Creative Commons expands in Canada and beyond

The explosion in popularity of social networking and broadcast sites has intensified the struggle between the broadcast versus creative generations more than ever before.

MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and other sites give the average person with a digital camera or camcorder and an Internet connection the ability to do what was once reserved only for professionals. With a higher distribution rate of original content out there also comes the need for accessible copyright licences and, more importantly, education so authors can protect their work.

This is where the Creative Commons (CC) comes in. Founded in 2001, CC is a non-profit organization devoted to expanding the range of creative work — music, video and film, for example — available for others legally to build upon and share. The organization has released several copyright licences known as Creative Commons licences, which restrict only certain rights (or none) of the work.

“The gap between the two generations is bigger than between cultures,” said Joichi Ito, chairman of the board, Creative Commons, who was in the Republic of Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje, in June for a press event to announce the availability of CC licences in that country.

“The new generation is more interested in creating and sharing than consuming,” Ito said.

More commonly known as Joi, Ito is a Japanese-born, American-educated activist, entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Ito sits on a variety of boards of technology organizations, including the Mozilla Foundation.

Creative Commons in Canada

Creative Commons licences have been available to Canadian authors since 2003. CC Canada operates chapters in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. There are currently hundreds of thousands of CC licences being used by Canadian authors, according to CC Canada. That number is derived from the number of licences that pop up when plugged into a search engine.

Marcus Bornfreund, Toronto project lead, CC Canada, said while CC is “a” solution, it’s not “the” solution for the digital environment.

“We always urge people to think about the longer term management of their intellectual property,” said Bornfreund. “In that sense, a Creative Commons licence may be useful to them at some time and in some way to their overall strategy.”

Whereas copyright is ‘all rights reserved,’ the other end of the spectrum is ‘no rights reserved.’ Ito said CC is somewhere in between.

“(Creative Commons) creates a method to allow anybody to decide how their work is used,” he said. “CC is open source for content and a user interface for copyright.” In a former communist country like Macedonia, for example, the transition from a centrally-planned structure to an independent market economy has left a large percentage of the population behind when it comes to the digital revolution.

In Macedonia, 60 per cent of the population has never used the Internet, said Filip Stojanovski, program coordinator at Metamorphosis, which was founded in 1999 by the Open Society Institute in Macedonia and Budapest. Metamorphosis has since evolved into an ICT consultancy firm and currently acts in an advisory role to the federal government’s designated ICT people. (The Macedonian government does not currently have a minister that looks after ICT.)

“There’s not much awareness here of the dangers and opportunities of the Internet,” said Stojanovski. “The level of technophobia is high. We’re trying to make people understand that it’s not dangerous to use new technology.”

Two years ago, the Creative Commons movement started to grow in Macedonia. Since then, Metamorphosis and the legal department at the University of Skopje have worked together to adapt the Creative Commons licenses to Macedonian law.

Unlike Canada and the U.S., copyright law in Macedonia is rarely, if ever, enforced so introducing a new licence like Creative Commons has some Macedonians, like Darko Buldioski, question how it will work. Buldioski has his own digital media blog and writes articles in Macedonian print publications on the subject.

“It’s about the community and not the legal system,” he said, adding judges in Macedonia don’t know what Creative Commons is. “If we can grow the community, people will respect that and won’t go to court,” he stressed.

No cases yet

There has not been a single Canadian case yet but, then again, the whole purpose of the Creative Commons was to create a lawyer-free zone of creativity, said Russell McOrmond, an open source consultant and policy coordinator for Canadian Linux Users Exchange (CLUE).

He’s also the private sector coordinator for Getting Open Source Logic Into Government (GOSLING), which is a voluntary, informal knowledge-sharing community.

“The purpose of the CC movement was not so much as the licences,” he said.”It was about raising the level of debate about creativity in general so the policy people can sit there and say there are licences that allow people to share for non-commercial uses.”

Bornfreund, a lawyer himself, who is a graduate and past manager of the University of Ottawa Law & Technology Program, was part of the group of Canadian copyright acedemics and lawyers that drafted the Canadian version of the CC licences. He said the CC licence is a code of honour just like any other law regulation. But if it was tested in court, Bornfreund believes it would pass. “I have every reason to believe that it will s tand up in a court of law,” he said.

There are currently over 2,000 countries worldwide that use the Creative Commons licence.

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