The State of the Commons, Part Three

Dig this proliferation: The Beer-ware License, the Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License, the Inconsiderate License, the Unlicense. Here’s some of the Nietzsche Public License:

Copyright is dead. Copyright remains dead, and we have killed it. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? […] What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become authors simply to appear worthy of it?

Most of these licenses aren’t so poetic. All I listed and many more are compliant with the Copyfree Initiative, which works on “way[s] to make both your life and others’ lives easier, to enhance the visibility of both creators and their works, and in general to make the world a better place.” These licenses are for use with all sorts of creative work from software to songs to the historic sophistry and scholarship of Gates Foundation grant-recipients.

They serve the purpose of allowing the creator(s) of the work to selectively expand upon the default liberties granted to those who buy or otherwise acquire the copyrighted material. This is achieved by posting a license that compliments and/or renders toothless some or all aspects of copyright. If you’re confused with my use of “buy”, let me clarify that creators can charge money for purchases of these works. Offering products free of cost is not a prerequisite for using any of these licenses.

These diverse developments of alternatives to the current copyright system are of immediate concern (at least to fetishists like me) because:

In the United States, as of 1988 when the nation joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (also known as the Berne Copyright Convention) copyright is applied automatically to all new works, in contrast to the former system of requisite, formal registration.

Plenty of high-minded collusion among noble, unelected pillars of humanity such as the World Intellectual Property Organization and the United Nations led to the majority of nations of the developed world, U.S. included, drafting a standard minimum copyright term of “Life + 70 years”.

There is a vast spectrum of ideologies, initiatives, and licenses between copyfree and traditional copyright. Bill & Melinda Gates’ foundation recently decided to require (effective Jan. 2015) all their grant-funded research to be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (CC BY). The open source web browser I’m using to write this column, Mozilla’s Firefox, licenses its software with an infectious copyleft license of their own design, while using CC’s ShareAlike license (CC BY-SA) for their documentation. Lastly are CC’s NonCommercial and NoDerivatives clauses, both of which cast a chilling effect upon this columnist/producer. They’re widely used, but beyond the scope of this column and my legal understanding. These disparate approaches all fall under a copyright reform and circumvention umbrella, but their differences clearly illustrate a common growing pain of social change; that is the difficulty of achieving a broad consensus on the ideals as viewed under the microscope of the law. (Holy smokes! I almost capitalized and printed that last word in red.)

Our conscious thoughts are remixes, derivations, and (at our most lax) copies. The etymology of com-pose can be traced back via the French and Latin languages to mean putting together an arrangement and laying it down. Many believe this behaviour is what allowed us to reach our current status as Big Man over all Earthly things. Freedom, fuck yeah.