Thoughts on the CC Summit

I was lucky enough to attend the Creative Commons Global Summit in Buenos Aires last week, including the pre-conference session on copyright reform.

Oliver's Tattoo (cropped), by Oliver Keyes, used under CC BY-SA
Oliver’s Tattoo (cropped), by Oliver Keyes, used under CC BY-SA

Like Wikimania, there is simply too much here to summarize in coherent chunks, so here are my motes and thoughts during my return flight:

  • Maira Sutton of EFF summed up my strongest feeling about the event (and Wikimania, and many others) quite perfectly: “Getting a chance to finally meet those people you’ve admired from the Internet… Yea I hope that never gets old.” I hope I always remember that we are parts of a movement that draws much of its strength from being human – from being, simply, good to each other, and enjoying that. I realize sometimes being a lawyer gets in the way of that, but hopefully not too often ;)
  • At the copyright reform mini-conference, it was super-interesting to see the mix of countries playing offense and defense on copyright reform. Reform efforts discussed appeared to be patchwork; i.e., folks asking for one thing in one country, another in others, varying a great deal based on local circumstances. (The one “global” proposed solution was from American University/InfoJustice, who have worked with a team of lawyers from around the world to create a sort of global fair use/fair dealing exception called flexible use. An interesting idea.) Judging from my conversations at Wikimania and with Wikipedians at CC Summit, this is an area of great interest to Wikipedians, and possibly one where we could have a great impact as an example of the benefits of peer production.
  • Conversation around the revised CC 4.0 license drafts was mostly quite positive. The primary expressed concerns were about fragmentation and cross-jurisdictional compatibility. I understand these concerns better now, having engaged in several good discussions about them with folks at the conference. That said, I came away only confirmed on my core position on CC’s license drafting: when in doubt, CC should always err on the side of creating a global license and enabling low-complexity sharing.
  • This is not to say CC should rush things for 4.0, or be legally imprecise – just that they must be careful not to accidentally overlook the negative costs or overlawyering. Unfortunately, creating something knowingly imperfect is a profoundly difficult position for a lawyer to be in; something we’re trained to avoid at almost all costs. It is easiest to be in this position when there is an active negotiator on the other side, since they can actively persuade you about the compromise – instead of arguing against yourself. Public license drafting is perhaps unusually susceptible to causing this problem in lawyers; I do not envy the 4.0 drafters their difficult task.
  • There was a fair bit of (correct) complaining about the definition about Effective Technological Measures in the license – the most lawyerly piece of writing in 3.0 and the current drafts. Unfortunately, this is inevitable – to create a new, independent definition, instead of referring to the statute, is to risk protecting too much or too little, neither of which would be the correct outcome for CC. It would also make the license much longer than it currently is. I believe that the right solution is to drop the definition, and instead have a parallel distribution clause, where the important definition is easy: the recipient must be able to obtain at least one copy in which they are not prohibited from exercising the rights already defined. ETM then becomes much less important to define precisely.
  • Interesting to see that the distribution of licenses is mostly getting more free over time. After seeing the focuses of the various Creative Commons affiliates, I think this is probably not coincidence – they all seem quite dedicated to educating governments, OERs, and others about transaction costs associated with less free licenses, and many report good results.
  • That said, licensing data, even under free licenses, is going to be tricky – the trend there appears to be (at least) attribution, not disclaimer of rights. Attribution will be complicated for database integration; both from an engineering and a legal perspective.
  • Combined with the push towards government/institutional publication of data, there were a lot of talks and discussions about what to do with information that are difficult or inappropriate to edit, like scientific articles or historical documents. Lots of people think there is a lot of value to be added by tools that allow collaborative annotation and discussion, even on documents that can’t/shouldn’t be collaboratively edited. I think this could be a Wiki strength, if we built (or borrowed) the right tools, and I really hope we start on that soon.
  • Great energy in general from the affiliates around two areas: copyright reform, and encouragement of government and institutions to use CC licenses. I think these issues, and not the licenses themselves, will really be what drives the affiliates in the next 3-5 years. Remains to be seen where exactly CC HQ will fit into these issues – they are building a great team around OER, and announced support for copyright reform, but these are hard issues to lead from the center on, because they often need such specific, local knowledge.
  • Met lots of great people; too many to list here, but particularly great conversations with Prodi, Rafael, and folks from PLOS (who I think Wiki should partner with more). And of course catching up with a lot of old friends as well. In particular, perhaps my conversation with Kragen will spur me to finish my long-incomplete essay on Sen and Stallman.
  • I also had a particularly great conversation with my oldest friend, Dan, about what a modern-day attribution looks like. Now that we’re no longer limited to static textual lists of authors, as we have done since the dawn of the book, what can we do? How do we scale to mega-collaborative documents (like the Harry Potter page) that have hundreds or thousands of authors? How do we make it more two-way, so that there is not just formal attribution but genuine appreciation flowing both ways (without, of course, creating new frictions)? The “thanks” feature we’ve added to Wikipedia seems one small way to do this; Dan spoke also of how retweets simultaneously attribute and thank. But both of those are in walled silos- how can we take them outside of that?
  • Saw a great talk on “Copyright Exceptions in the Arab World” pan-Arab survey; really drove home how fragmented copyright statutes can be globally. (Translation, in particular, seemed an important and powerful exception, though my favorite exception was for military bands.) Of course, the practical impact of this is nearly nil – many of the organizations that are in charge of administering these literally don’t know they exist, and of course most of the people using the copyrights in the culture not only don’t know, they don’t care.
  • Beatriz Busaniche gave a nice talk; perhaps the most important single thing to me: a reminder that we should remember that even today most cultural communication takes place outside of (intentional) copyright.
  • Lessig is still Lessig; a powerful, clear, lucid speaker. We need more like him. In that vein, and after a late-night discussion about this exact topic, I remind speakers that before their next conference they should read Presentation Zen and Slideology.
  • Database rights session was interesting and informative, but perhaps did not ultimately move the ball forward very much. I fear that the situation is too complex, and the underlying legal concepts still too immature, for the big “add database to share-alike” step that CC is now committed to taking with 4.0. My initial impression (still subject to more research) is that Wikipedia’s factual and jurisdictional situation will avoid problems for us, but it may be worse for others.
  • After seeing all the energy from affiliates, as well as seeing it in Wikimedia’s community, I’m really curious about how innovation tends to happen in global NGOs like Red Cross or Greenpeace. Do national-level organizations discover issues and bring them to the center? Or is it primarily the center spotting issues (and solutions) and spurring the affiliates onward? Some mix? Obviously early CC was the former (Lessig personifies leadership from a center outwards) but the current CC seems to lean towards the latter. (This isn’t necessarily a bad place to be – it can simply reflect, as I think it does here, that the local affiliates are more optimistic and creative because they are closer to conditions on the ground.)
  • Watched two Baz Luhrmann films on my flight back, a fun reminder of the power of remix. I know most of my film friends think he’s awful, and admittedly for the first time I realized that Clair Danes is … not very good … in Romeo and Juliet. But in Luhrmann there is a zest, a gleeful chopping, mixing, and recreating of our culture. And I love that; I hope CC can help enable that for the next generation of Luhrmanns.