Against the No-Derivatives License

So these Creative Commons Licenses are pretty popular with the kids today. And they are. Creative commons is a great way to compensate for some of the short fallings of the contemporary copyright system that tends to privilege corporations rather than individual content creators. I'm a big fan, and I often find myself talking about the goodness that is CC in the world, so this is not a critique of the copyleft movement or anything, but rather a critique of the mood that a specific kind of Creative Commons license.

Lets back up. The basic idea of a creative commons license is to grant permissions to do things like distribute/share or create derivative works (e.g., video adaptations, audio books, fan fiction, and so forth.) which under a standard copyright would be infringing behavior and technically illegal. In some situations this seems perfectly absurd, after all if someone likes your work enough to put creative energy into a related project, they're probably not the kind of people you want to sue. Creative Commons licenses amend this situation by explicitly allowing behavior that doesn't harm the creators business model. [1] The hope is that by explicitly allowing certain kinds of usage, "the commons" benefits, and possibly as a secondary effect the original creator benefits even more (by gaining greater attention and then selling more of whatever it is that they sell.)

Creative Commons gives you lots of options in terms of licensing, so that you can customize whatever you want. You can allow commercial usage (like the GNU-GPL and the GFDL which wikipedia uses) [2], you can choose to allow derivative works (or not) or as long as the derivatives are distributed under a compatible licensee ("Share Alike;" this is akin to the "viral" aspect of the GPL), and you can choose to require attribution with all future distributions or allow people to distribute without attribution. Or any combination of the above.

One combination that I've seen a lot of recently forbids commercial use, forbids derivative works, and allows redistribution with attribution. This is probably the most restrictive CC option around, and it seems to be the default. This isn't in and of itself a bad thing, this is a great license for anthologies where the producer of the specific work might not have total control over all the works--for instance--or other works where it's really crucial for the body of work remain together as a unit. I don't think it makes a particularly good general purpose license. In effect what it says is "I own it, and if you want to do my marketing work for me, thanks--not that you would have asked anyway, and not that I would have complained elswise--sorry if you want to do anything more..." While it's a step in the right direction, I'm not sure that the gift to the commons is very great.

I think I'd be more comfortable if the derivative-attribution were more default for more people, with or without the share-alike. It just strikes me that the really exciting thing about CC is the clauses allowing derivative works. Particularly with attribution and no-commercial clauses, the derivative works do nothing to hurt the original creator that I can possibly fathom, and are often a boon to the original creators. Most importantly, it seems that the opportunity to inspire new work and/or act as a substrate for new work is a huge gift to the commons.

So I guess what I'm objecting to is the sort of feeling of being put-upon as the the only benefit of the license is doing a favor for the creator. Which hardly seems fair, particularly if the creator is also selling the content in some capacity. Creative Commons, at the core--at least for me--is about creating a more cooperative/collaborative relationship between creators and consumers, and the no-derivatives license seems to run counter to that.

Just my gut feeling, I apologize if it's a little raw. I think in fairness I'm not entirely sure that the ramifications of this work are always very thought out, that people assume a connection between commercial use and derivatives, or something, so I don't think a lot of creators are always making this decision based on all the facts, but I think it's paramount that when people use Creative Commons and other free licences that they think about all of the ramifications.

[1]So lets take television shows. The business model for TV is get revenue from advertisements during original airing, to sell DVDs, and to sell syndication rights eventually. Though technically illegal fan fiction, as a derivative work, people writing fic doesn't really intersect with the TV business. This is the kind of situation that begs for some sort of CC-like licensing scheme. Same thing goes for people who design knitting stitch patterns. They make their money selling swatches to design houses, and compendiums of stitches. Allowing individuals to design sweaters using their stitches wouldn't hurt their business at all. This is a situation that begs for something less restrictive. I'm sure we can imagine many more such examples if we put our heads together.
[2]So I think people who don't write software--not that I do, but I can see the argument so bear with me--often scowl at the notion of allowing commercial use. After all, the instinct to say "I don't want other people to make money off of my hard work [particularly if I'm not because I'm giving it away for free]," is really strong. To this I would answer: if you're working on something where the copyright is held by a group, or shared by a number of different people, in situations where a sole creator could license the work commercially, a fragmented collective creator can't change liscenced with any ease (if at all.) So in these group situations if you don't allow commercial use, you're stuck with a work that cannot ever generate income.
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