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Creative Commons: Addressing the perils of re-using digital content.

February 27, 2011 2 comments

Do you still dream of owning an iPad? If so, you are one of millions of people salivating at the thought of using such a sexy device to create and consume all manner of digital content e.g. books, pictures, music and video. Indeed such devices promise exciting times for all digital content creators; and even entire industries, (e.g. news and magazine publishers), can hardly contain their excitement at the prospect of a device that just might single-handedly revive their ailing fortunes. But this is not another gushing product review, instead it is meant to highlight the challenges that this, and other such devices, will surely pose to the already embattled system of Intellectual Property or Copyright. Namely, how can you be sure that the content you create, re-use and consume on your device does not infringe another party’s copyright?

This is a burning question in the minds of many professional and non-professional creators and re-users of digital content, (e.g.: authors, bloggers, photographers, film-makers, illustrators, web-designers, as well as teachers and students); especially in light of new governmental instruments like the Digital Economy Act1. The right answer must provide, at the very least, a clear and simple method by which anyone can legally create, distribute, use and remix digital content without fear of inadvertent copyright infringement. This article examines one such method, which is increasingly being used by many creative people to get around this difficult issue, and it’s called the Creative Commons.

What Is The Creative Commons?

According to their website2, the Creative Commons (or CC) is a non-profit organisation devoted to increasing the amount of creative works that are free and legal to: share, use, re-purpose and remix by the general public (aka “The Commons”). The CC was established in 2001 by an eight strong group of experts in such relevant fields as cyber law, Intellectual Property (IP), computing and education. The first version of CC Licences were released in 2002, and since then over 130 million works have been licensed under this, and subsequent versions (it’s currently at version 3.0). Furthermore, CC licenses have now been ported to over 50 countries or jurisdictions internationally, with more coming onboard every year.

How Do CC Licenses Work?

The Creative Commons provides free, legal tools that enable content creators to grant: clear, simple and more liberal copyright-based permissions for the use of their works. It operates alongside existing copyright laws, but instead of the default copyright position of “all rights reserved”, CC allows content creators to specify a more flexible proposition with only “some rights reserved”. This is achieved via a multi-step gradient of pre-bundled permissions which bridge the gap between binary positions of copyright (i.e. all rights reserved) and the public domain (i.e. no rights reserved).

There are six commonly used types of CC licenses, which are shown, in order of increasing restrictiveness, as follows:

Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses

Figure 1: Creative Commons. Source of CC License Symbol / Images3: http://creativecommons.org/about/licenses/

All CC licenses are represented in three levels, which are easily accessible for: computers (i.e.  Machine-readable digital code, or metadata); lawyers (i.e. the “Legal Code”); and ordinary people (i.e. the Commons Deed).

What are the Limitations and Pitfalls of Using CC Licenses?

CC is by no means perfect for every situation, especially since it doesn’t cover every single type of rights and privileges related to content. For example, CC licenses do not affect the rights of content creators or consumers in areas like: Fair Use or Fair Dealing, Moral Rights and / or Privacy. The latter aspect of Privacy has been in the spotlight on a few occasions, most memorable of which involved a minor whose image was used in an advertising campaign without her knowledge or permission4, and which ultimately led to charges of violation of her privacy, (notwithstanding the fact that the photograph in question had been posted on Flickr.com under a CC-By-Attribution license!)

Furthermore, the global scope of CC and the Internet only adds to the complexity and geo-political implications of such allegations. For example, the minor and photographer in the above case were both based in the USA, but the ad campaign took place in far away Australia. In light of this and other similar cases, Maria Kessler5, President of the Picture Archive Council of America, advises caution in all uses of digital images, even those under CC license, due to the many subtleties / unintended consequences of digital image rights and their usage.

In Conclusion

The rise in digital content, fuelled by ubiquity and relative ease of digital content creation, remix and distribution emphasises the urgent need for a more flexible approach to usage rights and permissions under copyright. This need is fulfilled to a large degree by the Creative Commons system described above, in spite of the mind-numbing complexity and subtlety of copyright (i.e. the various rights / privileges / restrictions that are attributable to content and their authors). In summary, the key messages to take away include:

  1. CC is probably the best thing we currently have to enable the legal use / reuse of digital content that would otherwise be legally inaccessible to users under full copyright. This is because CC simplifies and facilitates content use / reuse / sharing for  the benefit of all (and not just for commercial stakeholders or content rights owners)
  2. The widespread popularity and adoption of CC clearly points the way to how we might evolve, or remix, the global copyright system into something that can better cope with the relentless relentless pace of change driving the digital economy during this crucial transition period in human cultural evolution
  3. Finally, as with most other things, CC is not a silver bullet. The subtleties of copyright versus individual rights are a minefield, even for the best of legal experts; therefore extreme caution is highly recommended when considering the use of CC licensed works in a commercial way.

Please Note: This article has been submitted and accepted for publication in a forthcoming edition of ITNow Magazine

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References:

  1. The Creative Commons website can be found at http://www.creativecommons.org and the UK version is at: http://www.creativecommons.org.uk. More information on other jurisdictions can be found at: http://creativecommons.org/international
  2. Digital Economy Act – More on the debate over this bill can be found on the BCS DRM blog, including comments, at: http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=conBlogPost.1606
  3. Creative Commons Images: The CC license buttons and graphics remain the property and trademark of the Creative Commons. More information on their use and reuse can be found at: http://creativecommons.org/policies
  4. More information on this lawsuit against Virgin Mobile and the Creative Commons can be found at: http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/7680
  5. Conversation with Maria Kessler who is also Senior Vice President of Image Rights (http://www.imagerights.com), an Image monitoring services company.


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We Heard It Through The Grapevine

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

What happens when you mash up social media monitoring, insight and sentiment analysis, with business intelligence and BPM? Answer: You get an enterprise that is engaged in multiple ways with its customers, suppliers and even employees. Or at least that is the vision of what you could get according to an offer Capgemini have called ‘Grapevine’.

Apologies if you’ve already seen this topic covered in an excellent post by my colleague, Laurence Buchanan, but even that doesn’t prepare you for a hands-on experience of just one of the key components of this proposition. I am talking about the social media monitoring / analysis part of the solution which I had the opportunity to test drive last week in a partner training session by vendor, Attensity.

Imagine if you or your organisation could see all that is said about you on social media networks, and other online sources, in a way that separates the noise out from more relevant opinions and sentiments (e.g. positive praise or negative criticism), then you can probably understand the amazing power at your grasp, not only to pinpoint and respond to your biggest fans or harshest critics, but to do so with out missing a beat.

And this is where things really start to get interesting, because the BPM part of the solution (from Pega) promises the capability to quickly adapt your internal processes in order to address issues appropriately and in a highly responsive manner, if you so chose! What could possibly go wrong with this picture?

Well, people for one thing, because if your organisation is not geared up for speed and flexibility, or if your culture does not tolerate change and innovation, then you might struggle with this concept – as you probably are currently doing anyway – given the speed of change and perception all around.

Also, to my mind, the ultimate trade-off is this: if end-users can blog / tweet /chat about their experience with your company’s services or products with impunity, then it’s only fair that your organisation is able to respond swiftly and appropriately to its advantage. However this cuts both ways, because although end- users might have, consciously or unconsciously, provided their information to online / social media platforms (which can be legally mined, repurposed and exploited), there is still a perception of privacy, which might get in the way of full engagement with a third party organisation. But that is probably only a transient issue, as more and more people are becoming aware that privacy flew out the social media window / door / portal the minute they signed-up online.

So what will it be; my ecosystem or yours?

February 12, 2011 1 comment

It seems to me that anywhere you go these days, there’s bound to be someone dropping that term like it’s going out of fashion. You’ll hear them talk about this ecosystem, or that ecosystem, usually in reference to any number of things from consumer products, business models, IT systems or even personal social networks (I kid you not). So just what is an ecosystem, really?


For one thing, it is an over-used / overloaded term which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to a biological system comprising all organisms that live in, and interact with, a particular physical environment. This definition is consistent with others from a variety of both lexical and semantic sources, and as a result, one can only conclude that ecosystem is used, by most non-scientific types, as a metaphor to describe similar complex systems.

As buzzwords go, the term “ecosystem” has been around for a while, yet for some reason its use (and abuse) appears to have gained traction with a much wider variety of people, professions and circumstances. For example, it is no longer unusual to hear it from the lips of: economists, technologists, consultants, media folk and even start-ups and their VCs. In a recent panel session, at a music/tech seminar, it seemed that each panelist used “ecosystem”, in different contexts & meanings, to answer to a single question! Surely it must be time to stop and call amnesty on such indiscriminate use of this term.

To be fair, there is a certain attraction to using such a rich metaphor to describe certain things, and this perhaps reflects a rather complex, information-rich and often confusing electronic age. The ecosystem concept communicates this complexity rather eloquently, comprising as it does, such intricate components as: environments, niches, food chains, roles, relationships (e.g. specialists, generalists, predators, prey, symbiosis or parasitism), and an idea of balance and equilibrium. As a result, one can easily see a similarity and applicability to modern businesses, (e.g. high-tech or financial systems), which themselves also have a complex set of interacting entities and components including: value chains, webs & networks; IT systems; information flows & controls; as well as various business and revenue models (complete with predators, prey, and mutants with emergent skills e.g. in Internet, social network, or Cloud technologies).

However, there are limitations to the ecosystem metaphor, and perhaps not everything can or should be described in terms of an ecosystem. For example, it is extremely difficult to find anything like true balance or equilibrium in areas such as high-technology, business, politics or global economics and finance (don’t even get me started). Furthermore, new and emerging patterns of complex digital interaction, usage and convergence are not yet fully understood, and this is particularly true for: content, context, rights and entitlements (e.g. individual privacy). To my mind, this is a clear indication that even complex metaphors like ecosystems may not be rich enough to properly describe the evolutionary fusion of human beings, digital technology and our physical environment, e.g. the emergence of Augumented Reality applications are a case in point.

In conclusion, ecosystem is an over-loaded term that is increasingly used by people in business, technology and other fields, to describe complexity. It works well to a large extent, but indiscriminate and uninformed use can only add further confusion and FUD to an already complex situation. It may well be that as people, technology and environment continue to evolve / converge we’re going to need even richer metaphors to describe it all. So next time someone says ecosystem, you might do well to ask: “…my ecosystem or yours?”