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A New Direction in Intellectual Property

The true "tragedy of the Commons" is the theft of what belongs to all of us by a few who have had the power to take ("enclose," "privatize") seize it and to manipulate the laws to make their thievery legal. After 500 years of this the trend is finally going in the opposite direction. This particular effort to retake the Commons began, oddly enough, with computer nerds. It's a story that even technophobic radicals should enjoy. Watch this space for more on this movement.
May 13, 2002

A New Direction for Intellectual Property

New York Times

Perceiving an overly zealous culture of copyright protection, a group of law and technology scholars are setting up Creative Commons, a nonprofit company that will develop ways for artists, writers and others to easily designate their work as freely shareable.

Creative Commons, which is to be officially announced this week at a technology conference in Santa Clara, Calif., has nearly a million dollars in start-up money. The firm's founders argue that the expansion of legal protection for intellectual property, like a 1998 law extending the term of copyright by 20 years, could inhibit creativity and innovation. But the main focus of Creative Commons will be on clearly identifying the material that is meant to be shared. The idea is that making it easier to place material in the public domain will in itself encourage more people to do so.

The firm's first project is to design a set of licenses stating the terms under which a given work can be copied and used by others. Musicians who want to build an audience, for instance, might permit people to copy songs for noncommercial use. Graphic designers might allow unlimited copying of certain work as long as it is credited.

The goal is to make such licenses machine-readable, so that anyone could go to an Internet search engine and seek images or a genre of music, for example, that could be copied without legal entanglements.

"It's a way to mark the spaces people are allowed to walk on," said Lawrence Lessig, a leading intellectual property expert who will take a partial leave from Stanford Law School for the next three years to serve as the chairman of Creative Commons.

Inspired in part by the free-software movement, which has attracted thousands of computer programmers to contribute their work to the public domain, Creative Commons ultimately plans to create a "conservancy" for donations of valuable intellectual property whose owners might opt for a tax break rather than selling it into private hands.

The firm's board of directors includes James Boyle, an intellectual property professor at Duke Law School; Hal Abelson, a computer science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Eric Saltzman, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

homepage: homepage: http://www.creativecommons.org