Creative Commons and Piracy.

There has been a lot of learned people talking about the SOPA and PITA legislation that was being pushed through the US legal system, and there was a lot of hyperbole and bias written about why it was or wasn’t a good idea – generally, I disliked the legislation as it did indeed give powers and control to people who shouldn’t be able to wield such control. It is not, however, my place to be able to pick it apart and understand the legalese in such a way that meant I could impart new opinions on it; more verbose writers have managed to do that.

The one thing that I can do is talk from the point of a few different people that are in the argument and what my opinion is on being one of those people.  I am

1.     A consumer
2.     A creator
3.     A prior pirate

As a Consumer
I am someone who spends a lot of their disposable income on media – it’s mostly music, but also in there are films and television, as well as books and other art forms. It’s remarkably easy to spend a lot of money these days on such items for several reasons – they are expensive and they are volumous. In saying that, there is also loads of newer ways to consume. Instead of buying all my music, I have the ability to rent it and only pay once. Spotify allows me to do this and I have been doing it for a long time. It entirely replaces the need to steal music (illegal downloading is stealing, in my view) and for a small amount a month also gives you even more music that you might have came across otherwise.

The concern comes when talking to one of my best friends about this – he states that he would rather download the music for free than pay £4.99 a month to rent it. He sees no moral reason to not steal music for free than pay someone to let him listen to it. The argument is that he won’t pay for something that he doesn’t own – but the thing is that you never own the rights to anything you buy anyway. Buying music is no different to buying a ticket to an art show – just because you have the copy of it in your hands (or on your hard drive) doesn’t mean you have any licenses to do anything with it. And there is a large knowledge gap in what ownership of media means.

I cannot fathom why anyone wouldn’t use a pay-for streaming service today. I agree that the artists are dealt a bad hand when you “pay per play” on these services, but it’s a lot better than the distribution of albums entirely without cost online peer to peer networks, isn’t it?

There is a problem when you look at the implications of children and teenagers growing up with the ability to grab every piece of music or film for free instantly – and the media is right to be scared.

As a Creator
A few years ago a friend of mine stumbled onto an article posted from my blog into a German Magazine. It was this one about people’s personalities and the types ofcars they drive – a bit of fun. I was flattered at first, then I felt a bit violated. The site had reproduced my work, changed it, and then not even mentioned it was me who had created it. Of course, I had no money to be made and look to make no money from this blog (right now, heh) but the realisation that I was creating “something” and I had not adequately protected it from copyright theft.

This lead me to understand what Creative Commons was – a concerted effort to introduce the ability to share copyrighted material easily and fairly. My blog is still to this day under Creative Commons under the “Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 UK: Scotland (CC BY-NC-ND 2.5)” license meaning that you are allowed to, freely, copy, distribute, display, and perform the work as long as you attribute me, it’s not for commercial reasons, and you can’t change or build upon the work. I only put it on for piece of mind – I don’t expect someone to come and ask to rework my text into a novel, for example.

However, on my Flickr page I do the same things – my photos are Creative Commons too. And I believe in the ease of the system allowing creators to control and understand the rights they can apply to their work and as I user of them I also am now becoming a proponent and supporter of them. I have created other works, like videos and music podcasts, and I make sure I am within my legal ability to make them – one video I made two years ago used Boards of Canada’s music without permission, and I still feel uneasy about it. The one I made about the year inTexas was made using music that I got permission from the band to use in that video. And my Radio Show is hosted on a site that claims to pay artists PRS fees (though I am unsure of exactly how that mechanism works in practice).

Creative Commons gives me the power to apply rights to these things, but can I control them? Not really. And seeing how little people pay attention to them on websites who steal photos from Flickrs and blogs I sometimes wonder if people really do care. Are we heading to an entirely free system of works that no artist can make money from? Is that even a bad thing? I am unsure.

As a Prior Pirate
During my teenage years and later I downloaded a lot of music. In fact, the majority of my musical exploration during the later part of my university career was downloaded illegally – and I will not be ashamed to admit it. I can’t really defend it, as it’s obviously at odds with my current stance, but there are two reasons why I am able to reconcile my thoughts – the first is one of means.

I had little to no money as a student and I downloaded illegally because I had internet. That’s not a defence, it’s just the reason I did it.

The second reason was that the technology hadn’t caught up with my internet – I could download an album and put it onto my phone and Creative Zen faster than people could make download controlled systems. The threat of DRM was something I didn’t really mind at first and happily paid £14.99 a month for unlimited Napster downloads... until Napster failed me and stopped doing it. I lost hundreds of albums I’d rented and downloaded to my computer. That was the problem with Napster’s idea – it blurred the idea of owning and not owning a music file.

So since Spotify I know that I don’t own the music. The line is defined. Also, technology has caught up – even iTunes sells DRM free tracks that can be moved and copied to anywhere I want them. And I can now download them again and again thanks to iTunes in the Cloud, another step in the right direction.

And now I don’t download music illegal anymore and I implore others to do the same; recently having convinced one of my friends to use Spotify on his phone. However, laws and censorship, such like SOPA won’t fix it as it is so easy to download music, and with faster internet it’s going to become even easier. What will fix it is competitive, easy and compelling reasons to not, and Spotify is one of them. 

It’s not the full answer, of course, but it’s at least a start.