Creative Commons follow up

Dennis Kennedy wrote an excellent follow-up post on the Creative Commons discussion this weekend. Excellent. I particularly wanted to note the following:

One of my biggest concerns about the Creative Commons license has been the lack of guidance from CC on practical interpretation and enforcement issues. I’ve held off commenting on the issue Shelley raised because I expected to see something from CC on the topic. Unfortunately, my daily check of the Creative Commons blog has shown mainly the usual victory laps being taken when a high visibility site or celebrity uses or mentions the CC licenses, although I’ll note that news of a tweak to one of the licenses has been mentioned. I make no secret of my belief that this approach is not especially helpful and opens the CC to the criticism that it is more of a marketing gimmick for CC than a serious effort to benefit the Internet community by providing a workable and well-accepted license.

The point is good: for the CC license to be anything but puffery, the CC folks can’t resort to ignoring challenges that have been raised; or using the usual weblogging tactic of sending in hordes of supporters to challenge either the person or their motives.

There is much more to read in Dennis post. It is, like Denise’s writing and commentary this weekend, a breath of fresh air in an environment that has, lately, become too close for comfort.


The copyright theme

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I thought I would take my new Wordform theme out for a spin, let you all see what it looks like. It’s a work in progress, so it may not show correctly in all browsers.

I was inspired by the look at Corante’s Between Lawyers. Well, actually more than inspired — this look is almost a direct copy of the existing layout and style sheet from the site.

I got the inspiration for the new theme when the good folks at Between Lawyers were debating whether to include a Creative Commons license at their site. When they did, they added the license into the page with the addition of a note that Unless otherwise expressly stated, all material included in this weblog and its archives is licensed under a Creative Commons License. I looked to see if there was a copyright notice for the stylesheet and look, but couldn’t find anything within the page. I then assumed that since other copyright information wasn’t provided that abrogated my ‘borrowing’ of the look, it was fine to go ahead.

According to the license they have I must attribute this design to them (done), not use it in a commercial work (done), and not build upon or derive any work from it. This latter part is tricky because what does ‘build upon’ and ‘derive’ mean in the context of a style sheet? I assumed it means use the original stylesheet settings, which I have done — actually copying the original from Corante. Now whether me creating a new theme on the Corante stylesheet is ‘building upon’ the site’s look is a different story.

In the end I decided that I wasn’t building upon so much as redistributing the look, very similar to copying text from the site and republishing it in various weblogs. In this regard, then, I feel I am complying with the letter of the law. As for complying with the spirit of the law–hard to say: I’m not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and only have my judgment to go by in interpreting the license.

I will admit, though, that this was a lesson to me in the uses of CC licenses and how they are attached to specific items. Right now, most CC licenses are just plunked into a web page without any regard to precision–which, considering the nature of a CC license, always stuck me as a little odd.

My own use of CC licenses is much more restrictive. For instance, I add CC licenses for each specific component of the page I want to license, whether it is an image or the text of a post. Since I have full support for complex rich metadata in my weblogging tool, and don’t have to worry about adding multiple blocks of RDF/XML to my web pages, I can add as many license blocks as I want for each. To make it simple to discover the CC licensed objects, I even provide an alternative view of my metadata, called My World of Freebies that lists out the items per entry that are licensed.

Instead of RDF, I could have used microformats, and just added a “rel” tag pointing to the license to each item (image or text block)–this is what the Creative Commons folks are suggesting. However, without understanding what “rel” means in this context (after all, we have seen the “rel” attribute used for “nofollow”, as well as “tag” for Technorati tags) and ensuring that we all share a consistent understanding of how it is used, it’s use is still very imprecise.

I had planned on calling the new theme “Corante”, but decided that a better name would be the “Copyright Theme”. My thanks to Corante, though, for giving it to me.

screenshot of the Corante theme.

(By the way, I’m taking recommendations for Industry News and Industry Insiders.)

Copyright RDF

The little CC license that could, or when technology is all busted up

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Phil Ringnalda points to the new Yahoo Creative Commons search engine and notices that because the engine is relying purely on links to CC licenses to pull out content that is supposedly licensed as CC, there is going to be a lot of confusion related to what is, or is not, CC licensed.

An issue with CC has always been how to attach CC license information in such a way that automated processes could work with it. The solution has been to use RDF/XML embedded within HTML comments to indicate what is licensed on the page. However, this is kludgy and doesn’t validate within XHTML and people are dropping it, and just including the link to the specific license. More, even if they include the RDF/XML they do so in such a way that it looks like everything in the page is under the specific license–HTML, writing, CSS, photos, whatever.

In other words, they take the rich possibilities inherent with using RDF, and dumb it down until it’s equivalent to the link.

Phil then pointed out that Yahoo releasing this search that just looks for links to the license in a document, and doing so without any legal disclaimers, warnings, or asides, is about the same as somebody accidentally putting a GPL license on the next version of Windows. In other words: it’s a a really dumb move:

But if I was the Yahoo! lawyer who vetted their Creative Commons search, and let it loose without any disclaimer that “Yahoo! makes no assertion about what, if any, content in these results is actually offered under a Creative Commons license” I’d be hanging my head in shame.

To make matters worse, in the associated FAQ for the new search is the following:

This search engine helps you quickly find those authors and the work they have marked as free to use with only “some rights reserved.” If you respect the rights they have reserved (which will be clearly marked, as you’ll see) then you can use the work without having to contact them and ask. In some cases, you may even find work in the public domain — that is, free for any use with “no rights reserved.”

Yup. I think this is a case for the new Corante legal weblog.

I tried the search with my weblog’s name, and found one interesting result: the bbintroducingtagback tagback in Technorati. It seems that Technorati has linked to one of the CC licenses that allows non-commercial use. But used in the way it is, it implies that all the material in the page is licensed this way. Wait a second, though: that’s my photo in the page, pulled in from Technorati via flickr. I don’t license my work as CC–it’s still too damn vague a licensing, usually applied badly (as we’re seeing now).

(Marius, what do you think about that? And this picture is still too cute for words.)

Phil calls this accidentally by link association form of CC licensing, viral and viral it is, indeed; through bad implementations of a vague license, I may, by allowing my photo to be copied (while holding all rights), have lost rights to that photo by implication and effect. At a minimum. who holds the copyright on the photo has been lost when it filters through both the Technorati tag and the search engine results.

I’ve been in a discussion about the CC license and the issue of how to record more specific information with Mike Linksvayer (who is on the staff at cc) at Practical RDF. I brought up the issue of lack of precision in the licensing and Mike mentioned that one approach CC is looking at is to use, again, the ‘rel’ attribute as a way of marking metadata. But this can only go so far — it’s really not much more than just linking to the license and assuming this implies usage.

(And, frankly, our use of ‘rel’ is becoming a bit of a stretch–we’re trying to stuff all the meaning in the internet in one little bitty attribute.)

The approach I’m using for complex metadata (which is what CC is) in Wordform is to generate a separate RDF/XML feed that explicitly states which element is licensed, which isn’t within a page, and exactly how the licensed element can be used (among other metadata). I link to this page through a LINK element in the header, as many of you do with auto-discovery of feeds right now. However, Mike’s response to this was:

A separate RDF file is a nonstarter for CC. After selecting a license a user gets a block of HTML to put in their web page. That block happens to include RDF (unfortunately embedded in comments). Users don’t have to know or think about metadata. If we need to explain to them that you need to create a separate file, link to it in the head of the document, and by the way the separate file needs to contain an explicit URI in rdf:about … forget about it.

But if we don’t explain to people how all this works, and provide a way for folks to be more precise, problems like the Yahoo CC search and the Technorati tag page are going to continue. By ‘protecting’ people from the technology, we are, in effect, doing more to harm them then help them.

What we should be doing is providing the tools to allow people to use rich metadata, richly; not make assumptions that “people can’t deal with it” and then dumb it down accordingly. We should be helping people understand how to use something like the CC license wisely and effectively–using clear, non-technical language to explain how all the bits work–not depend on technology to somehow ‘guess’ what a person wants and act accordingly.

Because as we’ve seen, technology almost invariably guesses wrong.