Saturday, March 19, 2005

Creative Commies and You

No doubt even those who thought they had no interest in copyright law have begun to realize that it does, in fact, affect all of us. Whether the topic at hand is "freeloading" (downloading without paying) music, buying cheap knock-offs of Louis Vuitton wallets (hi, Terina!), or rebroadcasting baseball games without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, our lives are becoming inundated with questions of rights and ownership. The latest phrase is "free culture," which refers to public common ownership of various intellectual properties.

Recently Bill Gates described free culture advocates as "modern-day sort of communists" (source); that sparked the Creative Commies movement, which has resulted in a lot of permission-free remixing of words and images related to copyleft (a copyleft license uses copyright law in order to ensure that every person who receives a copy or derived version of a work can use, modify, and also redistribute both the work, and derived versions of the work -- source).

So --

You know how everything good winds up in the public domain? That's why you can listen to, play, and record Beethoven whenever you want. That's why you enjoy Van Gogh paintings on t-shirts, mugs, and greeting cards (just as they were meant to be enjoyed). OK, so it's not always great -- but it's the way things should be. Creative property should extend only so far, and not to the point of depriving society of the fruits of creative labor. We at Toner Mishap, for instance, operate under a Creative Commons license, which allows others to reproduce our work (should they be so inclined) as long as they attribute it to us. But there are many who are opposed to such freedom, notably the Walt Disney Company. The mouse-eared folks have been very successful in changing copyright law to keep a tighter and longer-lasting rein on their property:
Back in 1998, representatives of the Walt Disney Company came to Washington looking for help. Disney's copyright on Mickey Mouse, who made his screen debut in the 1928 cartoon short "Steamboat Willie," was due to expire in 2003, and Disney's rights to Pluto, Goofy and Donald Duck were to expire a few years later.

Rather than allow Mickey and friends to enter the public domain, Disney and its friends - a group of Hollywood studios, music labels, and PACs representing content owners - told Congress that they wanted an extension bill passed.

Prompted perhaps by the Disney group's lavish donations of campaign cash - more than $6.3 million in 1997-98, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics - Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

There's a movement out here in cyberspace creating mash-ups and remixes (pick your term; it doesn't seem to be set in stone yet) related to this controversy, incorporating some of the populist-adoped Creative Commies logos; Bill Gates is a popular target. Here's my contribution:


More bad news, courtesy of
Loony old Orrin Hatch has been named the head of the new Senate subcommittee on Intellectual Property -- I guess that Genghis Kahn wasn't available to fill the position.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), once nicknamed "Terminator" for his 2003 comment that the recording industry should be allowed to remotely destroy the computers of file-sharers, was named today to head a new Senate subcommittee on intellectual property. While Hatch backed down slightly from that comment the next day, saying, "I do not favor extreme remedies -- unless no moderate remedies can be found," he has remained a staunch ally of the entertainment industry. [Link]


Teresa said...

That's hilarious! I'm sure Walt's head is turning in its cyrogenic holding tank.

Chandira said...

That Hatch comnent was scary. George Orwell would have been proud.. Or pooping his pants.