Monday, February 12, 2007

Creative Commons Controversy

Seth Godin’s blog is one of my favorites. His short, concise thoughts and observations in a webby entrepreneurial point of view, makes for a good read most times.

Today though, he has a post on how a one of his books titled “Everyone’s an Expert” available free online , is now published and sold, it’s available on Amazon, without his explicit consent.

The consent however, was implicit. When Seth originally published the book online, he chose a Creative Commons (CC) license (for the unenlightened, this is a form of licensing that allows content creators to giveaway certain rights so only ‘some’ rights are reserved.). Within CC licenses, there are types which disallow commercial usage of CC licensed content, but the one Seth chose makes what the publisher doing -at least at first glance - completely legal.

The publisher is essentially selling the service of making available a book in printed hardcopy. they are not really selling the product per se, but rather selling the service of providing the product, an enhanced delivery system if you will, from online PDF to delivered paperback. At $10, it’s not a bad deal.

A question can be raised as to whether the publisher should acknowledge the book is available online? The answer is no. The publisher is essentially a competing with the free provision of the book, and it doesnt make sense for them to promote the 'free book', much same way Yahoo doesn’t have to acknowledge that Google is the better search engine.

At this point, I would like to skip the part about ethics. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the publisher got permission from Mr.Godin? Of course! But that’s arbitrary. What if, Seth, as is likely to happen in this case, asked the publisher not to publish his work, Should the publisher oblige? I don’t necessarily think so.

This paves way to raise a few pertinent issues, not only regarding this particular case but regarding Creative Commons (and other copyleft) licensing in general.

  • Can a content creator later change his/her mind about the choice of license?
  • If the license is revoked what will happen to the re-used content using the liberties of the previous license? What if for example, a publisher re-published a work previously under CC license without the knowledge that the license has been revoked?
  • Are there, implicit limitations that content re-users are unaware of? For example, Seth in his post hints that by using his name, the publishers may be violating trademark law.

Creative Commons and similar initiatives are necessary instruments for content creators to survive and profit in the integrated world we live in, it is incidents such as this, which would further strengthen the creative copyright model.

At the end of the day what people have to understand is this: Commons are creative, but nobody said they were nice.

1 comment:

Voice_in_Colombo said...

So you are a Seth Godin fan! I thought I'm the only one who bother to order his books from Amazon.com and put his blog on the top of daily reading list. :-)