Creativity for the Commons

I was writing out a comment to Mark Tjan‘s piece on Creative Commons when computer problems resulted in my losing everything I’d typed. It was turning into one of my usual long comments, and I had to leave for work in a few minutes, so I decided to simply turn off the computer and forget about it.

The plan was to use my work commute time to catch up on some sleep, but instead I found my mind wouldn’t let me sleep. Not until I’ve re-typed my thoughts on Creative Commons. Since I’m posting this on The Pink Sylphide rather than as a comment, I can ramble on a bit more and spread out my comments more generally and specifically while not having to worry about straying too far off topic in any direction.

Commons for the Written Word

Fakir tries not to write a story.

From the time I started this site, I’ve been using a Creative Commons license similar to Mark’s. Mine states, for any writings on this site, that you may freely use it as long as you’re not modifying it, as long as you’re not profitting from it, and long as you’re crediting me for me. This applies only to my writings (not to quotes I post from other blogs), and does not apply to anything which I specifically license otherwise.

If I were to write a grand review of a little known series, an anime reviews site might see it and want to use it. My licensing says, “Sure, go ahead. Just be sure to credit me, to not make any changes to it, and to not profit from it.” It would be nice if such a reviews site would ask permission before using this “free” content, just to be on the safe side, but anyone using such a Creative Commons license at the same time should expect that at any given time, someone might use the licensed content in a way the license allows.

The “no profit” clause is one which can be seen as a restriction of freedom to use the content. This essentially says, “If your web site has ad banners, and you want to use some of my material, your site had better have an ad-less template to apply to the page with my article on it.” I’m not writing to make money (and for sake of argument, let’s pretend I’ve written some exceptional pieces), and I don’t want someone to get extra page views and in turn extra revenue because they found such a good article they knew’d be popular.

Sure, such a clause is a restriction of use of content, but that’s what Creative Commons really is. Creative Commons isn’t about making content free. You can copyleft something. You can put something into the public domain. Only when something is in the public is it truly its most free. No, Creative Commons is about restricting content in some way, but otherwise leaving it free to use. Free with restrictions. Free with clauses. Free with “don’t forget to credit me, and don’t make any changes or profit from it,” or whichever lesser flavor of restrictions one wishes to apply to their works.

The Photographer’s Commons

Close-up of Yuichi taking a photo.

The photo sharing community web site Flickr has Creative Commons integrated into the system, and is the first I had seen do so. When posting a photo, one can license it as Creative Commons if desired. I use “All Rights Reserved” by default for my own photographs, but that’s mostly because I don’t want to accidentally give something a more liberal license when I want something more restricted. I do give some photos a Creative Commons license: freely use as long as you attribute me, and don’t hesitate to modify to your heart’s content. Typically I’ll add the non-commercial clause, but I don’t think I generally use the “any modifications must use the same Creative Commons license” requirement.

One of the nice things about photos being open for use and modification is that photographs are what many bloggers are looking for. Check out my wallpapers to see my own use of photos, but many bloggers (outside the anime blogging scene) will use a photograph as a lead image to a post. After all, lead images draw a reader’s attention to a piece.

Now, imagine if I were a popular anime desktop wallpaper person with no less than 1,000 people viewing any given wallpaper I post. Because of the link back to the original Flickr page, a photographer whose photo is used would see a spike in views on that one photograph, may see a smaller spike in views on other photographs, and might even get comments on photos and regular visitors. That might never happen due to wallpapers I post, but there are very popular blogs out there with useful, timeless content, which do use photos as a lead in to the post, and those blogs are surely sending views to the original photographers.

Consider two photographers. One photographer won’t let anyone re-post his works. He goes unheard of, as no one knows who he is. Another photographer allows his works to be used for non-commercial purposes, and even allows modifying them, so long as you credit him. His photos begin to be used, sending more people his way, and they use his photos as well, giving him a wider audience. When some rich yuppie comes along looking to hire a photographer, which photographer is the one everyone’ll be talking about, or using all over the place? Whose photographs is this rich yuppie likely to casually find online?

This doesn’t even consider if a major news web site were to use credited Creative Commons photos, with links to the source photographs. This of the traffic that would bring in.

The Creative Artist

Nicolay prepares to sketch a portrait.

Mark brings up an interesting thought when naming some uses of his work which he wouldn’t be comfortable with. To take this to an extreme, imagine if an artist said, “You can use my art, but you cannot print it on toilet paper or t-shirts.” Is this meant on a private use level or a commercial level? Were I to specifically include these on a Creative Commons license, I allow them for non-commercial, private use. After all, how will you stop someone from printing your art on their own toilet paper?

When it comes to t-shirts, if I were an artist, I would definitely want my characters appearing on t-shirts (private use, non-commercial). I’d put my art out there saying, “You can use this for non-profit. You can have it printed out on your own t-shirts. Wear it to work on Super-Casual Friday. Use my artwork for the 12 pages and cover of a calendar. Hang it on your office wall. Have a mouse pad made using my latest full CG artwork with chibi characters and complete background. That one even has my site URL and logo on it, but please do feel free to add my URL to the t-shirt and calendar. I love the free advertising.”

By “private use” for the t-shirt, I mean having one made for yourself, or for a friend, so long as you’re not selling them for profit. I don’t mean “you can only wear it in your house”; that would be silly.

Printing t-shirts for monetary gain would not be out of the question, though. Just tell me how much money I’ll be making off of each shirt you sell, then I’ll consider which of your planned prints I wish to authorize.

Oh, and if you want to make plush dolls of my character designs, that would be an acceptable method of making me money, with my approval.

Why oh why do I have to be a software programmer rather than an artist?

Cue the Music

Naru singing as an idol.

What I’m really waiting for is for more musicians to look at Creative Commons. I have some Japanese music CDs which are remixes of The Legend of Zelda video game music, and some of them are very nice. What would happen if J-Pop artists allowed such use, free, of their songs and music, excepting that if you want to profit from your works, you need to get their permission and give them their cut of the profit?

I don’t have much else to say on the topic of music. I seemed to be covering most ever other application of Creative Commons for work distributable over the Internet, so skipping music would leave a feeling of something missing.

Animation Application

Magical Domiko logo screen.

I’d like to see a manner of Creative Commons used with anime. No, I’m not going to ask for “make all anime free to download for private viewing”. I’m thinking more along the lines of some general, reusable licenses in the direction of, “You are free to provide screenshots from this episode,” although there may be restrictions on how many screenshos may be provided. I believe deep down that a majority of anime bloggers would honor something like this. It’s a compromise: “I’m being told it’s all right to use screenshots (free advertising for an anime!), so I’ll respect their limits.” On top of this, there could be “free, non-commercial use” of series artwork.

If one wanted to go all out with Creative Commons for anime episodes, there can be commons such as “This episode may be downloaded and be non-commercially re-distributed so long as the dimensions do not exceed 320×240, and the filesize does not exceed 200MB.” Would anime viewers adhere to such a restriction and freely watch 320×240 pixel size episodes which they can freely trade around, or would they still go for the latest TV rips at full widescreen dimensions and hi-def quality?

Final Thoughts

Sugar guarding a toy piano using a pencil.

Any anime blogger writing anything they feel is worth reading should consider using a Creative Commons license. It’s a pleasant gray between “you can’t use my work for anything, no matter what” and “I give up all rights to anything I create”. Rather than be defensive over your material, encourage use. If a person is going to take your work for their own use either way, at least the latter might convince them to give a link back to you as the creator.

Spreading knowledge of Creative Commons also informs people of the existence of the Creative Commons licenses. Rather than picking an image from a Google Image search to use, one may instead look for a Creative Commons licensed image to use. There’s no question of whether or not a Creative Commons licensed image is copyrighted or is free to use for a variety of purposes.

Gathering screenshots for this post was much easier for series where I had episode commentaries with screenshots to help me recall which episodes had which scenes.

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