Thursday, April 14, 2005

Creative Archive Licence, a blow to Creative Commons?

The Creative Archive Licence(CAL) is now online. This is an open licence from the BBC, the BFI, the Open University and Channel 4, and it covers a large amount of works owned by those four institutions which are offered for the purpose of reuse and adaptation, in other words, they empower the mix culture.

CAL is a very nicely drafted licence. It emanated from the fact that the BBC was not able to use Creative Commons licences in order to release their footage because they needed a licence that was jurisdiction specific (or more precisely, jurisdictions specific). I am told that this is because the BBC has a duty to provide content to licence-fee payers, but it actually makes money from international licensing of its archive (yes, I remember seeing Dr. Who in Spanish). Nevertheless, the CAL is heavily influenced by the Creative Commons licences - CC allows their licences to be modified without their consent, but they cannot call themselves "Creative Commons".

The licence allows reuse and remix by letting users copy, share, create derivative works and copy and share them on any platform and in any media. The licence has 5 elements (instead of CC's 4 elements). CAL allows the copy and reuse as long as it is not distributed for commercial purposes, it is distributed under the same licence, the author is credited, there is no endorsement or derogatory treatment, and it is only shared in the UK. These two last elements are the novel ones in CAL, particularly because CC licences are not territorial (but offer choice of law clauses), and this one is very territorial.

What I like particularly about CAL is that it really thinks hard about some elements that Creative Commons does not go into, and this is the pesky problem of non-commercial abuse. This has been eloquently expressed by Bill Thompson, both in his column and in a recent panel meeting in Edinburgh. This is particularly important for public works, which could be abused by using them to promote all sorts of purposes that may go against the public interest. The example is always used of the BNP using works distributed with a CC licence. While I agree that dealing with the moral element is an important advance in open licensing, my concern is that this adds a rather problematic subjective element to the licence because it states that the work cannot be used if it brings the owner's reputation into disrepute. This is clear if the BNP uses my photograph to warn about the swarm of Costa Rican academics invading Britain, but it may not be so clear in other circumstances. What if the owner doesn't have a sense of humour, and the work is used in a comedy setting?

Nevertheless, this is a very good step, and it shows that customisation of licences is the way to go. Trying to get everyone in the creative industries to choose the same licence is like herding cats.

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