Paley & Doctorow argue over Non-Commercial licenses

Venerable author Cory Doctorow and I had this email correspondence this Summer, with the intention of sharing it to illuminate some issues confronting Free Culture and Creative Commons licenses. My thanks to Cory!

May 17, 2010

Hi Cory,

I’m writing to invite you to experiment with what I think is a brilliant innovation from the Creator Endorsed Mark.

You clearly laid out your reasons for using -NC licenses in THE COPYRIGHT THING:

“I like the fact that copyright lets me sell rights to my publishers and film studios and so on. It’s nice that they can’t just take my stuff without permission and get rich on it without cutting me in for a piece of the action.” link

The Creator Endorsed Mark effectively achieves the same thing, but without commercial monopolies. As you know, -NC licenses have some drawbacks: there’s no clear delineation between commercial and non-commercial use. You write,

“It’s just stupid to say that an elementary school classroom should have to talk to a lawyer at a giant global publisher before they put on a play based on one of my books.” link

It is stupid, but if the school raises any money to put on that play, or charges for tickets, or any number of other likely scenarios, then it’s commercial use of your work. You know it’s stupid, and I know it’s stupid, and maybe even some teachers and students know it’s stupid, but the school is obliged to obey the law, and the -NC license says they have to negotiate permission. If there’s a legal adviser at that school, they’re not going to allow the play without permission; and if asking for permission is too uncertain or labor-intensive (as it is in almost all cases – a lawyer may not know what an exception yours is), they won’t put on the play.

The Creator Endorsed Mark solves that problem. There is no commercial monopoly to infringe on. Big players – “publishers and film studios and so on” – need your Endorsement. If they cross you and your fans, they have a huge publicity problem; if they obtain your endorsement and cooperation, they sell more copies. The Creator Endorsed Mark increases the monetary value of distributed works, and is an essential investment for a distributor to make. But unlike a commercial monopoly, it doesn’t legally threaten or punish all those other players who are so crucial to a thriving cultural economy: schools putting on plays, other creatives building on the work, and otherwise unimaginable scenarios.

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