright for digital media. You see the CC logos and they stand for something recognisable, just like the Golden Arches although that doesn't necessarily mean "I'm lovin' it" for everyone last I checked.

Self-created image for a ds106 assignment on Triple Trolling.

But wait, so far we've talked about how CC Licensing benefits you as the creator, but how does it  benefit you as a user? Say you pop over to flickr to do a photo collage like this guy. How do you know what's cool for the taking? Well see if we didn't have CC Licensing as a shorthand then we'd have to either rely on copyright and manually get the permission of the creator for each photograph to be used, or rely only on what's in the public domain (or just take stuff, but again, we're not talking about those people). Neither one seems very appealing and that's where CC Licensing comes in handy. You can do a search for only images that creators have specified are okay to use, without ever having to actually ask them. Problem solved. Look up again at the picture before this paragraph for your reward. :)

So okay we're almost done now so bear with me. All this talk about the good points of CC Licensing makes it sound like the Second Coming, but obviously it's not. What's the rift? Firstly, remember the problem of different countries having different copyright laws? Yeah, so if CC Licensing is shorthand for copyright in certain circumstances, how does this translate overseas? The answer is adaptation. CC has and is still working to "port" (adapt) its standards to various countries and to streamline each type of license as much as possible. Problem "solved". The next issue is whether CC Licensing makes or is redundant because it co-exists alongside existing copyright laws. The answer is that both can co-exist. Why? As mentioned, CC Licensing aims to serve in particular the remix-mashup nature of content on the Internet, and without it you wouldn't actually have services like flickr, Google or Wikipedia (CC). (and you wouldn't have this post either; just look at all the licensed photos!) Could you really live with that? Teachers have to pry students off of Wikipedia these days. CC Licenses thrive on the Internet, but the Internet is arguably our world today, but if you want a "real-life" counterpoint to chew on, you can even snack on this. No artificial colour or flavouring added. All natural. Word.

So. Why so serious?

UPDATE: Final exam question submission. "CC Licensing replaces copyright law. True or False?"


  1. Thank you for the link to my blog post in the article above. It was very interesting for me to know that you have a non-Western and -artistic points of view on the copyright issue although you seem to get deeply involved in both worlds.

    I personally agree with you on the point you made about C.C.Licensing for pop culture on the Internet. I think so, too probably because I'm surrounded by Japanese pop culture which gives a damn about copyrights. As you probably know very well, so many fan-creation stories of manga and anime are on the net and also sold at the Comic Market without any permission to the original contents and characters. As for Pixiv, CHAOS LOUNGE controversy is a typical case of violating the copyrights (it's still controversial, though).

    However, I would say that the imitation and duplication of the original contents have definitely made the progress of the genres or categories of Japanese sub culture.

    As you wrote, the form of copyrights is now in question in this Internet era. I myself still don't have the answer, but at least have learned how to deal practically with copyrights online in this class.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    Actually I'm quite interested in the state of copyright and fan-created content in Japan. The point you mention about Comiket is a good example. I would say that from my point of view Japan can arguably be said to be even less concerned with copyright issues than other (mostly Western for this discussion) countries precisely because of this instance. You seem to think otherwise though, and you mention "controversies". I wonder if you could point me in the direction of some of these cases if any come to mind?

    I would also be curious to know if the whole CC Licensing thing has gotten any traction in Japan (e.g. Does Pixiv use it? I don't think so but..)? Is there any equivalent?

    The point you make about the lack of copyright enabling progress for certain genres and culture is also a very good one, and I think is something that is already evident if we take a look at most if not all of the ds106 content (such as the popular Triple Troll assignment; imagine if we couldn't use and appropriate pictures of well-known people! The assignment just wouldn't work!).

  3. "Pixiv (which I think is cooler, because it's Japanese but I digress)."
    Everything is cooler in Japanese! LOL JK, everything is cooler which is in your native tongue ;)

    William, Great post, with such a unique and peculiar perspective! I think you might have seen my blog on this, and it's much like yours, dealing with political philosophies and idealistic "rights."

    "This whole misunderstanding...stems from the fact that I am neither a US citizen, nor a citizen or any Western country wherein ideals of freedom and personal property are often brought to the fore (and CC Licensing did start as an American endeavour)."

    However mine is centered around a Western point of view, since is what I coherently comprehend. As I've always been interested in Asian culture and values, I've always come across how Asian countries' political and daily values are different from the west. This is strengthened when you introduce U.S and China relations, and International Laws, as the Southeast Asian countries go, "Why," at a UN convention.

    No matter how much I read up on this, I would never be able to fully comprehend such values when it comes to regards of copyright; no matter how much I actively use "Kinetic Imagery" To put my self on my high school student's shoes as I'm teaching them that in American universities such as Temple, we want you to argue and challenge your professors. Therefore I focused my blog on that which I'm rhetoric with.

    Anyways, we've all learned from international affairs or other classes about UN relations, which I didn't point out since my blog is centered on Western values, Thank you so much for the sophisticated insight!

    On DeviantArt, I remember visiting that site a lot in 2004-ish, since back then we were all interested in fan fiction from Manga and Video games like RPGs. This site seemed to be pretty strict on ORIGINAL work and all. I think they definitely deserve some copyright laws.

    It seems like your whole entity is a copyright violation to Korean actor Bae Yong Jun! Haha!!