creative commons angst

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I find myself deeply puzzled by the anger and angst that some of my most respected blogging friends have expressed lately regarding creative commons licenses in general, and Movable Type's implementation of those licenses as an option in version 2.6 in particular.

So, dear readers, help me understand why allowing your words to be distributed freely is such a frightening concept, particularly in the context of weblogs.

As someone who's struggled to get more than one book out under a deadline--and had to live off the fruits of her intellectual and creative efforts for longer than she'd like--I'm certainly not advocating the Swartzian position that profiting from those efforts is a form of theft.

But the CC licensing does not restrict you from profiting from your works. It allows others to distribute your copyrighted work--typically with attribution, and not for commercial use (that appears to be the version most folks choose).

If my weblog content is broadly distributed, with attribution, it helps me. It extends my reputation, makes me recognizable. And if I later choose to write a book that draws from my weblog material, I think it's that much more likely to have buyers.

Cory Doctorow's experience with Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom seems to support this idea. While the work is freely downloadable and distributable, it hasn't stopped him from selling copies of the published work. (Same argument so many use in the context of music distribution--I'm among those who buy more CDs because of the samples of work I download online.)

When I supported myself and my family as an Internet trainer, I made all of my materials available freely online--because I knew that my presentation of the materials was what was valuable. When I bought my copy of Down & Out, I did so in part because I felt it was the right thing to do, but also because I'd much rather read a nicely-bound hardcover book than screen after screen of digital text.

Weblogs are a nice way to read small chunks of content--but I wouldn't pay for them. I might, however, pay for a work deriving from that content, which is something that most CC licenses do not grant, but that I as copyright holder can create (and profit from).

I think critics are right that it would help if CC provided both sides of the argument on their site. But given that MT is specifically a weblog management system, and that weblogs are a medium based intrinsically on sharing of content (through links at the very least), including CC licensing capability as a part of MT strikes me as a pretty reasonable approach.

In the comments on Tim Hadley's excellent analysis of the CC licenses, one person asked rather plaintively why anyone would want to use a CC license, and I responded there, pointing to the CC site. I suppose what I'm still looking for is a convincing argument as to why someone wouldn't want to use the CC license on their weblog. Why shouldn't the "commons" approach of free distribution of ideas be the default rather than the exception? Can someone pointn me to an example of specific harm--past or anticipated--that they see resulting from these licenses?

A while back, Shelley posted something that confused the issue a bit, by implying that use of a CC license was tantamount to (a) placing a work in the public domain, and (b) renouncing copyright. Neither is true. The example she used, in which she excerpted someone else's text--without attribution--would clearly violate the terms of most CC licenses. As would her suggestion that "you could even charge for this writing."

Besides not being an accurate depiction of the impact of a CC license, it also made the error that so many of my students make when they plagiarize on a paper. It confuses the legal obligation of copyright with the moral obligation of intellectual honesty. CC license or no, I'm likely to ask Shelley's permission before excerpting more than a line or two of her work. And I would always cite her as the source.

Update: Ooops. I goofed. Just noticed that the site Shelley used as an example had used one of the less commonly-used CC licenses, which does in fact dedicate all of the work to the public domain. However, that still doesn't address the difference between legal and ethical responsibility. While Shelley could legally use Doc's words under that license, that's an explicit choice he's making. And if she does use those words, and fails to cite them, it's still intellectually dishonest. If she did it on a paper she turned in to me for a class (or in a "briefing document," as the UK govt did), she'd be called out for plagiarizing. That's a whole different issue than the legality of using the material...

Jonathon, in his post today, says that CC "does a shithouse job of explaining why people might choose not to use their license ... But that�s less of an issue, now that Tim Hadley has done the job properly." But I don't see that in Tim's analysis. It's not a discussion of why you wouldn't want to use the license--it's a discussion of what the legal boundaries of that license are.

So..."Jonathon": Shelley? How 'bout a "non-shithouse" version of why people might choose not to use the license, that can live side-by-side with the CC discussion of why they should? Not a harangue, or a sky-is-falling piece, but a thoughtful analysis of the potential harm that could come to a writer as a result of adding the license to his or her work.

7 TrackBacks

I don't fall into any sort of 'camp' as to whether one should or should not select Creative Commons licensing for a particular work. I'll be adjusting the next revision of my piece on the impact of Creative Commons licensing to reflect that better. O... Read More

Via Burningbird, I found Tim Hadley's interesting explanation of the Creative Commons licenses and what impact they really have. Tim gives a good breakdown on what it means when you sign up for a CC license, and why it doesn't do a whole lot of good if... Read More

Thanks for well wishing. The suggestion of tea was a good one, but unfortunately I can't drink any acidic juice such as OJ, as it hurts my throat more than a little. Doing a bit of catch up. There were a couple of items of RDF I had to respond to over ... Read More Read More

Jesus. I'm really impressed by how deeply people are invested in their blogging. I'm equally unimpressed by how worried everyone Read More

When I last wrote about the Creative Commons licenses, I did not go so far as to talk about the sorts of factors that might guide people in making licensing decisions. Here, for your comment, is a draft with some ideas I've sketched out. Right now I'... Read More

The recent discussions about backchannels reminds me of the discussions about comment registration and editing, which, in turn, reminds me of the old discussions we had about Creative Commons. What do all these seemingly disparate items have in common?... Read More


It seems to me that you are only muddying the waters by bringing your own good intentions and good manners into the situation. If you would always ask, and always attribute, well, that situation already exists without a Creative Commons license. If you want to republish something of Shell's and she agrees, then you may. I think the point of the license is that you don't have to ask, and she doesn't get to say no.

Suppose you write a heartfelt and deeply personal post about the difficulties of academic life. If someone from asks to republish it, you would probably say yes. If someone from asked, you would probably say no, if it wasn't for the fact that you've already said yes by virtue of your CC license. If you post a beautiful picture of an eagle in flight, and a birdwatching site asked to use it, you would be delighted, and say yes, if a neo-Nazi site asked you would be horrified and say no. However, your CC license has already said yes for you, and all you can do is request that they remove the attribution.

I'm sure there are lots of things for which a CC license is a perfect fit (if I had a site with a couple thousand photos I wanted to share, I'd hate to have to give permission for each individually), but for most weblogs I think the "Copyright, but if you ask I'll probably share" notice is more than enough, and more in keeping with what the typical weblogger really wants out of sharing.

If at some point in the future the CC dream of a semantic search engine that can find every by-nc picture of a kid on a pony comes true, that would be different, but at the moment I'm quite tired of the "first, you do all the work of marking everything up, and only then will we build tools to use it" plan, and without that the only way people are going to limit their search for a foo that people are willing to share is by searching for "foo Creative Commons", so I'd be inclined to just make my maybe-I'll-share statement "like a Creative Commons license, only you have to ask", and retain both the thrill of being asked and the right to say no.

I chose to contribute these images to the public domain through a Creative Commons license - - but I have been trying to decide whether to do the same with my blog site. I thought someone may stumble across these images and think of something fun to do with them - I simply don't have the time. I have published in various situations and to be honest there was little or no money made in any of them - a trickle. I find it hard to believe that making my content freely available or freely borrowable will stop the trickle.

PS: I love your blog Liz, I hope we meet IRL.

Phil, I'm not sure it's possible for me to muddy waters that are already this murky. :-)

But I'm not arguing that everyone should do this. My concern is with the argument that this default--as opposed to the existing default of full copyright--is a Bad Thing.

And while I realize that not everyone will share my good manners in crediting authors for their work, I also know that the people I'd be most likely to say "no" to if they asked are exactly the people least likely to ask--or give credit.

One of the things I tell my students, cynic that I am, is that copyright exists primarily to protect the *financial* rights of the creator. That means if the hypothetical neo-nazi group decides to use my hypothetical eagle picture, they could probably argue it as "fair use" even under current copyright law--unless I could prove to a court that I'd otherwise be able to generate income from the image. (I imagine I'll be taken to task on this interpretation from those who know far more than I do on the topic--which is good. I want to learn.)

Oh...and Pattie...thanks for the nice words!

That means if the hypothetical neo-nazi group decides to use my hypothetical eagle picture, they could probably argue it as "fair use" even under current copyright law...

In this hypothetical, they'd most likely lose a fair use defense. At least, that's my impression based on the cases I've read. They'd probably have to justify taking that particular picture.

I'm going to have to do a better post on fair use one of these days.

But would they ever get to the point of being able to offer a defense? Do copyright cases ever make it to court that aren't, at their heart, about the monetary damages?

I honestly don't know--am not trying to be argumentative.

(And can I add here how happy I am that *dialogs* are blooming in my comments these days? :-)

There are copyright suits by people who primarily want to assert control over how others use their work. One well-known organization vigorously (some would say 'viciously') pursues copyright cases, sometimes with extreme arguments, in order to keep its substantial library of secret publications from ever reaching the public eye. I don't like to use that organization as an example, though, because I disapprove of its use of copyright law. Consider instead Ernest Svenson's recent call for legal help for artists who find their work used on the internet without permission: here.

Pretty much all infringement cases include a request for financial damages and a request for injunctive relief. It's also a somewhat unique area of law in that it's easy to get a preliminary injunction in an infringement case. If a defendant raises the fair use defense at the preliminary injunction hearing, the court won't definitively rule on the issue, but may deny the injunction if the defense seems to have a good chance of prevailing at trial. Before ordering damages and a permanent injunction, the court will resolve all of the issues and will fully consider the fair use defense.

The fact that it's hard to discern any amount of monetizable financial damage won't necessarily keep a potential copyright plaintiff from filing. A copyright plaintiff may ask for "statutory damages" ranging from $750 to $25,000 per work copied instead of actual damages; the judge has a lot of discretion to set the final amount depending on the facts of the case. If the plaintiff can prove that the copying was a willful infringement, that $25,000 cap increases dramatically (but I can't pull the number off the top of my head). So, a successful copyright plaintiff will likely obtain at least $750 in damages, an injunction against the copier, and might find her costs and attorney fees paid as well. A lot of people still have better things to do, but there are also a lot of people who get frustrated at seeing their work displayed without permission.


My original post about why people might choose not to use the CC license is here:

I've been ambivalent about posting more on the subject since it became immediately clear to me (and to Shelley too, I believe, though I can't speak for Phil) that most of Blogaria regards the CC licenses as deserving only of unadulterated praise. But Tim's excellent post provoked me into venturing into hostile territory again and, much to my surprise, I find that there's much worth exploring.

You ask that Shelley and/or I write "not a harangue, or a sky-is-falling piece, but a thoughtful analysis of the potential harm that could come to a writer as a result of adding the license to his or her work."

The post I pointed to above suggests various sources of potential harm that may arise to writers or photographers from using the CC licenses. Whether or not that post is "non-shithouse", "a thoughtful analysis", "a harangue", or "a sky-is-falling piece" is not for me to judge. However, at the risk of seeming impolite, I'm unsympathetic to your attempt to constrain the debate within the limits of polite academic discourse by using such terms.

At this early stage in the debate on the CC licenses (a discussion that would best have happened long before now), I believe that an emotional polemic is just as useful as a restrained analysis.

Why? To get the debate moving. My perception of the CC proponents -- with the notable exception of Matt Haughey -- is that they expect us all to shut up and be grateful for this wondrous contribution to collective creativity. Now, however, thanks to the efforts of Phil Ringnalda, Shelley Powers, Tim Hadley, and a few others, some of the potential problems associated with CC licenses are coming to light. As a result of this work and the Movable Type fiasco, a few small cracks are appearing in the gleaming CC edifice -- a healthy sign, since something was needed to counter the breathless Polyanna-ism that's prevailed until now.

I don't believe that CC licenses will unleash a torrent of thwarted creativity, thus making the world a happier, more beautiful place. And I have no intention of adding a CC license to my weblog or to anything else I make. But, on the other hand, I have no objection to anyone else using one or other of the CC licenses -- as long as they are aware of the consequences. To each, his (or her) own.

The CC site offers a persuasive "for" argument, with no mention of potential negative consequences. A few of us have chosen to provide an "against" argument. I have a couple of theories as to why that is seen as threatening or anti-social, but I'll save them for a subsequent weblog post.

As a result of this work and the Movable Type fiasco, a few small cracks are appearing in the gleaming CC edifice -- a healthy sign, since something was needed to counter the breathless Polyanna-ism that's prevailed until now.

Fiasco? I think you're using pretty strong words for a minor situation. Yes, there were implementation issues that we are working on solving. The people at CC that we have talked with are not interested in coercing users into using one of their licenses--they want to make clear the seriousness of licensing one's work under a CC license.

The implementation can not be called a complete failure.

In version 2.63, we have also changed the instructional wording to clarify what a user is accepting when they select a license.

The actual text for those who haven't upgraded yet:

"Be sure that you understand these licenses before applying them to your own work."

Keep in mind: Once you publish your work under a Creative Commons license, and someone accepts the terms you've offered, you can't revoke the license. You can always take your work down if you change your mind, of course, or specify that future entries in your blog are available under some new licensing terms or full copyright protection, whatever the case may be. For more information about the details of Creative Commons licenses, see

Additionally, if someone selects the Creative Commons option for testing ("to see how it worked and what it put up") purposes, they are now able to remove the license.

We are not blind propoponents of Creative Commons -- other than a photo album I released under a Creative Commons license, we are not using the licenses ourselves.

This doesn't mean that we don't see the value in Creative Commons and understand that it works for many. In fact, the inclusion of the license was inspired by requests by our users.

Yes, the questions raised have caused us to improve the implementation -- we are glad of that.

And we're going to continue to leave the CC stuff in MT because we believe that our users are smart enough to be able to decide for themselves if the licenses work for them.

Liz, I've written far too many posts on this subject. As I said in my weblog, you can search on creative commons and find several of these.

I am disappointed that the CC folks wouldn't link to Tim's posting after the care he's taken, but instead use it as a public relations press release outlet. However, I have no interest in discussing the subject at this point. It's a lose/lose.

I'll go along with Jonathon -- if people want to use these licenses, more power to them. I won't, I think they're ill conceived and the possible negative consequences of using them are poorly documented at the CC site. But let the buyer beware.

"Keep in mind: Once you publish your work under a Creative Commons license, and someone accepts the terms you've offered, you can't revoke the license. You can always take your work down if you change your mind, of course, or specify that future entries in your blog are available under some new licensing terms or full copyright protection, whatever the case may be."

Mena, as Tim Hadley explained:
"However, all Creative Commons licenses possess a provision designed to pass the license on to everyone who receives a copy from someone who obtained the work under a Creative Commons license. That provision will apply even when the author stops offering the work under the Creative Commons license."

In the light of Tim's opinion, I believe your revised instructional wording still does not make it sufficiently clear that, even if the CC licensor changes her mind and removes her work, she has still granted an irrevocable license to anyone who took advantage of the CC license when it applied to the weblog content. And those licensees are free to pass on the license to anyone else they wish.

With all respect, I suggest that the "implementation issues" indicate that many of your users aren't "smart enough to be able to decide for themselves if the licenses work for them." Particularly since, as Shelley points out, "the possible negative consequences of using them are poorly documented at the CC site."

Shelley, you're absolutely correct. This is a lose/lose. My previous posts and these comments on Liz's post articulate my position clearly enough. I've also lost interest in discussing the subject any further.

Jon, Shelley, is there any way they could make MT offer a CC license within the tool that *would* meet your standards, or is it nothing short of completely removing the option?

Anil, what a non-surprise to meet you here, and under these circumstances. Defending the old guard again, eh?

Could care less what MT does with CC license as long as it's turned off by default. Could care less who uses the license, and when. If people aren't worried about the license impact on their copyright, or care enough to understand the legal ramifications, figure they rather get what they deserve at this point.

Could care less what the CC site does. I did feel badly that Tim has done so much of documentation about the license, and his effort hasn't received the ack due him from the CC folks. The issues he's brought up are important ones, and ones that should be documented at the CC site. But if people want to push a button and add the CC license to their site, without understanding the ramifications, well, you know what they say. One born every minute.

Defending the old guard again, eh?

Huh? A weblog app that's a year and a half old and a licensing inititative that's been around a few months are the old guard?

What I was trying to do was deduce what would be a reasonable solution to the incessant objections I'm seeing.

How about the reverse question? Is there any way that anyone can say anything about CC other than "this is absolutely perfect, and everyone should use it" that will suit you? Having discovered that there was still a little bit of unexamined interesting stuff to it with provision 8(a), I was thinking about writing a little more about what it might mean to put a license icon on your main page, and license RDF in your RSS feed, but nowhere else, until I ran across the title on your link to this thread, and once again lost the will to discuss it. So, do I have your permission to wonder about that, or do I just need to shut up?

Um...I hope that last remark was not directed to me, since I've really tried to make this an invitation to a dialog, not a harangue.

Personally, I'm not convinced that CC is perfect--you'll note that I do not currently have a CC license on this blog, as I'm still thinking about the whole thing. But I've found more to convince of its benefits than of its risks.

I'm going to go back and re-read Shelley's and Jonathon's past posts on this, but my (admittedly weak) memory of those posts was that they concenctrated primarily on the problems they saw in relinquishing copyright altogether--and didn't seem to address the more moderate alternative that I find attractive, that of the "requires attribution, no commercial use" license that seems to be the most popular implementation.

Tim says he's going to add some of the "why vs why not" material to his original piece, which I look forward to seeing. I'm also thinking about writing a less legally-informed piece of my own on the topic, which I'll post here (perhaps even with a limited CC license) when I've got a draft.

One thing I'm going to be interested in is what happens with writing that's licensed under a limited CC license, and then submitted for publication to a professional journal (which generally require you to turn over copyright). Will the journals refuse such pieces? Will the author be able to submit them at all if they've limited their own copyright rights? That's the kind of "potential harm" I'd like to see explored.

(While I would never consider returning to school for another PhD, I have often fantasized about getting a J.D.; alas, RIT has no law school, and paying tuition, even to a state school, is not a viable option for me these days.)

Shelly, I assure you we at the Creative Commons have been following Tim's and everyone else's input on licenses, and you'll see a response today on our weblog. We've been holding off a little to watch where the conversation goes, but we're most definitely not ignoring Tim's work.

Oh, sorry Liz, no - there should have been an "Anil:" at the start. Looks like I've already gotten so used to threaded comments that I've forgotten how to behave without them.

One thing I'm going to be interested in is what happens with writing that's licensed under a limited CC license, and then submitted for publication to a professional journal (which generally require you to turn over copyright). Will the journals refuse such pieces? Will the author be able to submit them at all if they've limited their own copyright rights?

This is a valid concern, and something a lot of authors and musicians have run up against. I know Cory Doctorow has answered this question online in several interviews (including the one on our site), and said it took quite a bit of negotiation with his publisher to them to accept it.

I have spoken with many musicians on this topic too, since recording contracts typically turn a song you wrote into something the record company owns, wrote, and simply paid you in a work-for-hire setup. You abandon *all* rights and ownership to the record company under most contracts. We sponsored a show at a music festival last night, and I got to speak to a lot of budding musicians that figured this out pretty quickly.

It's still early in the Creative Commons development, and everyone I've spoken with about licensing takes the choice seriously and does a lot of "what if" scenarios in their heads, but I'm sure that's likely to change after we grow beyond early adopters. Spelling out some warnings and what-if scenarios for people considering a license is something I could see the Creative Commons doing in the near future.

With any sort of licensing (GPL, MIT, etc), there's always a case where it became a problem in a future transaction or can lead to an undesirable side-effect. I'd be lying if I didn't think there will be a case someday that will entail someone legally reusing content in an undesirable way (nazis using your photos on their site, etc), but I'm confident the benefits of every other bit of content licensed is going to outweigh the occasional problem.

Hmmm. I find myself far less concerned about the idea of someone else re-using my content in an undesirable way than I am about the possibility that material I post on my blog might not then be usable in a peer-reviewed article down the line.

If a CC license on the blog means that academics will be less likely to share ideas as they form--which is one of the things I find most attractive about the medium--that would indeed be a problem. I hope there will be more forthcoming on that aspect, from journal publishers and from IP lawyers.

On the other hand, some academics have chosen CC licenses precisely because they reflect the prevailing intellectual ethic within the discipline (whatever the publishers may think). Univ. of Texas theoretical physicist Jacques Distler, in an entry that he tracked back to my initial entry, wrote:

Personally, I thought that the CC licence I chose for this blog closely mirrors the prevailing ethic in the scientific community. I�m happy with that choice, and I know that I will surely have to live with it.

I've served as executive editor of a legal journal, and I can say that we would have been fine with publishing CC-licensed work as long as we could take copyright or a very broad license with full sublicensing discretion. Ordinarily, we took copyright and granted a broad license back to the author. Then, in addition to our own print run, we licensed our articles to the Westlaw and LEXIS commercial services, and occasionally we licensed articles for editing and reproduction in casebooks. Westlaw and LEXIS paid tiny royalties when people accessed the articles, but we granted free permissions very liberally, knowing that the reputational benefits would prove more valuable to us and our authors in the long run than would a bit of pocket change. Since we received very few royalties, and a subscription to our print run cost only $26 a year, the presence of CC licenses for an article here or there wouldn't have made much of a difference for journal income. I am a little skeptical that journals that charge subscribers hundreds or thousands of dollars a year would make the same call, though. They have more to lose. On the other hand, that may become less relevant if/as the free online scholarship movement takes off.

I'm working on a very substantial revision of my first post, but it's got a while to go. It's a big revision because I'm characterizing it as a general discussion article now, not motivated by specific individual postings like the first one was. That's spurring changes all the way through the entry. It'll probably be a few more days.

Well Liz, from the journals I've worked with and written articles for, they typically ask that you only submit unpublished articles, so they are first seen in the journal that chooses to publish them (the debate over whether putting them on the web equals publication has been running for some time in the scientific community).

The problem of academic journals and copyright is something of a recent problem (in the last 5-10 years it seems).

There's a long history of an open-source ethic to academics that goes up against things like a journal trying to take ownership or authorship rights to something they publish. In the scientific journal world I used to read and publish in, an article was basically an open-source method for how you did something. You started with a hypothesis, described in exacting detail how you tested it (including how you took your data and anything you built or needed for that), you presented your data, then made conclusions that anyone was open to debate with you either in the letters section of the journal, or with you directly (your contact info goes with the article). Like the basic themes of academics, the process stresses openness to help further scientific understanding and knowledge sharing. I've photocopied (page-for-page) thousands of articles in my life, as most researchers have as well. Aside from occasional plagarism problems, journal publishing has historically been a very open environment. It's a place where copyright means almost nothing, because sharing your experiments is paramount.

It seems like in the mid-90s or so, I started to see a trend where the publishers of academic journals started acting like old media publishing companies. They became weary of the bottom line, and in order to keep their publishing companies afloat, they started upping their fees, they seemed to fear/avoid the internet, and they've attempted to make some dodgy publishing deals to turn a quick buck.

Remember that the web was invented by a guy in a physics research group that wanted to build a global network to share physics papers among researchers. That kind of idea is an extension of what academic journals used to represent. Recently I've heard talk (I don't have a link handy, but I remember this on a few blogs about 6 months ago) about researchers getting tired of the antics of publishing companies and attempts to launch open-source, copyright-free, peer-reviewed journals themselves to get back to what journals used to be about.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that ten years ago, I don't think publishing a CC licensed article in a journal would have been a big deal, but today it might.

Is there any way that anyone can say anything about CC other than "this is absolutely perfect, and everyone should use it" that will suit you?

Absolutely. And my intention is not to piss you off, Phil. (Or Shelley, or Jon.) It seems like you guys are really passionate about this, and I'm glad for it. I have large parts of my site (my magazine, for instance) that are copyrighted, not CC licensed, and with good reason. I don't even think Lessig think this is perfect and everyone should use it, but what I don't understand is the vituperation towards one software application's (admittedly initially flawed) implementation of the option of using these licenses.

People frequently copright material (or accept the default copyright privileges/limitations on their works) without giving full thought to the implications of that action, too. Yet I can't imagine everyone would object if FrontPage had a checkbox that was off by default and said, "check here to add your copyright notice to this page and affirm you want to license your work under the standard copyright law's terms."

By all means, don't use the CC licenses if they're not right for you, but why would you object to making it easy for someone who knows what they are, understands and values what they offer, and wants to enable that license on their content?

I'm still curious what the old guard is. Is this a reference to some other conversation that I missed? And I think my joking tone was a bit misunderstood, Phil. I wasn't really insulting people who have copyrighted works since, well, I'm one of them.


In your message on Feb. 25, 2003 at 5:52pm, you
said that copyright exists to protect the
financial rights of the creator. This is not
correct. The purpose of copyright is to allow
the creator to control the uses of the works.
Copyright does not look much different from
censorship. You have the power to say yes or
no to people who ask you for permission to quote
your works regardless of whether you will get
any dime, just like the old days when people
must ask king or queen for permission to print

The primary purpose of copyright is simply to
have the control over the communication of the
fixed expressions. The financial result that
comes from copyright is merely a consequence.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my
expressions in this post in the public domain.

Joseph, I think that's an overly idealistic view of copyright. Most of what I've read on the subject (insert standard IANAL disclaimer here) indicates that copyright law exists primarily for financial reasons. My understanding is that its primary goal was to provide creators with a fixed-length monopoly so as to encourage them to create--with the assumption being that people would be more willing to create if they knew they'd be able to receive exclusive compensation for it.

The United States law seems pretty clear that copyright is mainly intended to give financial incentive to authors. But that doesn't make much of a difference, because as a practical matter, authors can and do use copyright law to restrict copying for reasons outside of an interest in optimal financial gain. The courts are not going to second-guess an author's decision about what uses of their copyright are in his or her best interests. A copyright holder may use the copyright monopoly in any legal fashion. If the copyright holder tries to leverage a copyright monopoly into an illegal business monopoly, for example, that's going to be trouble. (Or so we're told.) But if copyright holders just don't care to share their works, or don't care to share them for free, or don't care to share them with everyone, that's all fine as far as the law is concerned.


I have a very general agreement with your
position. It is the small words that I do
not agree with. For example, you said
"financial right", I said that there is no
such right. It is only "exclusive right"
as per the U.S. Constitution.

You said "financial reasons" in the latest
post. Although I do see the financial
operation in the picture of copyright, that
is not the primary reason for having copyright
at first place - it is the utilitarianism.

I may be too nitpicking but I want to point
out that copyright is not about money, it
is about control over communication of
the expressions that are fixed in tangible
things. But, it is not a complete control,
thanks to the constraint by the First
Amendment (I can copy ideas from your fixed
expressions and express the ideas in my own
words without giving you any dime or credit).

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my
expressions in this post in the public domain.

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