Creating the Commons
I’ve just put a bunch of my work (but not all of it!) up on Flickr. It’s available there on Creative Commons license — anyone that wants to can grab hi-resolution versions of the artwork and re-mix, re-use, and recycle it as they see fit, so long as they give me credit, don’t use it for commercial purposes, and allow their creations to be made available to others on the same principle.
It might seem counterproductive for an artist like me — dependent as I am for my meager living on control of my own work — to give my “intellectual property” away like this. But I’m not alone in doing this. Lots of artists are experimenting with different ways of sharing their work online. One that influenced me was the author Jonathan Lethem, whose “Promiscuous Materials” project inspired me to write an article for Film Arts magazine recently. (The article is not online, but there is a shorter version I wrote for EFF available here.)
Basically, Lethem has put some of his work (but not all of it) up for grabs, allowing it to be licensed for filmmakers and playwrights for the symbolic price of $1:
I like art that comes from other art, and I like seeing my stories adapted into other forms. My writing has always been strongly sourced in other voices, and I’m a fan of adaptations, appropriations, collage, and sampling.
There is an argument that all human culture is just this — the endless remixing and recycling of earlier creativity, the making of “art that comes from other art” — and that therefore we need social practices as well as a legal framework to reflect this obvious truth. According to this view, we should be making it easier, not harder, for people to share art and ideas, while still insisting that artists get paid. It’s called the Free Culture movement by some, and in the world of computer geeks it’s known as Open Source. Creative Commons, the organization founded by Lawrence Lessig, has been enormously successful in putting this idea into practice.
You might have seen the BRILLIANT article Lethem wrote for Harper’s on this subject. Just to underscore his point, Lethem “wrote” the article almost entirely out of extensive quotations of work by other authors. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to print the whole thing and give it a read.
I’ve always been a big proponent of this idea, which just seems like common sense to me. I remember that my first CD mixes (back in 1995, when it was a relatively new practice) included small type that announced somewhat defensively that they were part of the creation of “global cultural commons,” which I think pre-dates Lessig’s use of the “commons” analogy by several years. (Too bad I didn’t think to claim a copyright on the phrase!)
So, anyway, now I’ve done what Lethem did, and put my “intellectual property” where my mouth is. Again, I’d like to point out that I’ve chosen not to hand out hi-resolution version of all my art. The work that is up on my Flickr page is mostly political work (which I did not do for money) and older work which won’t bring me a dime and which doesn’t much interest me any longer. A search for the right terms in Flickr’s Creative Commons pool will turn up my artwork — and hopefully it will be useful to someone, somewhere, in some way I can’t control or foresee. And I think that’s pretty cool.
If you have a Flickr page, please mark me as a contact — you can never have enough Flickr friends!
And while you’re tooling around Flickr, I’ve done the same thing with the graphic work I’ve done for EFF (all of which is always available to the public on a CC license). Enjoy!