If the Internet has drastically changed one thing, it’s definitely the way we consume information.
Newspapers and magazines provide their content on websites for free, and books can be bought in digital formats from services like Amazon’s Kindle or downloaded from RapidShare as pirated PDFs. Mixed tapes no longer make the rounds (we now can buy singles for 99 cents or pirate a whole album), and we stream movies on YouTube (often divided into ten different 8-minute parts). Expensive software such as Adobe’s Creative Suite are just a few, free minutes away for a torrent seeker.
That’s all not to mention a whole new breed of media creators; Bloggers, YouTube stars, citizen journalists, and MySpace musicians are taking the world by storm, deliberately choosing to share their creations with the Internet population for absolutely no money. It is no surprise that they do either, as research shows that 75% of musicians actually make more profit from piracy on the Internet than they would have without, because sharing allows for sampling, propelling more consumers to purchase music, paraphernalia, and concert tickets.*
It’s a different world, where information (whether in letters, sound, or imagery) is either free or much more affordable than it ever was before.
What is Copyleft?
This “openness” is partially made possible by the use of copyleft (as opposed to copyright) licenses like Creative Commons (CC). Copyleft is a form of licensing used to modify copyrights for works such as computer software, documents, music, and art. An author may, through a copyleft licensing scheme, give every person who receives a copy of his or her work permission to reproduce, adapt or distribute it as long as any resulting copies or adaptations are also bound by the same copyleft licensing scheme.
Creative Commons in particular defines the spectrum of possibilities between full (all rights reserved) and the public domain (no rights reserved). Thus, the content creator is given the choice on whether or not he or she wants their intellectual property to be remixed, sold, shared, credited, locked up in a drawer, or none of the above.
This system of “copyrighting” is often referred to as permission culture.
Creative Commons in Use
The list of work published under a Creative Commons license is long. In education, MIT’s OpenCourseWare allows Internet users to access all of their educational materials from its undergraduate and graduate level courses online. Depending on the course, this might include reading lists, class notes, interactive web demonstrations, complete textbooks written by MIT professors, and streaming video lectures. Wikipedia is another popular information source that uses a CC license – which is probably good news for lazy students, and some local magazine editors.
On the other end of the spectrum, Radiohead, arguably one of the most successful contemporary bands, has had several experiments with Creative Commons. Their seventh album, “In Rainbows”, was released online with a “Pay what you think this single is worth” system (seriously!). The profits from the digital download of “In Rainbows” outstripped combined profits from digital downloads of all of their other studio albums. A few years later, they experimented some more when they shot one of their videos using 3D scanning devices in place of cameras, then released the source code for free under a CC license. AlJazeera is similarly experimenting with copyleft, becoming the first network to offer a repository of broadcast-quality video footage, freely available to be downloaded, shared, remixed, subtitled and eventually rebroadcasted by users and TV stations across the world.
It’s a New World
The Internet has taken the discriminatory copyright system and punched it hard in the face. Let there be the power of information sharing. We should all actively participate in supporting the information revolution by publishing our thoughts, imagery, or work under licenses like Creative Commons. After all, hacking, sharing, and re-making will continue to exist regardless of how hard the authorities will try to curb them. In third world countries with low GDP in particular, the average citizen cannot afford to spend a thousand bucks on software, or even $15 on a book. Without access to resources, knowledge, and heck, even pop culture, our societies will always be held back.
Information should be free. Here’s to creative freedom, digital freedom, and a world where ideas and knowledge are not owned or controlled, but are instead tools to change destiny.
*(Oberholzer & Strumpf, 2005. The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales An Empirical Analysis.)
(Originally published in Venture magazine)
Note: This blog and everything published by Roba Al-Assi on Flickr, Facebook, Ikbis, YouTube, etc. is Creative Commons Licensed. You are free to share and to remix the work under the following conditions: attribution, noncommercial, share alike. You can read more about this license here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.5/
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