Thursday, April 09, 2009

Live Blogging the Conference on World Affairs: Who Owns the Creative Commons?

1:51 pm

And that's a wrap. Glad I came to this panel -- now what did James Hansen say, I wonder?

1:50 pm

Society collectively decides whether we'll have copyrights or not, says Ihnatkho.

1:47 pm

Audience question: Is it up to the community or the artist to set the value of work? Ihnatko says that the audience already sets the value.

But at the same time, you have to live in the world that you live in. He says that the Macquarium ended up getting ripped off over and over. But he couldn't stop it, so he didn't cry about it.

McKenna says that the artist doesn't decide what his piece of worth is work, the market does. (He's a capitalist, remember?) How is he market different from the commons, I wonder?

A debate breaks out between Mahajan and Ihnatko, things get a little heated.

"Who appointed you god," says Mahajan?
"I did!" says Ihnatko.

Mahajan says there are many other ways to make money besides copyrights (like paying for other things). Ihnatko responds that even if it's been proven that it will benefit him to release his works for free, he still has the right to decide.

1:41 pm

One audience member says that sometimes the only way for her, as a consumer, to get access to media and music is illegally through the internet. She feels guilty about it, but really has no way to pay the artist. What should she do?

Sheridan wonders why no one has figured out a central way to distribute royalties. It's a system just waiting to happen, she says, and whoever figures out how to do it first is going to make a ton of money.

1:36 pm

Sheridan, in response to a question about electronic art, points out that there's a difference between amateur art and mixing and professional work. When people are trying to make money, it becomes more complicated.

1:35 pm

Books falling into the public domain is a wonderful thing, Ihnatko says. Great books would die, because they don't have enough market to make them commercially viable, but the internet and the public domain has saved them.

But, however, it's a disaster when the film enters the public domain, he says. The problem is, it's harder to recreate a copy with good quality. The work suffers.

1:32 pm

Ihnatko asks, what if somebody gets the idea that Sherlock Holmes is investigating a case and at some point he encounters Jeeves.

McKenna frantically grabs a pen and piece of paper and scribbles. "C!" he says as he holds it up.

Ihnatko flips it around and says, "Don't worry, it's copyleft."

1:30 pm

Sheridan points out that community art, or shared art, could be really really good. She responds to Ihnatko's supposition of someone taking Romeo and Juliet and butchering it, but she says, what if someone took it and made it better.

She says we don't want to get to the point where people completely disregard laws on copyright just because everybody is doing it. We're close, but not there yet.

1:29 pm

McKenna asks, does the world progress through self-interest, or through community interest?

He believes that his self-interest needs to be protected, but not for 100 years (that just benefits large corporations, not artists). Self-interest is the engine for creativity, and that then goes out and helps society prosper.

McKenna points out that science and commerce are completely different fields. He thinks that science shouldn't be copyrighted, private ownership isn't helpful for society. The rules are different for creative work. it?

"I worship Mammon -- I work in Hollywood," says McKenna.

But then he comes back to the idea of self-interest, and says that the commons hurts innovation in his business.

1:25 pm

I'm really glad there is some dissent among the panelists. At all the other ones, they tended to agree with each others.

Ha ha, Mahajan starts by saying, "I disagree very strong with some of the, how should I say it, bogus arguments..."

He's joking, but serious too. He says the "sweat of the brow" doctrine they used is no part of the U.S. copyright law, because the law is to promote society, not individuals. The laws aren't to protect authors, but to help society gain the greatest benefit. (That's the strict constitutional constrictionist interpretation, at least.)

Mahajan says that no one is a strict godlike creator from a blank page. Shakespeare drew his ideas from Roman historians and others. (Hear hear!) He was a notorious plot lifter. Also, there were no copyright laws in England back then.

"Copyright is an empirical question," says Mahajan. It's all about answering how long it should be in order to figure out what best benefits society. He cites the MIT Open Courseware program.

1:21 pm

Bruce McKenna starts off by describing the myth of Robin Hood. He says it's no surprise that the myth of the robber-outlaw parallels the rise of the enclosure movement. He reminds s that people were creating laws not out of intellectual or moral reasons, but out of a drive to survive and gain or keep power.

We're witnessing a modern version of "the most important dialectic in Western history: which is most beneficial for society, public ownership or private ownership?"

The public domain v. private domain debate drives everything in politics.

McKenna has a different history of the enclosure movement than Mahajan had. He said that before the enclosure movement, the land wasn't owned by the people, but was owned by the lord. Villagers could lease the land from the manor owner, and it was very complicated. This meant that innovation in agriculture was stunted because everyone planted, grazed, harvested, etc. at the same time. People couldn't innovate because they couldn't take the chance to separate from the rhythms of the community.

"The commons" is a romantic notion, but McKenna points out that it was also a method of social control.

It is more complicated than simply the rich displacing the poor, says McKenna. "I am a capitalist by the way," he says as an aside. A lot of small farmers were able to benefit from the enclosure movement by being smart.

"Social change does sometimes have winners and losers," says McKenna. He agrees with Mahajan that the displaced people moved to cities and because the fuel for the industrial revolution. But he disagrees over the fate of agriculture. He says that the enclosure movement created innovation. People were able to grow more, develop new growing methods, and could produce enough to feed people in the cities. The enclosure movement was ultimately beneficial because it saved lives and reduced mortality.

This huge social change, says McKenna, came directly from the creation of private property. "That's a controversial thing to change in Boulder, and I know that," he says.

He picks up Ihnatko's notebook, "I feed my family every day by what I put in this notebook." He says that he has to worry about who owns what he writes, especially because he works in Hollywood.

There is value to the public domain, but there is also value for the private. He says he wants to counter Mahajan's plea for Robin Hood with the Sheriff of Nottingham (and points at himself).

Like Ihnatko, he is worried about the creative commons being a wedge for "people who have a more radical view of property."

He says that Warner Bros. wants to extend the copyright on Band of Brothers for a million years so that, "even aliens watching it will have to pay for it." Although this would benefit him, he doesn't agree with it. That is too extreme. We need to reach a middle ground.

1:08 pm

Andy Ihnatko gets a blank notebook from his bag. It's the most important prop of this panel, he says. This $3 notebook, he says, represents the worst 3 months of my life. Then he says, do not think you are a creator unless you are up to the challenge of filling up those blank pages. [Slams it on the table.]

He says hat you can't talk about copyright law until you've gone through the process of filling up the blank pages. "It's easy to start with something other people have created and modify it," says Ihnatko.

For him, creation is different than sharing and modifying.

He's a bit passionate about this, and apologizes for maybe getting off on the wrong foot. With that, he goes into saying that creative commons is a wonderful thing.

Creative commons is a way to harness things that have been created for community use, not personal use.

Ihnatko made one of the first e-books (about how to turn a Mac into an aquarium). At the end of his page of legalese, he just asked people who had enjoyed it to go to the Red Cross and give blood.

He also posts a lot of his photographs on Flickr and lets people share them, with attribution and no derivation. (People can't change his images when they use them, they have to say that Ihnatko is the one who took them.)

But he has fears about creative commons, too. He sees it the same way he sees medical marijuana. He is totally supportive of it as treatment for cancer patients undergoing chemo therapy. However, he sees people using it as a wedge to get legal marijuana for everyone. The same thing happens with the creative commons. Some people want to use it to share ideas, but other people want to use it for profit, and that undermines the goal.

He also thinks that artists should have a choice. They should be able to copyright their work if they want, or release it to the creative commons. One reason Shakespeare's plays didn't exist while he was alive in print is that Shakespeare was worried people would take his work and alter it, says Ihnatko. Gilbert and Sullivan were also very scared of people butchering their work.

Ihnatko says that creative commons a great idea, but a lot of people will have to die first. (Figuratively, of course.)

We haven't reached a point yet where "copyleft" makes sense, says Ihnatko. At this point, "I am still the god of my blank sheet of paper."

12:56 pm

Mahajan, in addition to teaching math and physics at MIT, used to serve on the admissions committee at the Cambridge law school. Hmmm...

He starts by saying that, "almost by definition, we, the public own the creative commons. Or at one point in time we did. But now we're losing it."

Now he's taking us back into history, and the historical definition of commons -- like the Boston Common and other New England town centers. Those were common spaces where all villagers could graze their cattle. But then the enclosure movement came along, and fences went up around the commons. This was bad news for the villagers, who couldn't graze sheep and cows any more. "They became fodder for the industrial revolution."

Basically, enclosure, and the loss of commonwealth, causes great harm to people. And Mahajan sees what's happening now as us losing a mental commonwealth, which could be much worse.

Ideas are different objects than physical things. Mahajan uses a quote from Benjamin Franklin, about how the sharing of ideas doesn't take anything away from the person who originally had it. When you give an idea to another person, you don't take it away from the first owner, like you do with physical objects.

The ease of distribution is what makes an idea an idea.

Mahajan says that the purpose of the copyright clause in the constitution was to promote the progress of ideas. But in reality, the opposite happened as copyright terms keep getting extended. (He refers to the "Sunny Bono copyright extension.")

What are the problems of copyright law? In science, most research is funded by taxpayers. Scientists do research, submit their articles to a journal, it is peer reviewed. Up until now, all the work has been paid for by taxpayers, or has been done for free. But at that point, the work becomes copyrighted, and the work has to be bought back through subscriptions.

"It's a total scam," says Mahajan.

In answer to the claim that we wouldn't have works without copyright laws, Mahajan cites British authors in the 19th century, who didn't have copyright laws in America. (Their work was only protected in the UK.) But British authors earn more from their publications in the states than they do in Britain. Why?

In Britain, the price was marked up because of copyrights. But in the states, publishers had to sell it cheap in order to sell enough copies to make money. In this case, copyright laws kept authors from making money.

Another example where a lack of copyright laws led to innovation and creativity is the web, where html is completely open. The more it can be shared and seen, the faster it blossoms.

12:43 pm

Some challenges Sheridan faces in her work: she runs an internet radio station, and her fans are asking for on-demand performances and podcasts. However, she also works for a composer service, and it's not easy to work with them to make that happen.

She is optimistic that people will play for blanket access to media and music.

12:41 pm

Molly Sheridan starts us off. She says the first time she hear Lawrence Lessig's name (one of the founders of Creative Commons), she was at an event of music publishers and the whole crowd hissed.

She mentions an artist who culminated performances from YouTube, aggregated them, and put them together in something great. But he never had permission from any of the performers to do it. That's something that couldn't have happened in the 20th century.

Another question people ask Larry Lessig is, why don't people just create their own content? Why do they have to steal it?

I think that brings up an interesting question: what's the different between sharing and stealing, especially when it comes to creativity and to the media?

Molly Sheridan says we speak in pop culture. So using media that other people have produced is almost necessary to produce relevant commentary.

Technology changes so fast, says Sheridan, and people are worried about rushing forward so fast. But she points out that by not rushing forward so quickly, disaster happens (re: the recording industry).

There's a discussion within the music industry that, whether the "war on copyrights" is right or wrong, fighting against it is a losing battle. Copies are just too easy to make. So instead of looking at it as an evil, they need to start looking at it as an opportunity.

Although Sheridan hasn't brought this up, a lot of these things apply to the news industry, too.

I'm glad she ends it by saying that with all the choices out there, it's so important to emphasize ethics and make sure that we know what the right thing to do is. Although the technology may change, the ethics are still there.

12:34 pm

Moderator Howard Berstein said that laptobs are permitted for taking notes, not for surfing the web or disturbing the person next to you. Ihnatko jokingly closes his net book. "I just ruined his day," says Berstein.

12:29 pm

This is by far the smallest audience of any panel I've been to so far -- less than 50, by a quick count. Probably because of the overlap with Hansen, I'm guessing. Ihnatko is wearing a cowboy hat and sunglasses. he also has huge chops. He looks like a Blues Brother.

12:28 pm

And here we go again:

Who Owns the Creative Commons

12:30-1:50 on Thursday April 9, 2009
Wolf Law Wittemyer Courtroom
o Andy Ihnatko
o Sanjoy Mahajan
o Bruce C. McKenna
o Molly Sheridan

o Moderator: Howard Bernstein

Note: I finally found a seat near an outlet. Where? The law school, of course!

And another note: Attending this panel means I won't be able to see James Hansen's key note. C'est la vie! I'm sure plenty of people I know will go and tell me how awesome it is...

Live-blogging "When the Well Runs Dry: Dwindling Resources and International Conflict"
Live-blogging "There's No Such Thing As Agenda-free Science"
Live-blogging "Reading Fiction Helps Me Survive in the Real World"

1 comment:

FloatingBones said...

Andy Ihnatko mentioned this CWA session on the 12/20/2011 episode of MacBreak Weekly ( ). Yours was the best archive I found of this session. A belated thanks for the live-blog. If you have any other recollections about that session, please add a comment to the comments on the MBW episode page. Thanks, Jordan.