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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:04 03/09/2007
October 2, 2006

Turning Point for Copyright System: Merit of "Creative Commons"

Keisuke KAMIMURA (Senior Research Fellow, Associate Professor, GLOCOM, International University of Japan)


Copyright in the Information Age

While copyright is an indispensable factor in developing business using digital content and awareness is rising regarding the importance of intellectual property rights, uncertainty about those rights seems to be prevailing among us. Letís look into this strange situation in detail.

First, consider the definition of copyright. According to the Copyright Act, the purpose of the copyright system is to "protect the rights of creators, writers, etc.," and also to "ensure fair use of cultural works (contents)" in order to contribute to cultural development. So the ultimate objective of the copyright system is to find a right balance between "protection of creatorsí rights" and "fair use of their works" for contributing to cultural development.

Under the current Copyright Act, any work by anybody is regarded as a copyrighted work, so long as it is a creative expression of ideas or feelings, and copyright is automatically born with creation of such works with no special procedures necessary. In this sense, copyright is both "ubiquitous" and "invisible." This is why we tend to have precarious feelings about copyright, as it looks distant and yet somehow binding without fail.

Now we are beginning to realize that the development and proliferation of information technology (IT) have fundamentally altered the environment surrounding copyrighted works, especially digital contents. Digital technology allows us to store and reproduce any content without decay, and information networks such as the Internet have removed temporal and spatial barriers to content distribution. Furthermore, by making use of IT, not only professionals but also non-professional individuals can easily create contents and enjoy the advantages of digital technology for storage, reproduction and distribution. In other words, the environment surrounding copyrighted works has now become more diverse and complicated than that supposed by the current Copyright Act. Therefore, it is time to reconsider the way in which the copyright system applies in response to this rapidly diversifying environment.

"Creative Commons" as an Answer

One possible answer is "Creative Commons," which can provide a new approach to the copyright system. Creative Commons is a movement initiated by Stanford University Professor Lawrence Lessig for the purpose of realizing free distribution and sharing of creative works, based on the idea that any creative work is developed on top of many past or contemporary artistic and cultural assets, and never born in vacuum. According to Creative Commons, therefore, it is essential to be able to freely share as many works as possible for facilitating creative activities.

However, the current Copyright Act is not designed to maximize the freedom of use and distribution of copyrighted works. Only copyright holders and those who obtain permission from copyright holders can use it, but there is never free use in "default."

Therefore, Creative Commons is calling for application of the "Creative Commons Public License (CCL)" to give out permission of free use of creative works when published by those creators who agree with the idea of freely sharing their works. A special logo mark is attached to such works with the "CCL." This way the current copyright system can be managed and applied so as to allow the creation of "Commons," with free use and distribution of original works as well as production and publication of secondary works based on their originals.

Clearly, Creative Commons is not intended to force all creative works to be shared and distributed freely. Commercial works should enjoy fair prices. Actually, the idea of freely sharing creative works does not deny their fair pricing. In this respect, Creative Commons is not opposed to, but rather complimentary with the existing copyright system. Creative Commons licensed free contents are analogous to free software or open-source software, which can coexist with commercial software.

By using standardized CC licenses with explicitly expressed conditions for the use of contents, we will be able to reduce the cost of obtain permission to use them. This could lead to the extension of the scope for freely shared creative works, and open up a new horizon for creative activities in the new information age.

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