Regional licensing is still a bitch


Today I tried to buy an ebook. I’m a big fan of the Kindle and buy ebooks all the time. So I wanted to buy a digital copy of Lawrence Lessig‘s Republic, Lost on institutional corruption (which ironically is responsible for the mess I’m about to describe). I was surprised to find it only as hardcover and audio book on Amazon.com – and tweeted as much.

Nicely enough, Mr. Lessig got back to me personally, asking where I was accessing Amazon from. Turns out that even though my Kindle is connected to Amazon.com (ie. Amazon US, not Germany) the Kindle version just wouldn’t show up.

Intrigued by his pointer, I fired up a VPN to get a US-based IP address, but still no luck. In the end I noticed that my Kindle was set to “Region Europe”. Digging into the Kindle settings, I managed to switch it to the US by putting in a postal address I used to live at.

Let’s recap. To buy a digital book I had to…

  • register my Kindle with the US version of Amazon
  • fake an IP address through a VPN service
  • switch the Kindle settings to the US by way of an old postal address

All that to spend some money on a book that would have been cheaper and much, much easier to pirate.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

A Second Layer for Commercial Use of Creative Commons Content?


Update: In her comment, Nicole pointed me to CCPlus, which seems to solve most of the problems laid out in this post. Thanks!

An open question: Would it make sense to add a layer of licensing (or rather: meta-licensing) to Creative Commons that would allow easier (speak: quicker) use of CC-licensed content for commercial use?

As this may seem kind of odd out of context (particular coming from a person who’s very much against overhead of any kind usually), please allow me to explain what I mean, and an example. What I’m talking about here is the commercial use of content licensed under the non-commercial license. (Yes, that’s right. Stay with me, I’ll explain.)

Also, please note that this is an absolutely open question, I am not sure myself which side I stand on here. If you know any pros or cons, please share.

Image by Flickr user PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0 On the right, Berlin Congress Center (BCC) where Web 2.0 Expo Europe 08 took place, and where we briefly discussed the issue after a Creative Commons presentation. Image by PinkDispatcher released under CC by sa 2.0.


The problem: Professionals can’t use CC non-commercial content

A lot of content that is licensed under CC is under the non-commercial clause, i.e. it’s allowed to use it for personal or other non-commercial uses, but not to make any money off of it.

How much content is released under CC non-commercial and how much under CC attribution (that allows for commercial use) I couldn’t find any info about, but a quick Flickr search for “Berlin” turned up these results: CC-licensed images: 2,153,590; out of those allowed for commercial use: 85,662.

(By the way, it’s not always easy to determine what’s non-commercial use, but that’s being discussed.)

So as a first step that’s good for all involved as more people can use those contents as long as they do so for personal or non-profit reasons. However, part of the charm of Creative Commons is that it allows amateurs as well as professionals to get more exposure while retaining some control over their contents and at the same time contributing to an ever-growing pool of accessible content that’s available for cultural production of all sorts. (Which is way cool, by the way.)

More exposure, to get to an example, could be having your photo printed in a newspaper.

The example: A journalist would like to use a CC-licensed photo

A journalist would like to use a photo licensed under CC. He favors free culture, but more importantly it’s much cheaper than running a photo from the wire and choice is much bigger. But the image is licensed under CC non-commercial, so the journalist needs to get the photographer’s permission to use it legally.

And here’s the problem – working under a tight deadline, it’s basically impossible to wait for the photographer’s consent.

The photographer, though, might love to see his photo in the newspaper. She wouldn’t mind making a few bucks with it, but it’s not her primary motivation to put the photo up. She just put it under the “non-commercial” license so that she’d get some control over who used it commercially. (She’d rather not have a large multi-national corporation run it on their ads.)

So what was intended to protect her photo from abuse turned against both her intentions and against the journalist.

Would another opt-in commercial layer help?

Maybe – just maybe! – another lay of meta-licensing would help. The option to say: I allow non-commercial use of my works for anyone. But I also wouldn’t mind commercial use as long as I can veto it in case the wrong folks want to use it. (“The wrong folks” here, of course, just meaning anyone the creator doesn’t want to be associated with.)

Creative Commons isn’t primarily about commercial success, but it sure helps the cause of CC to encourage commercial use. (The CC Casestudies Project collects CC success stories, also commercial ones.)

So how could this look like? Very naively, I imagine it implemented as a tickbox: Yes, in theory I allow commercial use of this photo, but only after I get notified first. As soon as someone wants to use it and clicks the corresponding button, please do send me a text message/email/whatever alert. This is a channel that I can guarantee to check with top priority, so that if I don’t veto the action within 30 minutes I agree to this photos use.

Of course there’s plenty of loose ends here and aspects not thought through to the end, and there’s plenty of arguments against this model. (Simplicity for one, and a more fundamental push for more open sharing.)

So the question is: Would this make sense for Flickr & Co to implement, and what speaks for and against it?

Free licenses hold up in (U.S.) court


It’s official: Free licenses like Creative Commons (CC) hold up in court. Larry Lessig, founder of Creative Commons has the (obviously biased, but good) background:

So for non-lawgeeks, this won’t seem important. But trust me, this is huge. I am very proud to report today that the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (THE “IP” court in the US) has upheld a free (ok, they call them “open source”) copyright license, explicitly pointing to the work of Creative Commons and others. […] In non-technical terms, the Court has held that free licenses such as the CC licenses set conditions (rather than covenants) on the use of copyrighted work. When you violate the condition, the license disappears, meaning you’re simply a copyright infringer. This is the theory of the GPL and all CC licenses. Put precisely, whether or not they are also contracts, they are copyright licenses which expire if you fail to abide by the terms of the license.

Neat. (Here’s the court’s full judgement.)

Creative Commons for German Public TV Could Save Costs, Archives


German public TV and the Some Rights Reserved content licenses by Creative Commons don’t seem to be a natural mix.

Then again, maybe they do.

As NDR, one of Germany’s regional public TV stations, proved by putting some shows under Creative Commons, open licenses and public TV may be a pretty good match indeed. (This goes both ways: During production of pieces, for example by using Creatice Commons music, and to license the TV shows.)

(For the US-Americans of you: Public TV plays a very different role in the media landscape in Germany than it does in the US. Like, people actually watch it, and it’s good stuff.)

At re:publica, Chief Editor of NDR Online Jürgen Werwinski shared the broadcaster’s experiences with going Creative Commons. Despite quite a bit of internal resistance (or rather: unfamiliarity with the subject), the station hasn’t regretted taking the steps towards to licensing their content more freely. After all, all the content is paid for by public funds, and making the content accessible is part of the public stations’ legal mission. (At Netzpolitik.org, Markus Beckedahl has been asking for more Creative Commons-licensed coverage for a long time.)

To stress my point of how important freely licensed content from public stations is, let me share a story that a friend told me. She works for public TV, where she’s an editor for a kids news program, Logo. The show is great, and also technically up to date, they even offer all the shows as a video podcast. Yet, the archive only goes about a week back, then disappears.

Of course, the shows don’t get deleted (I assume), but they aren’t accessible from the outside anymore. This is, to a large extent, due to the background and atmo music used in the news pieces: The music licenses only cover online use for a week or so, after that extra licensing fees would be due. Of course, the stations can’t just go on and keep paying ever-growing amounts of licensing fees of public funds, so they hide the archives. Effectively, this destroys these huge amounts of great shows which would be a priceless knowledge base for kids and teachers.

For obvious reasons, Creative Commons or similar licenses would help solve this issue single-handedly. Depending on the exact license, the music is available free of monetary costs, i.e. the stations wouldn’t have to pay at all; All they would have to to is credit the works, and – again, depending on the license – also license their content for external use. (More about share-alike licenses here, German version here.)

This, of course, is a highly political decision: Do we really want to give up a little bit of control, open up, and allow people out there to distribute our content freely?

My take? Yes, yes, and yes.

That’s not because I’m an info anarchist. (I’m not!)

Creative Commons make perfect rational sense for the public TV stations to use to fulfill their mission.

Why is that? First of all, Creative Commons licenses make it easy for viewers (users? citizens?) to share the content they like. This has both a valuable social aspect and helps the stations distribute their content more cost-efficiently. More reach, better distribution, easier and more wide-spread access.

Second, if you allow viewers to use and endorse this publicly funded content, it increases the feeling of ownership. That’s a key issue for public education.

Third, Creative Commons allows for fairly granular control of what you want to allow to do with your content. (An overview of the available licenses here.) For example, you could allow non-commercial use only, or also allow commercial use. (Non-commercial probably being the right way to go in this particular case.) Also, while allowing to remix your shows is pretty darn awesome, it’s understandable that institutions like public TV stations wouldn’t be comfortable with remixed versions of their content, so they could settle for non-derivative use, i.e. a no-remix license. Only the show as such may be redistributed, no changes allowed. This is particularly important if you’re worried about your stuff being used out of context.

Fourth, it’s free advertisement, as every show needs to be credited to the original creator.

Fifth, and most importantly, without the licensing fees you get an ever-growing archive of shows and knowledge that you don’t have to take offline anytime, ever.

And sixth, not having to pay licensing fees means saving a lot of money. This money can then be spent on furthering the cause of spreading knowledge and fulfilling public TV’s legal mission.

Of course, there are downsides as well.

First, in day-to-day work, editors often pick music more or less by association: If you deal with a certain topic and a song just comes to mind, this song it is. (Example? It’s a piece on the end of the school year, so School’s Out by Alice Cooper it is.) This works well and is easy to do because we all have a common base of pop cultural references we grew up with. Most Creative Commons songs haven’t reached this kind of popularity, they simply haven’t been around long enough. (Keep in mind that CC have been around for less than a decade.)

Second, this very mechanism (or lack thereof) also means that it takes longer to pick songs, simply because the editor has to go through a lot of songs to find some stuff they see fit.

However, these problems seem to be temporary – once the mechanisms are in place and editors get more familiar with what’s out there, speed picks up. Also, more and more songs become available as I’m typing this. There’s no inherent reason not to switch to a different policy here.

Who can change this policy?

Now the tricky part is who to talk to about this. As I see it, there are two main arguments you could make to convince the stations to switch to Creative Commons licenses, both for their own content and the music they use:

First, the mission statement argument: Creative Commons can help the stations fulfill their missions as best as they can by making access to their publicly funded contents easier. We’re talking distribution and archives here.

Second, the cost argument: Without horrendous music licensing fees, the shows can be produced with the same level of quality but for less money, making a more cost-efficient alternative. The savings can be used to either produce more stuff or to experiment with new formats, both of which the stations have inherent and legitimate interest in.

So where are the economists out there to crunch the numbers? Who’s got the ear of the decision-makers? This is something we all should be interested in. I’m very interested in personally, and I could imagine some of you are, too. Get in touch?