Since 2003, the international nonprofit Creative Commons (known as CC) has endeavored to “save the world from failed sharing.” CC, as it’s called, aims to address the lag of copyright law in keeping pace with changes in digital technology b facilitating sharing. The organization, founded by law professor and author Lawrence Lessig, has created six free licenses that enable Internet users to license their writing, photographs, music, art, and other creations for reuse, remixing, and redistribution. Now, CC is focused on translating and adapting the licenses, through a process called porting, to jurisdictions all around the world.
In the Arab world, the porting process has begun in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and, as of last week, Lebanon. Porting is necessary for the licenses to be upheld in court. To port the licenses, CC partners with lawyers in the relevant jurisdiction who volunteer their services to translate and adapt the license so that it conforms with existing laws. In Lebanon, lawyers Pierre El Khoury and Mohammed Darwish and the Kamal Abou Zahr law firm will lead the process.
The Problem with Copyright These Days
To launch the process and the Lebanon chapter of Creative Commons, last week Lessig and Creative Commons CEO Joichi Ito visited Beirut to speak to business students at AUB’s Olayan School of Business and law trainees of the Beirut Bar Association about copyright, intellectual property, and tech entrepreneurship. The fundamental problem, Lessig told his audiences, is that U.S. copyright law (literally, the right to make copies) doesn’t acknowledge that in a digital world, every use of a digital work creates a copy.
Copyright is automatic—that is, as soon as you create a work, you own the copyright—which means that as soon as someone else reuses or remixes that work without your permission, they have violated your copyright and become a criminal or a “pirate.” Nowadays, with so many people making, mixing, and reusing digital content, the task of getting permission from original creators is a near impossible and absolutely inefficient task. This, said Lessig, is a very good indication that copyright law is no longer relevant and needs updating, or porting, to the 21st century.
Watch Prof. Lessig’s eye-catching presentation (in English) at the Beirut Bar Association:
Learn more about the legal aspects of Creative Commons (in Arabic) from Pierre el Khoury:
CC Is for Organizations, Too
CC licensing isn’t just for artists or amateurs. It’s also a powerful means by which organizations, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups can leverage their resources. Need a photo for an ad campaign? Or music for a public service announcement? You can search for CC-licensed works. Authors using CC will indicate whether their work is available for commercial or noncommercial use, whether you can alter the original work (remixing), and whether there are any restrictions on re-sharing the work. All licenses require that you attribute the work you use to its author.
Some well-known examples of organizations using CC licenses include Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia; Al Jazeera, which releases high-quality, free news video in its Creative Commons Repository; and the UN University OpenCourseWare, which offers online courses on e-governance and other topics. Even politicians and governments use Creative Commons to license content on their websites.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the launch of the CC chapter in Lebanon by no means marks the first uses of the CC licenses in Lebanon. Below is a list of a few well-known examples:
- Al Akhbar Newspaper, the local Lebanese daily
- Hibr.me, a youth media outlet
- Maya’s Amalgam, a comics blog about life in Lebanon
- Meen the Band, a Lebanese rock band
- Samandal, a trilingual comics magazine
- And of course SMEX. All our training materials are made available under a CC license.
License Your Work Under Creative Commons
Most people when they first learn about Creative Commons think the idea of giving away your work for free is a bit bonkers. For the .01 percent of people and corporations who make a living making movies, writing books, or playing music, says Lessig, you’re probably right. But for the other 99.99 percent of us, releasing your work for free is probably the best way to make a living doing it.
You get your work out there (making sure it’s good, of course), create a buzz around it, and then people will start asking you for more. Meen the Band, for example, releases all its music for free and then creates special packaging for their albums that fans want to buy–even though they already have the music. Maya Zankoul draws comics for her blog, which anyone can read for free. Her readers started asking for a book, so she obliged with a collection and uses the proceeds to support her drawing habit.
If you’re not quite convinced, give it a try. You can always unlicense your work. Just choose your license and CC will provide you with a link for your license as well as code that you can embed on your blog or website.
For further information:
- Join the Creative Commons mailing list for the Arab World, which is managed by CC Arab World representative Donatella della Ratta (donatella AT creativecommons DOT org)
- CC Arab world website, also in Arabic.
- Free Culture, the 2004 book by Lawrence Lessig that lays out the case for less restrictive copyright. You can download it for free.