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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Creative Commons

As a librarian, I tend to be cognizant of, and pulled by, two often conflicting values, the widespread distribution of information versus the desire to honor intellectual property rights (copyright, trademark, patent), the latter so the creators will be willing and able to "do it again."

(Not that I always ABIDE by the latter, but I usually have a good excuse, or a very good rationalization.)

So, I was very interested in reading an article in the July/August 2005 Searcher, "The Magazine for Database Professionals". The article, "Generosity and Copyright" by Laura Gordon-Murname, asked the question, "How can you help patrons identify public domain content...?"

The copyright law has become more skewed towards the copyright holder over time, especially since 1978, with longer periods and more lenient applications, so that the doodle on a napkin or a quick e-mail becomes copyrightable. According to Gordon-Murname, there are many critics who believe these changes fly in the face of the law as envisioned by Jefferson and his contemporaries. She quotes Larry Lessig, who says this "permission culture" has changed from "an opt-in system in which creators were required to register to an opt-out system."

The Creative Commons Foundation was founded in 2001 to create "balance, compromise and moderation" for copyrights, offering "creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them." Creative Commons has developed tools so that creative people who wish to share their work can specify who can use their works and under what circumstances.

Try the Creative Commons search mechanism or the new (March 2005) Yahoo! Search Creative Commons Search. You will be able to ascertain if the work:
- is in the public domain
- requires attribution
- can't be use commercially
- must be used as is (no derivatives)
- allows for sampling

Of course, many federal government web sites are in the public domain. Gordon-Murname lists these sites that offer public domain content:
Library of Congress
National Archives
NASA
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Also these other PD locations:
Public Library of Science
Ibiblio, "the public's library and digital archive"
Project Gutenberg, "the Internet's oldest producer of FREE electronic books (eBooks or eTexts)"
The Online Books Page
Bartleby.com, "Great Books Online"

Some recent comments from the Copyright Office indicate that the Office is considering asking Congress to allow the "marketplace" to determine the price of using copyrighted material (after making almost everything imagineable under copyright), and expects the would-be user to go to the copyright holder to negotiate the price, if one can even FIND the copyright holder. I'm afraid this would stifle creativity in favor of endless litigation. Perhaps this "middle way" is a solution.

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