Future of Copyright

Change legal default to CC BY-NC-SA

The history of intellectual property rights shows that exclusive intellectual property rights were not designed to secure to the authors a natural right in their produce. They were designed to induce new knowledge for the benefit of society. Starting from the first recorded patent in ancient Greece to its legal codification in the cities of Florence and Venice, lawmakers have continually expressed their hope that intellectual property regulation will promote individuals to excel in their labor for the benefit of all. This rationale is still present in most modern intellectual property laws. Take e.g. the constitution of the United States, which empowers Congress "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.“ (United States Constitution, Article I, section 8, clause 8)

The difficult part is of course to balance between individual private interests and the interests of the general public. Where should we draw the line between protecting the produce of individual labor and the freedom of the community to take up new ideas and develop them further? It seems that in the past decades lawmakers have focused their attention almost entirely on the positive effects of copyrights on individuals, while turning a blind eye to the negative effects on society. Today authors do not need to claim exclusive intellectual property rights. They are granted automatically by default, allowing them to exclusively publish, reproduce, adapt and sell their works.

This is remarkable given the fact that individuals by themselves would be unable to secure their intellectual property rights without support of others. As an individual alone I am unable to enforce my claim, no matter how justified it may be. If I want my my works protected from being (naturally) copied by others, society must grant me an exclusive copyright and help me enforce it. In other words I must convince society that granting me such privilege not only serves me personally but also the community as a whole. Why else would society provide me with all necessary institutions (police force, legal system, etc.) to secure my claim, given that this comes with a significant cost?

A simple solution

Change the default legal copyright setting from "All rights reserved" to Creative Commons BY NC SA". Using the Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike licence by default would let users remix, tweak, and build upon creative works non-commercially without the threat of legal action, as long as they credit the original author and respect the author's right to exclusively sell her works. Authors would also retain their moral right of attribution. On the other hand, all other users could freely consume and build on existing works for non-commercial purposes.
Besides the basic CC BY NC protection individual creators should also be able to ask for additional (temporary) copyright protection. However, these special privileges shall only be granted if the applicant can prove (e.g. by means of independent scientific studies) that additional protection also provides a clear benefit to society. Once granted other parties could contend these rights at court at any time by providing new evidence that undermines the original finding. This should guarantee that additional protection only remains as long as there is a benefit for society.

In daily life most people will not bother to claim additional protection as they are generally fine with others using their works for non-commercial purposes. As a result, all cultural works - except those specifically marked as "copyrighted" (additionally protected) - will by free to use by default. This should give creative production and re-production another boost.

Roland Spitzlinger

Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag

This work takes part in the Future of Copyright Contest: http://indiegogo.com/Future-of-Copyright

See also: On the Idea of Owning Ideas