Net Culture Personal Publishing

Signing away your rights in perpetuity?

First things first, Creative Commons is a great idea that I thoroughly approve of and plan at some point to participate in. But I’m being a little more reserved about it than other people seem to be. And the reason? Whether or not I wish to exploit the rights afforded to me by copyright, I’m anxious about the concept of giving them up in perpetuity.

Here’s the thing. Webloggers are – by nature, perhaps – faddish people. The memes that spread around the net are often spread by webloggers. Other than e-mail, weblogs are probably the most effective down-home meme-spreaders on the planet. Hence we have blogchalking, son of warchalking, we have googlism, we have the Friday Five. We have Blogger Code and we have quiz after quiz after quiz. People are XHTML 1.0 compliant, and then they’re not. They’re transitional, then they’re strict. They’re three-column. Then they’re kottke-esque.

All these memes are transient and reversable. Change your code, change it back. New design, change it back. Put up a meme, take it down or apologise for it. Muck it around as well, change it, adapt it, rerelease it into the wild. But Creative Commons isn’t like that. It’s not reversable. You’re giving up rights (that maybe you shouldn’t have – I’m not in the mood to debate that) forever. You’re retroactively putting (to a greater or lesser extent) all the work associated with your site in the public arena. And there’s no way take it back. Legally you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Now the chances of someone wanting to do something with the content on most weblogs is pretty limited. And the Creative Commons people are brilliant people who have developed a way of giving up only the rights that we’re individually comfortable with. And moreover we tacitly allow people to participate in a fairly loose and unenforced honour-code version of copyright every day – that’s the commenting and copying, the cutting-and-pasting that is part and parcel of writing in a style that is always at least partially scholiastic in nature. So I’m not saying that you shouldn’t participate if you’re sure that’s what you want to do. Far from it. Jump in. Just be sure you recognise the scale of what you’re doing before you display the notice. It’s possible that a decision made on a whim on a Thursday afternoon at the pub could come back to haunt you later on…