On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

I had a short twitter conversation with Brian Dunning* a short while ago, sparked by the following tweet:

The conversation went as follows - read upwards (sourced at bettween.com)

 Now, I don't want this to turn into another, inevitable, "Brian Dunning is wrong" post. The web has enough of those already. I want to take this as a leaping point to explain what creative commons is, and why if you're a serious podcaster - or, in fact, a creative of any kind - you should consider CC for your own output.

We do, however, have to address a couple of problems with Brian's side of this discussion.

Firstly, the assertion that podcasters who use Creative Commons aren't taking their work seriously is demonstrably untrue. Even in our relatively small domain of skeptical podcasts, there are plenty that are CC-licenced. Quackcast, an award-winning skeptico-medical podcast, is CC, for instance, as is Kylie Sturgess's Token Skeptic podcast. Quite a few others can be found if you care to look, In Vino Veritas included.

Second, copyright claims under the DMCA are tricky to enforce, and DMCA claims are perceived among the internet community as a simple means to supression. It's also a US law and not useful everywhere as a result, and in most copyright courts, one must demonstrate a loss of revenue or other tangible harm to make a claim.

Skeptoid, as a free podcast, is going to have trouble demonstrating financial harm. Any financial harm is indirect and extraordinarily difficult to show. Indirect harm in loss of donations, perhaps, but very tough to tie to specific instances of violation.

A more likely outcome from sending a DMCA notice is that such action will do harm to goodwill. Many re-uses are likely to come from fans, who after receiving a takedown notice, may not be fans much longer. Had Brian asked for advice on this, I'd have told him to avoid any mention of the DMCA until friendly approaches had failed. To even use the acronym** raises hackles among internet users and conjures up spectres of heavy-handed legal threats. Not a great PR move.

Now, on to CC itself

So that's that. These two items out of the way, I'd like to just evangelise CC for a moment, and explain exactly why I think many podcasts should consider CC as their licence of choice.

Creative Commons is an innovative licence for creative output of any kind, allowing variable kinds of re-use under various  restrictions. Creative Commons was developed in conjunction with a large cohort of copyright experts from around the world to ensure it is relevant, flexible and very importantly, enforcible.

But most importantly, is that Creative Commons embraces a core principle of social media, one which I called out in my recent talk to Victorian Skeptics:

Old media looks for eyeballs. New media hunts voiceboxes.


Old media

What does this mean? Well, this means that a social media paradigm does not merely rely on pushing its message out to a single level, but also allows that level to re-push the message to further levels. A tradional broadcast message reaches what I'd term "level one" - that is people who directly obtain the message at source. A new/social media message is viral, and can be sourced from anywhere, allowing access to level two and beyond without a direct push from source to receiver.


New/social media

Let's consider an example.

  • Podcast A, copyrighted with traditional copyright, does a very funny segment. It's hilarious and to-the-point.
  • Podcast B, under creative commons, does a funny segment too. Also hilarious, also very much salient.

Other podcasters want to re-use these segments. They are that good. Some conference speakers would like to re-use them in presentations to illustrate a point. A video producer would like to animate them. A Radio show would dearly love to throw it into their morning segment tomorrow.

For Podcast A, the originator's permission must be sought. podcasters and conference delegates start emailing for permission, and wait. The radio show, unfortunately, doesn't get a reply before deadline, and it's too late.

Podcast B, however, has a creative commons with-attribution licence. The podcasters and conference delegates go ahead and grab the clip, adding an attribution, as does the radio show. 

Both podcasts have gained new potential listeners from the conferences, video producer and other podcasts. Only podcast B, however, was able to get the radio exposure, due to missing out the permission step. Because that permission is explicitly stated in the licence. 

But here's the kicker. Both podcasts have been used in violation of licence by a website. Podcast A was used without permission. Podcast B was used without attribution.

Both podcasts can use local copyright laws to cause a takedown, or to force compliance with licence, because both are enforcible across a wide range of jurisdictions, and CC has been tested in court.

Also, by this stage, Podcast A, with traditional copyright, only have the option of demanding settlement - most likely financial - or takedown. With CC, a friendlier action can be made. Keep using it if you want, but attribute it correctly. Else we'll move on to settlement/takedown.

So, here are a couple of questions.

One: What exactly implies that CC licensors "don't take what they're doing seriously" here?

CC is an enforcible licence. CC is tested, CC is flexible. CC is not a mere plaything for jokers and numpties. I can only assume Brian doesn't quite understand CC, which is, I suppose, no big sin.

Two: What reason is there to not use Creative Commons?

In the field of skepticism, which is an evangelical effort, why not allow re-use of material if properly licenced? We want to reach the maximum audience, don't we? Isn't our entire goal to educate the maximum number of people? CC allows us to spread our work beyond our own reach, and on to a potentially exponential audience.

Creative Commons is ideally crafted for the next generation of socially-disseminable media, in which the free*** re-broadcasting of content is a key factor. I think you should embrace it.

It may not be for everyone, and there may be reasons not to use CC. I'd love to have a chat about it in the comments, so fire away.


* from Skeptoid.com
** technically, an initialism.
*** as in libre

posted @ Thursday, June 30, 2011 5:35 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Travis Roy at 6/30/2011 9:14 PM
I'd be curious to see the violations that Brian is speaking about. If I had to guess, and this is totally a guess, I bet that they do not give proper credit. Also, is it really hard to just ask permission?

There's plenty of examples of other skeptical podcasts that are not released as Creative Commons. Skeptic Zone, SGU, and I think Skepticallity (it doesn't say, so you have to assume not by default) are all copyrighted, but not with creative commons.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Theo at 6/30/2011 10:34 PM
The Twit network, which grosses about $2.5 million per year with its podcasts, releases them under a creative commons 2.5 license. QED.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Tim Farley at 7/1/2011 12:37 AM
CC is also useful for things other than podcasts, of course, including text and videos. Keep it in mind when creating any content that is being posted online.

YouTube has just recently added a control on the video posting screen that lets you designate your video as CC licensed. Vimeo has had this for a while, and even lets you specify the exact licensing.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by cuppy at 7/1/2011 2:21 AM
well and I think just asking. As an artist I have had people "borrow" without asking many times. No loss of income, and do I really want to get a lawyer (actually my agent has a lawyer that handles this stuff for me, so yeah I've sued)...but often a simple ASK FIRST would have just been nice. My daughter ended up quoted in a book about Pat Robertson when the author "borrowed" from a Skepchick post. Now that is ok with Skepchick, but she was shocked one day to discover she had helped write several pages of a book for someone she had never met. It sounded like the person had interviewed her, and he certainly hadn't. Also many people sell books, or give lectures, or DO make money and support themselves via their skeptic work. When I see something I've written places elsewhere (without credit, and I've one thing I've written that is all over but with the name of the skeptic site that "borrowed" it and forgot to put my name on it...as the author and not me...) it does hurt my ability to give a talk (well yeah, really I did write that, and they didn't) which helps with my book sales (now for my books all the money goes to a good skeptic nonprofit I like to support so they are the ones suffering). Sorry to rant, but in an age of "hey I just downloaded all this music"...and "hey can I copy that movie?"... from someone that makes a good part of her living from art (that I protect like a pit bull via my agent and lawyer), just simply asking...and giving credit... seems like it's being made a thing of the past. And saying "NO, that's MINE" shouldn't be a sin. I know that the "Hug me" bear logo is protected, and people have complained, and I am 'Look it's HER right to not just give it away! She shouldn't be put down for protecting the intergrity of her logo!" sharing is all very well and good, but being able to say "look, it's mine and I don't want to share because I want to control where it is used to make sure the message isn't controlled by others" should be respected.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Brian Dunning at 7/1/2011 4:01 AM
So if someone posts the text of a Harry Potter book on their web site, would that be OK? Would you express a similar disagreement with JK Rowling because her material is copyrighted as well? Do you think her publisher should allow anyone to republish without permission?

I work nearly full time on my material and almost all of it eventually ends up in my books and hopefully other products. I see no reason why I should not take standard practices to protect the ownership of my literary work.

There's also the issue of duplicate content, which is a significant one. When other web sites steal my content, it does impact my SEO rankings because now my material is no longer unique on the web. High search engine ranking is one key driver of the growth of my audience.

I agree with your characterization of critical thinking outreach as an "evangelical" effort. We're doing a public service, not to trying to profit. However I've said, many times, that for this material to have an impact, it has to be able to compete successfully in the marketplace. I believe that the material will have a larger impact if it can become commercial and profitable. This is one reason I'm working hard to make Skeptoid my full time profession, which is an achievable goal.

In no way does my copyright reduce the availability of the material to my audience. The podcasts are free to listen to, the transcripts are free to read. But I do require that they be read through the channels that I provide, along with any associated advertising, and not be used to increase the traffic or ad revenue of any random forum that wants to steal it, whether they're friendly or not, and whether they give credit or not.

Fair use, go for it. Theft, not on my watch. It hurts us all in the long run.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Chris Lindsay at 7/1/2011 4:14 AM
There've been times when I asked Brian via twitter if I could post his inFact videos on my personal blog. It's a modest blog, that I do for fun and because I have some family/friends read it. And I also have posted a transcript of "How To Spot Pseudoscience" in my Notes page on Facebook (again, asked and received the OK from Brian through Twitter).

So, should I take them down and ask Brian for written approval via e-mail? My twitter feed won't go back that far. I'm ignorant of copyrights.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Maggie at 7/1/2011 4:22 AM
I think there are, as is often the case in Internet arguments, two instances of misunderstanding leading to a third.

I believe

1) Jason had a problem with the implication that CC is not 'serious'. [and made a false assumption about Skeptoids licensing]

2) Brian had a problem with thievery. [and made an assertions that CC isn't for 'serious' creators and, subsequently, that Jason is implying he shouldn't care about his copyright]

3) Both are now arguing the merits of CC when that's not really the problem or indeed the issue. The problem is Brian is not having his copyright respected. End of line.

Brian should pursue his thieves.
Jason shouldn't assume Skeptoid is CC.
Story over.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by K.O. Myers at 7/1/2011 4:34 AM
DM - While I generally agree with you about the practical benefits and artistic goodwill fostered by Creative Commons licensing, I have to take issue with two points in your argument.

"Also, by this stage, Podcast A, with traditional copyright, only have the option of demanding settlement - most likely financial - or takedown. With CC, a friendlier action can be made. Keep using it if you want, but attribute it correctly. Else we'll move on to settlement/takedown."

Your comparison here is incorrect. There's nothing in the law that says a copyright holder can't contact a possible infringer and ask for proper attribution before resorting to a takedown demand. Further, I'm not aware of anything that would prevent a copyright holder who did sue for infringement to ask the court to order attribution, rather than a monetary judgment or a complete end to the use. You're characterizing copyright law as limiting the copyright holder to certain remedies, when it's not actually that inflexible.

Second, Creative Commons hasn't been as thoroughly vetted by courts as you suggest. It's only been raised as an issue in half a dozen or so cases, all of which were in different countries, and only a few of which even reached the point of a ruling on the merits. More importantly, I not aware of a case where the validity and enforceability of a Creative Commons license has been raised on appeal, so the scant rulings by trial courts only apply in those specific jurisdictions.

It's my opinion that a Creative Commons license is valid and enforceable, but it's a stretch to say that the issue has been adequately tested in court.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Maggie at 7/1/2011 4:48 AM
As a short addendum that's not strictly on topic - Brian, you should be aware that copyright law doesn't allow you, despite being the creator, to create blanket exceptions (such as "all blue people can use this free" ), like the one at the end of your notice. Only those covered within the law or via explicit permission. Without written or otherwise explicit documented permission, a future holder of your copyright could sue all the blue people for past violation. (This is a problem CC attempts to fix. Not that I'm advocating your use of it, I also use std. copyright in certain areas, I'm just pointing it out.)

However, in this case, it's a moot point since use in the classroom _is_ already be covered under US copyright exceptions in sections 110(1) “face to face teaching” and 110(2), the TEACH Act. And the notice probably will still serve to make teachers feel at ease (as long as they don't provide it in another manner like, say, on their class website, which would not fall within that use model).

I just wanted to mention it since a lot of people aren't aware that they can't modify their own copyrights (and, related, this is why CC came about).

Disclaimer: IANAL, just someone who's had to learn these things.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Travis Roy at 7/1/2011 4:53 AM
Not that this really needs to be said, but Maggie is full of win and spot on.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Brian Dunning at 7/1/2011 5:05 AM
Some commenters misinterpreted what I said as CC is not for serious content creators. If anything I tweeted gave that impression, it's only because 140 characters didn't allow the point to be made comprehensively.

Various CC versions are great where appropriate. I use it myself on some projects, most notably Here Be Dragons. As Skeptoid is a written & published medium, in addition to a podcast, copyright is the most appropriate protection.

What I meant about "not taking their work seriously" was in reference to blogs or podcasts that are a hobby or not intended to make a living. I don't know anyone, company or individual, who makes a living from web content or podcasting, or any other creative field, who shouldn't take appropriate steps to protect their intellectual property.

I see some guy just tweeted this:

@BrianDunning I laugh that you keep using the word "steal". No one has deprived you of property. They have made a copy.

To anyone who shares his perspective I recommend the following web page:

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Tim Farley at 7/1/2011 6:18 AM
"I don't know anyone, company or individual, who makes a living from web content or podcasting, or any other creative field, who shouldn't take appropriate steps to protect their intellectual property."

I'm not sure I'm interpreting the last phrase correctly, but if I should think the singer Jonathan Coulton is a superb counter-example.

ALL his music is CC-licensed:

And yet, he apparently makes about $500K a year as a musician:

So there is at least one example of someone producing content that is CC licensed and still making a full-time living selling it.

Caveats: yes, I know the music business is different than a podcast. Yes, I may have misinterpreted you.

But the bottom line is: CC does not mean you can't have an income.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Brian Dunning at 7/1/2011 7:55 AM
I never said CC is not a good option for some people. We are on the same page Tim, I think you misread me. :-)

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by RipleyP at 7/1/2011 11:05 AM
I may have lost my way a little here so please correct any of my assumptions.

Copyright is the protection of material created where a person (commonly the creator) makes a claim to the rights associated with the material.

CC is a license agreement whereby the claimant to rights permits use of the material under the license.

As such the copyright holder may chose to license the material using a CC license or may license it through a different agreement.

In both instances the rights holder retains copyright to the material and a breach of the copyright has an outcome dictated by the relevant law and a breach of the license has an outcome based on the terms of the license.

Therefore my assumption is that a person using CC has merely used a different way of permitting use of material (through the CC license) and retains their rights under copyright.

From what I understand CC is a very good dissemination license and is used by some persons to put their product into a market place to generate interest in said product. However CC appears limited in its application in returning a profit to the copyright holder.

As such I would anticipate that some persons have been successful in promoting their product through CC license but once the product has a market they use a different licensing agreement in order to return a profit on the use of their copyright material.

CC is also useful for persons who don’t seek to profit but wish to retain the material as their own. A further advantage is the license is already drafted and available for use, thus there is no cost (monetary or otherwise) in creating a new license.

I would therefore reframe the debate as a question asking what is the most efficient and or effective method of disseminating material while retaining copyright?

This question will of course be answered with reference to the individual needs and requirements of the copyright owner. If the material is to be used for profit by the owner then CC may not suffice. If the material is for dissemination then CC may be a cost effective and simple.

Of interest I have had a look at the notice permitting use of skeptiod material in classrooms. I would disagree that Copyright law does not permit blanket exceptions.

The owner of copyright may deal with their property as they see fit. This is dome through license. The license does not need to be in writing in my jurisdiction as a license is a form of contract and only transfer of land requires writing.

They can license their material so that a person may only use said material by placing a statement on the reused material stating said material is used under license from the great and powerful Skeptitron (hope that terms is owned by someone).

As such I would argue the blanket statement may be taken to be a restricted license granted to a particular class and as such future holders of copyright would not be able to enforce a claim for use.

My this post got long when I wasn’t watching.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Jason at 7/1/2011 11:56 AM
Thanks for all the commentary, loving every bit of it. Given that I put this post out on a fairly short turnround, there's a couple of things I wanted to add to make my position clearer:

1. Both Brian's comments about CC being "non serious" and mine about assuming skeptoid was CC were kinda throwaway and I would have just gone on my way - except that this presented itself as a good opportunity to try to explain CC, which is commonly misunderstood by everyone up to and including IP lawyers. I'm not immune to that last thing.

2. The perception of the initialism "DMCA" within skeptical circles is quite negative overall. It's most commonly seen in ham-fisted attempts to silence criticism, ref: Dorey vs. StopAVN, VenomFangX vs. Thunderf00t, etc. I'm almost certain that had Brian tweeted without saying "DMCA", my eye wouldn't have been caught in the first place. Bit of a potential PR gaffe dependent on the context, of course.

3. That said, IANAL, but I believe CC claims in the US are processed under DMCA anyway, once they make it to the legal arena.

4. "Traditional" copyright is absolutely the right choice for thousands of applications. I'm not decrying the standard, tried-and-tested copyright notice. Hell, I have a few hanging around the place. I do however think that for new media/social media/viral/community projects, CC is a much better option that is often brushed under the carpet due to misunderstandings of how it works.

5. If someone wants to steal your stuff, they'll steal it no matter what licence it's under

6. Why did I not mention JoCo myself? Gaah!

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Jason at 7/1/2011 12:02 PM
BY the way, just noticed this:

"So if someone posts the text of a Harry Potter book on their web site, would that be OK?"

Tut, tut, Brian. I am wagging my finger at you and pursing my lips disapprovingly. A strawman wrapped in a loaded question? From a prominent skeptical spokesperson? How can this be?


# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by RipleyP at 7/1/2011 3:47 PM
In relation to point 5, regarding people who intend to steal will anyway I am inclined to agree.

What I have been amazed by is the large number of people I have encountered who don’t quite get that taking other peoples work and making it their own is wrong and is essentially a theft of property.

The biggest offender seems to be people applying photographs to their own purpose. There is something in the mind of some persons that appears to think along these lines. If anyone can get it from the internet then it is public property and I can use it.

As such there will always be the issue of dealing with people who either don’t know or don’t care. I won’t suggest a certain Meryl may fall into the later part of this category as that may be construed as an attack on the downtrodden champion (insert retching sound effect here).

As to the Harry Potter example I would have suggested it was potentially more akin to a false comparison fallacy rather than the straw man. However I am more inclined to consider it an extreme yet clearly recognizable example to make a point rather than a fallacy.

I will have to have another listen to the Logical Fallacy podcast to check this assertion. I wish I could remember the name of the Australian podcast that concentrated on logical fallacies; I used to enjoy that one.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Jason at 7/1/2011 5:13 PM
Hunting Humbug 101? Is that the podcast in question? Just had a quick scan of my subscription list, not sure if it's the same.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Jake Farr-Wharton at 7/2/2011 6:52 PM
Personally, I think that if someone produces something as a professional (as opposed to ameture), they are entitled to protect their livelihood. Furthermore, when people use another persons or company's material, they should be providing full author details and trackbacks where applicable.

Brian is entitled to produce and publish his material in whichever format and with whatever copyrighting he chooses. To admonish him for not using your method is poor form.

I also produce all of my stuff via creative commons(excluding published books which are copyrighted by the publisher). The cool thing with that is that I'll occasionally get remixes of my songs or people will from commentary or skits from my podcast which are awesome. In saying that, most people are happy to credit me.

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by Jason at 7/2/2011 8:33 PM
Jake, I wasn't admonishing anyone for not using CC. If there was any admomishment, it was for stating that CC users are not "serious".

# re: On Creative Commons, seriousness and Skeptoid

Left by RipleyP at 7/4/2011 9:44 AM
Ahh thats the podcast, thanks Jason, I shall now go and have another listen to ensure I am not talking out my posterior.
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