A quick note on current media events and the nature of intellectual property

I have a lot of thoughts about what’s going on with SOPA and PIPA right now, mostly focusing on the way this impacts me as an artist, and the way it impacts things such as Creative Commons licensing and “copyleft.”

First, here’s a great TED talk that outlines both the history of media and law, and what we actually need to be worrying about. This is bigger than shutting down sharing websites like MegaVideo and MegaUpload, Clay Shirky suggests.

I also want to take a moment to highlight “copyleft.” We are very much entrenched in the idea that creative property is the creator’s and the creator’s alone. We also tend to believe that that is the natural way of things, when actually, “copyright” as a concept is very new, coming only with the advent of the printing press (even then, at that early juncture, it was sort of trampled on).

We’re so interested in the worth of intellectual property that we lose sight of the power of copying. Dissemination is the best way to become known. Sharing achieves what, ultimately, should be the goal of any creator who publishes their work in a public forum: to have their creation be known. Am I saying copying is right, always, and screw proper attribution? No. But that’s what worries me with the current high-profile pieces of legislation– they seem to be criminalizing dissemination, even accidental or fully attributed dissemination.

According to Wikipedia: “Copyleft is a form of licensing and can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works such as computer software, documents and art. In general, copyright law is used by an author to prohibit others from reproducing, adapting, or distributing copies of the author’s work. In contrast, under copyleft, an author may give every person who receives a copy of a work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute it and require that any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same licensing agreement.” (Copyleft)

The way I see it, this is a much healthier–much less grabby, at least– of looking at intellectual property and rights. It will, of course, never be taken up by the producing industries (to borrow a term from Shirky) because it has little or no potential for direct financial gain, and the loss of absolute control over the intellectual property, is a decided financial loss. As producers, I think it’s incredibly important that we know our options, however. Creative Commons and Copyleft are great things, and by participating in them, we strengthen them.

As both consumers and producers, however, it’s very important to know your rights. If you take one things away from this long-ish, rambly post, let it be this: fair use. We cannot let fair use be eroded. Exercise your rights regarding fair use. By doing so, keep them safe.

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