Content, Creators, Consumers

Somewhere in the widget area of this site, you should now see a Creative Commons license. This touches on a subject I feel very strongly about; the idea of attribution, of giving credit where it is due. This affects not just the writing on this blog, but equally to the code I produce as a software developer, whether it be as part of a company or even tools I develop for myself.

I’m surely not going to be able to say anything new here about intellectual property, or copyright. Those conversations have been done over and over again. What bothers me though is the way our perceptions of the value of work and creativity are getting distorted by the way the Web is evolving – change is occurring at a rate that is not only too fast for our legislators, but is also outrunning our ability to adjust. We know we can purchase an album on iTunes; we’re aware it is also available with no loss of quality in pirated form. However we obtain it, what we get is merely a file; a simple stream of zeroes and ones, that sits on our machine with tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of others. The product has become insubstantial, and sadly so has our respect for it. We know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

In We Make Nothing, Mike James illustrates this point when it comes to software with a very simple comparison. We think very little about sharing software; the item is intangible. No matter what it took to produce, the cost and  effort of sharing it, or making a copy, is virtually zero. There’s little or no hesitation in saying, “That’s nice… can you send me a copy?” – yet one surely would not ask the same if you visited a carpenter friend and saw he had invested considerable time and effort to make a beautiful spice rack for his kitchen.

Our entertainment and media is now just as insubstantial. I remember, some thirty years ago, borrowing a friend’s vinyl edition of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, taking it proudly home on the bus in a transparent plastic bag, knowing everyone could see it. When I got it home, I noticed peculiar pinholes in the corners of the cover. The sleeve had been pinned to a bedroom wall with thumb tacks, displayed as a work of art. Similarly, my parents would always remark that, as kids, whenever we received an expensive gift for Christmas, we would always get more fun – more value – out of the box it came in. Today, so many of our gifts don’t come in a box at all.

The promise of the modern Web was that we all would have the ability to create content and distribute it to the world. Sadly, it appears our efforts so far are sorely lacking. Creating something genuinely new takes considerable effort; far too many Internet users can only see the effort it takes for them to merely share it, repost it, or ‘like’ it; practically no effort at all – and, even worse, the consumer hitting the share button somehow feels entitled to credit for this. It may ‘just’ be an amusing photo of a cat, with a witty caption in Impact font; but someone had to produce it, using their energy and creativity. It’s not a question of financial or even artistic value; it is that credit should go where it is due. Blog writers are in particular finding it difficult to get recognition; when Google shut down their Reader application, they effectively made a statement that newsfeeds of substantial content were somehow no longer as important as evanescent streams of pithy status updates.

I made a very conscious decision, right at the outset of this blog, that any content here would at least clearly state that, yes, I was perfectly happy for anyone to use it, share it, modify it, and yes, even make commercial use of it if they wished, providing the relevant attribution stayed intact; and I’ve already begun doing the same with content produced by others that has been incorporated into posts here. There is a world of rich, deserving content out there; we can make it richer if we all ‘share alike’. At the very least, if you ever feel the impulse to pass something along to the world, can’t we just make sure the creator gets the credit?

Yes, even if it’s ‘just’ a silly picture of a cat.


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