Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Copyright Capers

Modern humans evolved from small bands of hunter gatherers over thousands of years to become the keyboard pounding guardians of our collective global destiny. Various mental structures allowed us make that journey; the ability to think, to speak, to listen, to remember, to solve problems, and to see things from different points of view.

Tool making, agriculture, and the rise of civilizations all helped propel us to our current state. Guiding many of these achievements has been the human ability to create. Creativity has given rise to the wonderful things we see and experience around us everyday. The process of creation often occurs because human minds are able to observe, analyze, modify and ultimately improve things that are already in existence around them (made from nature, or by other people).

Concepts may be taken and improved upon to produce another entity, that may now be used in a more efficient, or even an entirely novel way. We are surrounded by the legacy of this "standing on the shoulders of giants" which has aided our world in developing into what it is today. It has always been a human trait to seek to make things anew, and this is also occurring nowadays against the backdrop of the digital revolution. In order to understand how that affects us as creators and users, we need to attempt to understand concepts like copyright and creative commons.

Copyright has historically provided one of two options; a work is either accessible to anyone because it is in the public domain, or else it’s creator has requested “all rights reserved”, which effectively means no one else can distribute, perform, or create derivative works of the original.

Creative Commons gives structure to the grey area between copyright and public domain. It allows a creator to keep their copyright but allow others to copy and distribute the work on the condition that they give credit. The creator of the work may decide on which "level" they are comfortable sharing on; for example, options include allowing commercial use of your work (yes or no), and modification of your work (yes; yes - as long as it is shared; no).

Creative commons allows the sharing of work by bypassing traditional, restrictive methods used by large powerful groups to restrict the use of this work. If I license my work with creative commons then I am allowing the use of my work by others who will then be able to transform it into something entirely new.

The use of creative commons sees a shift from "all rights reserved" to "some rights reserved", and with this I see another parallel with the natural world. Natural selection in evolution allows those genes (representing their particular organisms) to live on if they provide some kind of advantage with regard to survival; human ideas (representing our creativity) should also be allowed to flourish, and provide benefits (cultural as well as survival) to our species.

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