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The ‘Kodak Moment’


Lessig launches UK Creative Commons

“LARRY “dear, *dear* Larry” LESSIG” (to copy NTK�s intro to the same event in their Friday newsletter and express my personal admiration that I’ve harboured ever since I read Code) was at UCL today to announce the launch of the UK Creative Commons together with Damian Tambini who coordinates the UK branch of the project.

Lessig started his talk by comparing Louis Daguerre’s complicated and expensive Daguerrotype technology from 1839 with the much simpler and inexpensive Kodak version of 50 years later. The latter also benefited from a court judgement that answered the question whether we need permission to take someone’s photo with a clear ‘no’. That was the moment the market took off; i.e. that particular combination of simplicity, affordability and the freedom to create.

According to Lessig, we are at a similar “Kodak-moment” today as far as digital technology, cultural production and copyright legislation are concerned.


The process of taking culture and re-expressing it is essentially free, there is no law to regulate the creative process. And this process has been with us for as long as we care to remember because creativity always builds on the past. What is different though is that digital technology has made it tremendously easy to copy, paste and remix and it has created new social and cultural forms that dissolve the separation between producer and consumer (blogs being one of them).

So what is the problem? The problem with remix technology is that it is essentially illegal because of outdated copyright legislation that enforces a rigidity which stems from a time when there were huge expensive printing presses and centralised production processes instead of personal computers that put the means of production in the hands of the many (at least this side of the digital divide).

Weapons of mass destruction

Jack Valenti (retired chairman of the US Motion Picture Association and one of Lessig’s favourite enemies as it were) famously declared war on peer-to-peer digital copies by lobbying long and hard for the ill-conceived DMCA thus criminalising every kid that shares a copy of their favourite song with a friend.

Lessig compared these efforts to using DDT to kill a gnat without considering the environmental consequences since the weapons that are being produced to control content will essentially kill the remix culture. Combining this aspect with the fact that only about 2% of copyrighted material in the US has continuing commercial value, these efforts seem all the more paranoid.

However, this is not just a US problem; the European Union Copyright Directive is no better than the DMCA and it is not only cultural forms such as music or film that are being targeted. Concepts such as ‘trusted computers’, DMCA and EUCD are trying to insert control at a subtle technological level that, at least to my mind, also poses a threat to the concept of knowledge sharing as such and the related idea of the ‘gift economy’. At the very least, these efforts could help to slow down cultural change if they remain unanswered by the (creative) community.

Finding a way to wage peace

is what Lessig and the Creative Commons project have set out to do by finding both a way to protect a creators copyright but also make remix possible which “can be very easy when you skip the intermediaries” [the lawyers]. Essentially, it's about making the law friendly to the practice rather than using the law to fight the practice.

Coinciding with the BBC's Creative Archive launch scheduled for later this year which will enable members of the public to access and re-use a large part of the video and audio material contained therein, the UK Creative Commons will help creators to self-publish and protect their intellectual property without the (costly) assistance of lawyers.

UK licences will be available from November 1. Go create.

For more info see/contact:

Ian Brown provided the following links and information in an email sent to attendees of the above event on October 8
Thanks to Mark Simpkins, we have the audio of the presentation at: (80MB
To discuss the UK licences, you can join the cc-uk mailing list
The UK project pages are at: Wyatt MP asked me to point out that the All-Party Internet Group, whichhe chairs, is holding a meeting on copyright and Digital Rights Management nextmonth. The agenda is not quite yet finalised, but keep an eye on where it will be published. The event will take placeon 29 November at the National Liberal Club, 1 Whitehall Place, from 2pm until6pm.

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