The last few Meanland posts have focused on the nature of copyright and how it works and affects reading, writing and publishing in our new settlements on the digital frontier.
Many people feel a distinct sense of impending doom, as though creative and financial control have been wrested from the hands of writers, artists and musicians and let loose on the infinite and unpoliced data cables across the world. But copyright, by its very nature, is extraordinarily restrictive. Currently, for your typical, non-full-time creator, there is no means of saying to another artist, ‘Can I use your work?’ Rather we rely on ‘permission culture’, in which cultural products are monitored and controlled by corporations.
Contrary to what copyright culture and modern capitalism would have us believe, the sharing of culture is the norm for individuals, for artists and for society as a whole. In mediaeval Europe, say, someone would tell a rip-roaring (and doubtless violent and bloody) story that you remembered and retold when you travelled to your next village. And maybe you retold it with some slight embellishments. From its earliest days, human cultural history was dependent on the oral tradition, which transferred culture between generations and communities.
My point being, everyone takes ideas from other people – how can we not? It’s particularly so now, when many of us are exposed to a tidal wave of data on any given day. So what happens when someone gets the idea that copyright is primarily an ugly mask of contemporary capitalism and that culture should return to the ‘commons’, thereby supporting community culture?
Enter stage left: Creative Commons.
Head to Meanland for the rest of the essay.