November 29, 2008  ·  Lessig


Jamie Boyle’s fantastic new book is out. And he has beat me in getting it out with a CC license (soon, not soon enough, but soon). Download it for free here. Buy copies for all your friends (and 5 of your enemies) here.

And congratulations to Jamie. It was Boyle’s first book more than any work of scholarship that got me into this movement. It it wonderful to see the godfather return to print.

November 26, 2008  ·  Lessig

Chris’ post says:

For Obama media to be offered under a CC license (with the licensed embedded in the media itself) would signal his seriousness about embracing openness, transparency and the nature of discourse on the web. It would also signify a shift towards the type of collaboration typified by Web 2.0 social sites, enabling a modern dialectic relationship between the citizenry and its government.

Note the “seriousness” of Obama’s commitment here might well be wondered about. Note the tag line on ““: “CONTENT COPYRIGHT © 2008. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.” Talk about “change” — an effectively governmental website claiming “all rights reserved.”

November 26, 2008  ·  Lessig

Chris Messina’s got a fantastic post about YouTube and Creative Commons. As it is CC licensed, I’ve reproduced it here:

Why YouTube should support Creative Commons now

YouTube should support Creative Commons

I was in Miami last week to meet with my fellow screeners from the Knight News Challenge and Jay Dedman and Ryanne Hodson, two vlogger friends whom I met through coworking, started talking about content licensing, specifically as related to President-Elect Barack Obama’s weekly address, which, if things go according to plan, will continue to be broadcast on YouTube.

The question came up: what license should Barack Obama use for his content? This, in turn, revealed a more fundamental question: why doesn’t YouTube let you pick a license for the work that you upload (and must, given the terms of the site, own the rights to in the first place)? And if this omission isn’t intentional (that is, no one decided against such a feature, it just hasn’t bubbled up in the priority queue yet), then what can be done to facilitate the adoption of Creative Commons on the site?

To date, few video sharing sites, save and Flickr (even if they only deal with long photos), have actually embraced Creative Commons to any appreciable degree. Ironically, of all sites, YouTube seems the most likely candidate to adopt Creative Commons, given its rampant remix and republish culture (a culture which continues to vex major movie studies and other fastidious copyright owners).

One might make the argument that, considering the history of illegally shared copyrighted material on YouTube, enabling Creative Commons would simply lead to people mislicensing work that they don’t own… but I think that’s a strawman argument that falls down in practice for a number of reasons:

  • First of all, all sites that enable the use of CC licenses offer the scheme as opt-in, defaulting to the traditional all rights reserved use of copyright. Enabling the choice of Creative Commons wouldn’t necessarily affect this default.
  • Second, unauthorized sharing of content or digital media under any license is still illegal, whether the relicensed work is licensed under Creative Commons or copyright.
  • Third, YouTube, and any other media sharing site, bears some responsibility for the content published on their site, and, regardless of license, reserves the right to remove any material that fails to comply completely with its Terms of Service.
  • Fourth, the choice of a Creative Commons license is usually a deliberate act (going back to my first point) intended to convey an intention. The value of this intention — specifically, to enable the lawful reuse and republishing of content or media by others without prior per-instance consent — is a net positive to the health of a social ecosystem insomuch as this choice enables a specific form of freedom: that is, the freedom to give away one’s work under certain, less-restrictive stipulations than the law allows, to aid in establishing a positive culture of sharing and creativity (as we’ve seen on , SoundCloud and CC Mixter).

Preventing people from choosing a more liberal license conceivably restricts expression, insomuch as it restricts an “efficient, content-enriching value chain” from forming within a legal framework. Or, because all material is currently licensed under the most restrictive regime on YouTube, every re-use of a portion of media must therefore be licensed on a per-instance basis, considerably impeding the legal reuse of other people’s work.

Now, I want to point out something interesting here… as specifically related to both this moment in time and about government ownership of media. A recently released report from the GAO on Energy Efficiency carried with it the following statement on copyright:

This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States. The published product may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without further permission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images or other material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish to reproduce this material separately.

Though it can’t simply put this work into the public domain because of the potential copyrighted materials embedded therein, this statement is about as close as you can get for an assembled work produced by the government.

Now consider that Obama’s weekly “radio address” is self-contained media, not contingent upon the use or reuse of any other copyrighted work. It bears considering what license (if any) should apply (keeping in mind that the government is funded by tax-payer dollars). If not the public domain, under what license should Obama’s weekly addresses be shared? Certainly not all rights reserved! — unfortunately, YouTube offers no other option and thus, regardless of what Obama or the folks would prefer, they’re stuck with a single, monolithic licensing scheme.

Interestingly, Google, YouTube’s owner, has supported Creative Commons in the past, notably with their collaboration with Radiohead on the House of Cards open source initiative and with the licensing of the Summer of Code documentation (Yahoo has a similar project with Flickr’s hosting of the Library of Congress’ photo archive under a liberal license).

I think that it’s critical for YouTube to adopt the Creative Commons licensing scheme now, as Barack Obama begins to use the site for his weekly address, because of the powerful signal it would send, in the context of what I imagine will be a steady increase and importance of the use of social media and web video by government agencies.

Don Norman recently wrote an essay on the importance of social signifiers, and I think it underscores my point as to why this issue is pressing now. In contrast to the popular concept of “affordances” in design and design thinking, Norman writes:

A “signifier” is some sort of indicator, some signal in the physical or social world that can be interpreted meaningfully. Signifiers signify critical information, even if the signifier itself is an accidental byproduct of the world. Social signifiers are those that are relevant to social usages. Some social indicators simply are the unintended but informative result of the behavior of others. . . . I call any physically perceivable cue a signifier, whether it is incidental or deliberate. A social signifier is one that is either created or interpreted by people or society, signifying social activity or appropriate social behavior.

The “appropriate social behavior”, or behavior that I think Obama should model in his weekly podcasts is that of open and free licensing, introducing the world of YouTube viewers to an alternative form of licensing, that would enable them to better understand and signal to others their intent and desire to share, and to have their creative works reused, without the need to ask for permission first.

For Obama media to be offered under a CC license (with the licensed embedded in the media itself) would signal his seriousness about embracing openness, transparency and the nature of discourse on the web. It would also signify a shift towards the type of collaboration typified by Web 2.0 social sites, enabling a modern dialectic relationship between the citizenry and its government.

I believe that now is the time for this change to happen, and for YouTube to prioritize the choice of Creative Commons licensing for the entire YouTube community.

November 19, 2008  ·  Lessig

From the CC Blog:

Mega Green Flashdrive The ever innovative Brooklyn-based singer songwriter Jonathan Coulton has teamed up with Creative Commons to release his greatest hits compilation “JoCo Looks Back” on a 1gb custom Creative Commons jump drive to help support our 2008 campaign. If that weren’t enough, JoCo and CC have also included all of the unmixed audio tracks for every song on the drive. That’s over 700mb of JoCo thing-a-week goodness. Since all of JoCo’s music is released under our Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, this is an incredible opportunity for the public to remix and reuse his fantastic music. Song files are in 320kbps MP3 and unmixed audio tracks are in 256 VBR MP3.

We’ll be offering the drives exclusively at our $50 dollar donation level (and above) until December 31st. Also included are a account, an OpenID identity, and a 2008 campaign sticker.

Jonathan also wrote a wonderful commoner letter speaking on how he, as a musician, uses Creative Commons to support himself and his career. Read it here.

The letter is just about the most moving CC writing I’ve seen.

November 10, 2008  ·  Lessig

A Change Congress supporter writes:

“I am a supporter of your Change Congress movement and have followed your work for a long time. I am also an Obama supporter. I am writing to urge you to share your thoughts with your blog readers about what an Obama administration might entail for the Change Congress movement, and whether you think Obama is committed to government reform….”

Great question. I think many of us are so used to disappointment, we’re looking for it, and so not even a week after that extraordinary night, many are beginning to wonder what “change” here will really mean?

But I think we need a certain kind of understanding, or patience here. Imagine, by analogy, a loved one has cancer. She decides to get chemo-therapy to deal with the cancer. But on the way to the hospital, imagine she gets hit with a bullet from a drive-by shooting. (Dark, ok, but you’ll see the meaning here in a second). Now an ambulance comes and races this gun-shot victim with cancer to the emergency room.

This sad story is a picture of us just now. The “change Washington” rhetoric of this campaign is the analog to the cancer. The financial collapse is the analog of the shooting. And just as with the cancer patient, the collapse is an urgent, immediate problem that must be solved before the more fundamental, long term problem can be addressed.

This means we have to be a bit patient before the more fundamental issue gets addressed. Not that one shouldn’t be critical of decisions that will make it more difficult to cure the cancer. But that the lack of an immediate push on that problem is not inconsistent with the design to cure it.

I only hope they recognize that as with the gun-shot, cancer victim, there needs to be essentially two teams thinking about these two different kinds of problems. One focusing immediately on stabilizing the patient. The second on how the stable patient can be treated for the cancer. The skills of the former team are not necessarily the skills of the latter. And if Obama is to be the transformational president he can be, building a strategy around that transformation will be essential.

Update: A good sign: Podesta:

“I’ve heard the complaint [that] we’re leaving all this expertise on the side, because we’re leaving all the people who know everything out in the cold. And so be it. This is a commitment that the American public expects, and it’s one that we intend to enforce during the transition.”

November 6, 2008  ·  Lessig

So a new President means (the chance of a) new Chairman of the FCC. Before he passes, it is timely to begin to reflect a bit upon the chairmanship of the current chairman, Kevin Martin.

A clue that this is an interesting and important chairman is the fact that he’s an equal opportunity anger-er — the left has loved and hated him, the right has loved and hated him. I’m an increasingly strong admirer. His contribution to sensible thinking about infrastructures was established with his taking the lead in imposing network-neutrality-like rules on Comcast. But it is the unanimous decision freeing “white space” spectrum that will, I think, ultimately be the most important. The decision is not only right. It shows a liberation from a rigid and flawed understanding of the best way to maximize the economic value of “spectrum.” This clear thinking needs to expand beyond these bands. But it is an important start.

November 5, 2008  ·  Lessig

This is a democracy. We win when we persuade people of our ideals. I believe strongly that Proposition 8 is against our ideals. I have so argued. But we have failed to convince the other members of this democracy.

We need to try again. Let us launch, now, a new petition movement. Let us spend a year talking to people who disagree with us. Let us win this battle by persuading the other side. I volunteer to do whatever would help, including traveling to every church or community in this state to make the case for equality. But please, let’s not try to win this battle by summoning the Supremes. Even if it is right that this Amendment is contrary to the best interpretation of Equal Protection, let us bring the ideals of Equal Protection to life, by getting people to support them.