Creative Commons and Copyright Reform

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Creative Commons and Copyright Reform
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Recently, I was lucky enough to travel to Buenos Aires to take part in the Creative Commons Global Summit, which was attended by over 250 delegates from 80 countries. This is the first in a series of posts summarising and reflecting on some of the issues that were raised during the Summit.

Background: The 2nd Global Conference on IP and the Public Interest

Let’s begin with some background: In 2012, a heap of Creative Commons affiliates attended the 2nd Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest in Rio de Janeiro, an event aimed at building a broad network of scholars and advocates to promote IP policy reform. In fact, as Creative Commons Netherlands Public Lead Paul Keller writes in his blog post at Kennisland, “Creative Commons affiliate teams formed the biggest contingent of participants from a single community there.”
This should come as no surprise. As a community, Creative Commons affiliates are involved with a broad range of public interest projects, including open government, open education, open cultural heritage, open science — and, as it happens, copyright reform.
The problem is that Creative Commons affiliates don’t tend to advocate for copyright reform as Creative Commons affiliates. In fact, many affiliates feel as if they have to preface any public statement for reform — even pragmatic statements against copyright extension or for broad fair use provisions — by stating that they do not speak ‘for’ their respective Creative Commons project.
This meant that despite being the largest community at the conference, “we did not have a position on what we were doing there as Creative Commons.”

The Status Quo

“I cannot count,” Paul writes, “how often I have prefaced contributions to discussions by stating that ‘I am not making this point with my CC hat on.'” This sounds like — and is — a technicality, though it’s a technicality that allows the global Creative Commons project to focus on its core role: that is, to act as a steward for the global commons.
The concern for many is that CC’s participation in copyright reform would weaken its capacity to work with public agencies to open up publicly funded copyright works. This, as it happens, is the core work of just about every Creative Commons project on the planet.
The other core issue is that Creative Commons HQ, under the US tax code, is not allowed to engage in lobbying activities. While CC affiliates are not bound by this restriction, the general wariness against participating in activities that could be construed as ‘lobbying’ remains.
The debate continues. However, many affiliates agree that the drive for a ‘global commons’  and the drive for copyright reform are one and the same, and that it no longer makes sense to separate the two.

Copyright Reform at the Creative Commons Global Summit

In order to solicit a broad discussion on the issue, Paul Keller, along with CCHQ and other leading Creative Commons affiliates, organised a mini-conference before the official CC Summit proceedings. Expecting around two dozen people to sign-up, the ‘mini-conference’ swelled to over 100 attendees, with representatives from most CC affiliates and many related organisations, such as Wikimedia, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Public Library of Science. 

Opening the copyright reform meeting, Paul articulated two compelling reasons for the Creative Commons community to engage in reform activities, both of which were echoed by many other affiliate organisations.

  1. Many affiliates have noticed anti-reform lobbyists using the success of Creative Commons as an argument against copyright reform. In essence, this argument goes something like, ‘Creative Commons is a success, therefore we should make copyright more restrictive.’ At the very least, Creative Commons needs to clarify that it does not support this argument.
  2. There are many different routes to a richer, more vibrant commons, and for some materials, Creative Commons is not the most appropriate route to take. Paul refers to the recent WIPO treaty for the visually impaired, which was a victory for the commons, but not a victory that would have been won by advocating for open licensing. You can read a Paul’s argument in full here.

While there was general agreement about the need for CCHQ to clarify its position, it was clear that each CC affiliate was going to have to navigate these waters for itself, according to its local challenges and opportunities — including, of course, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand.

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