Talk at Westminster Media Forum 2004-12-09

DECEMBER 10, 2004

This is the text of a brief presentation I gave as a member of the panel on Intellectual Property and the Public Space at the Westminster Media Forum 2004-12-09. I was presenting in my capacity as Director of Friends of the Creative Domain


First a quick word about who we are. Friends of the Creative Domain is an open community set up to promote the intellectual and artistic commons in our culture. Given the similarity of names it is worth stating for the record that while we are strong supporters of the Creative Commons project we are not formally associated in any way.

I am here today to talk about IP and the public space. I think we can all agree that the public space is essential to our culture. I think that we also agree that rights in intellectual works, IP, is important in remunerating creators and intermediaries. Unfortunately, however, the two are in tension - IP can often threaten this public space in our culture. For ideas, or creative works are not like normal property.

As Jefferson stated two centuries ago: He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. This means the public space of ideas is quite different of that for normal property. When we protect works we reduce access, we reduce the ability to light the new taper, and that impact, that impact on the public space must be acknowledged.

Now what is this 'public space'? Most simply this public space is a commons, that is a community where the norms of sharing and collaboration predominate. Why are these three aspects important? Sharing because it gives others the freedom to access and reuse a work without the need to seek permission. Collaboration because this allows for greater and easier reuse and remixing in the creation of new works. And community because these norms are shared by the participants in the space.

Now the spectrum of such sharing can be quite broad, from simply allowing non-commerical uses of a work to placing it in its entirety into the public domain. But behind all of these possibilities lie those core principles of fostering sharing and collaboration. What kind of works then might enter this space, whose creators or owners would welcome greater dissemination and reuse, even if it means surrendering some of their rights under traditional copyright?

To take just a few initial examples: advertising works; the many newspapers, magazines, newsletters etc produced by not-for-profit organizations or for not-for-profits purposes; much academic work be it in the sciences or the humanities; all kinds of 'amateur' artistic work from music to film; sections of the back catalogue of the BBC which will enter a Creative Archive; ... and the list goes on.

Much of our culture is being needlessly locked up. Copyright places large burdens on those who wish to remix, disseminate or access creative works. In some cases this burden may be a necessary part of ensuring the remuneration of creators and owners. But in many other situations these burdens are without benefit. Estimates suggest that a majority of even prime commercial work such as albums produced at the major labels are simply not available commercially. That means the artist is getting no revenue and the public is not getting access to these works. And this is even more crazy when we think of the vast part of our culture that is not produced for commercial ends in the first place.

At present everything you or I produce for whatever purpose is copyrighted by default - not even a copyright symbol is needed. We want to provide the option of a different default. You have just heard about the Creative Commons project. I applaud this project and its provision of tools to support the creative domain, the commons of our culture. But I don't think it is enough. I think we need to be working even more actively to foster this creative domain, this 'public space' in our society, as a valuable complement and alternative to the traditional copyright regime and copyrighted culture.

Thank you.