The recent discussions about backchannels reminds me of the discussions about comment registration and editing, which, in turn, reminds me of the old discussions we had about Creative Commons. What do all these seemingly disparate items have in common?

With each, there is a tradeoff between personal freedom and accountability.

I wrote about Creative Commons back when it first released in 2002 in a writing called Bombs Away. In it I wrote:

The confustion about CC Licenses occurs not because we don’t understand the intent behind the licenses, but because we don’t understand how to interpret the use of the licenses. This is no different than any other aspect of law.

My first thought was, “Has that typo been there this entire time?” But once I got beyond this, I find I still, even after all this time, agree with that statement. Jonathon Delacour was one of the few who agreed with me on being cautious about these licenses and pointed out some additional problems:

Therein lies the source of my uneasiness about the Creative Commons Licenses: nothing I’ve read about the licenses (on the Creative Commons website and elsewhere) explains in a persuasive manner why granting such a license is truly in the interest of the creator of the work-whereas both observation and experience have led me to the conviction that self-interest is the single most reliable indicator of human behavior.

Later, in another post, Inspiration is not Derivation I wrote:

Ultimately the question of inspiration compared to derivation compared to interpreation reduces to: does the need of the new artist to re-interpret or create a derivation of the original work take precedence over the need to respect the original artist’s wishes? This is a question that can never be answered by copyright law because it is an issue of respect as it is balanced agains innovation.

My first reaction was, “Have those types always been there?” Again, though, I find that my opinion has not changed on this issue. If anything, after my indepth readings of such great artists as Emily Dickinson, James Agee, and Walker Evans, I believe even stronger in the rights of the original artist.

In a later writing I quoted AKMA, responding to another discussion:

Once I decide to turn loose my expression on the world, other folks will do plenty of things with my texts few of which will be governed by concern for my innermost thoughts. If my thoughts need that degree of protection, I can jolly well not release them to the public.

(Like most of us who have moved to a different naming structure, AKMA’s old links are broken and I’m not sure what the new file name would be.)

I remember Emily Dickinson’s unhappiness at her poems being modified when published, and Wallker Evans’ insistentence that the fleas removed from an engraving from one photo be returned, and I wonder at where the accountability to their genius ends, and others freedom to innovate begins.

Aaron Swartz once said that authors who hold their copyright past the recoup of costs were thieves:

The theft of authors who don’t (or worse, publishers or other people who have taken their copyright) is far worse than the so-called piracy of copyright infringers, even if the infringer would have paid the author had they not infringed. Instead of one person (the author) losing something, the entire public loses. Congress should take fast action to prevent further such thefts from their constituents. (An easy and surely uncontrovertial step would be for copyrights to expire after the author’s death.)

Authors who hold copyrights are thieves, but people who download music and don’t pay for it, are not. While I can agree that Hollywood and the music industry and even the book industries have gone too far in their fight to hold on to their property rights that doesn’t mean I agree that the public domain has a right to anything, like a petulant child wanting another lolly.

And if we value an artist’s work, are we not accountable to them above and beyond issues of copyright?

When Movable Type came out with a one-click approach to adding CC licenses to a site, we again raised the issues we’d raised before, primarily because we wanted those who would think to blindly push that button (because everyone else is doing it) to think about it before doing so. What was interesting is that whatever arguments we introduced, they were perceived as emotionally loaded and we were challenged to provide explanations of our side that were not pie-in-the-sky or harangues.

Looking back at three years of debates and discussions, the most common form of pushback has been to reduce any argument counter to our own viewpoint to emotional terms, so that it is then more easily discounted. However, we are told, we can do so because weblogs aren’t really news – they’re OpEd.

We demand from others accountability for their writing, but we reserve for ourselves freedom of expression, to describe what other say as biased or paint it just so that it may be more easily dismissed. Rogers Cadenhead joins with others to blast Ben Hammersley and Guardian for an article on RSS/Atom, demanding that Ben be held accountable for his past associations with RSS. But when Rogers was challenged about his own association with Userland he replied:

I would compare this weblog to a newspaper column, where you expect commentary colored by opinion, rather than a news article that strives for objectivity and fairness.

But then I told him in an email, that though we’re indulging in our usual weblogging shooting across the bow, and it doesn’t really mean anything, by taking this issue to the Guardian’s management, not to Ben, we were not only questioning Hammersley’s journalist integrity, we were threatening his livelihood.

Where’s the accountability in this?

Returning to Creative Commons, I seem to be implying that all the eloquence was on our side, while the other was a big bad bully and that’s not true either, as the recent classy demonstration of the benefits of Creative Commons so aptly proves.

Of course I have to point the finger of accountability at myself, and I wince when I see some of my past postings on these topics. Walker Evans would accuse me of the most blatant sentimentalism, and I would have to agree as I read what I wrote barely a year ago on this issue:

I have branded myself outsider, if not outcast, in some weblogging circles by not embracing Creative Commons without hesitation, and not being 100% behind the anti-copyright/pro-public domain movement

The rest of the post was quite good, but it was ruined by the histrionics of the opening sentence, and I found myself doing so in more than one post, and comment, associated with some of my more controversial writings. Providing a counter-point to popular opinion if such is what we believe is a goodness, and even an obligation; but doing so and then acting the martry afterwards is a cheap trick, and weakened whatever points were made in the original argument.

But this post is overlong and I’ll continue on Accountability and backchannels and comment editing in the next.

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