Independent authors just wanting a little respect... from fellow creators and collective societies

(Also carried by p2pnet. Christopher Moore offered a followup BLOG reply, indicating he edited the article I was replying to.)

Following the meeting with John Degen, and his support for the idea that we have respect for the interests of fellow creators, I want to try to comment on some things said Christopher Moore on the Creators Copyright Coalition BLOG. There are two themes: unhelpful redefinitions of words, and misunderstandings about the objections some people have about collective societies.

The unhelpful redefinition of "copyleft"

The term copyleft has existed for over two decades, and was first defined by the Free Software foundation as follows:

Copyleft is a general method for making a program or other work free, and requiring all modified and extended versions of the program to be free as well.

What is Copyleft, Free Software Foundation

The idea is simple: the current work is under a royalty-free license which allows for derivative works under the condition that these derivatives are under the same (or compatible) license arrangement. "Copyleft" is no more "anti-copyright" than charging royalties (monopoly rents) is, given that the difference is not in whether there is an expectation of material reward from use of the work but what the currency is. With royalty-bearing licenses the reward is in dollars, while with copyleft licenses the reward is in royalty-free access to derivative works. Both the royalty and the copyleft requirement for "payment" expire at the end of the term of copyright, where derivative works no longer require a reward to the copyright holder.

When the Creative Commons movement recently started they did not use the term "copyleft", but instead used the phrase "Share Alike" which they felt was easier to understand.

There has unfortunately been groups trying to redefine the term. An example are people who could be called "copyright anarchists" or "copyright minimalists" who believe that if too much copyright harms creativity, then we should have no copyright at all. They have tried to redefine the term "copyleft" to mean the opposite of "copyright", or some movement to abolish copyright. In my experience this does not represent a significantly large community.

This incorrect and in some ways abusive redefinition of the term has been adopted by various Creators Copyright Coalition members. You can see this in a paper Susan Crean and Virginia Jones, you can see it in the initial postings by John Degen, and you can see it in the postings by Christopher Moore.

The members of the Creators Copyright Coalition do not like it when people lump them with certain incumbent industry associations (CRIA, CMPDA, CAAST), and do not like to be called "Copyright Maximalists, Copyright warriors, or dinosaurs" (phrase taken from Susan and Virginia's paper). By the same token, redefining the term "copyleft" to refer to anyone who has a differing point of view, and to suggest that anyone who disagrees wants to abolish copyright is equally insulting and incorrect.

It would help relations within the broader creator community if this abusive language was discontinued, or that there was at least an acknowledgement that this is a derogatory term being levelled at fellow creators. If Chris doesn't want to be called a "money grubbing attacker of human rights" (a quite valid comment on the actions of Sony-BMG during the RootKit scandal, an organization often incorrectly seen to "represent" that side of the debate), then he should refrain from calling people like me a "copyleftists" using this redefinition of the word.

Misunderstanding objections of collective societies

It is important to recognize that not all "licensing" models proposed by collective societies are the same. In the meeting with John I tried to define a scale with the full freedom of choice of authors and our customers respected at one end, and the removal of freedom of choice on the other.


  • Per use Voluntary licensing: This would be a situation where a collective would administer certain uses of a work. For instance, an author might want to have some of their works included in negotiations with educators and government, but not for private citizens or the private sector where they use a different licensing model.

This appears to be what Chris is talking about in his letter where people could use Creative Commons licenses for some uses of a work, collective licensing for other uses, and possibly other licensing models for other uses. This form of voluntary collective licensing maximizes the freedom of choice, and is not in any way controversial.

  • Per work voluntary licensing: A work would be licensed by a collective for whatever uses someone might put the work to, but other works by the same author are not automatically included in the repertoire of works. The author can then use different business models for different works, unfortunately being forced to not use the collective if they wish to mix-and-match licensing models for a given work.
  • Per author voluntary licensing: This is where the controversy starts to come in as real choice is being removed from the author. An example of this would be collective licensing for music in Europe where the material rights in copyright is effectively handed over to the collective. It is not possible to mix-and-match collectives and other licensing models such as Creative Commons, and an author is forced into a choice: either they join a collective or they offer other licenses, but can never received the benefits of both.
  • Non-voluntary Extended licensing: This is the highly controversial form of licensing proposed by Access Copyright for the educational sector's use of the Internet. If a collective is able to successfully claim at the Copyright Board that they represent a substantial repertoire of works, they are then allowed to collect royalties "on behalf of" all authors in a category of works (IE: they can "extend" their repertoire by including the works of non-members).
  • Due to the asymmetric influence that collectives have over intervenors at the Copyright Board, it is likely that a collective would be able to claim that they have a substantial repertoire when unbiased analysis would disagree. The same is true when setting the rates, where authors who object to their works being included do not have the resources to indicate this to the Copyright Board.

    The authors are left with a take it or leave it situation: they either accept whatever handout the statistical methods used by the collective offer them, or they are offered nothing. Authors do not have the option to explore their own business models as their customers have effectively "already paid for" their work through the extended license. In my case my business model is no longer possible in a category of work that has a non-voluntary license, as I can not motivate an organization to pay the "up front lump sum" if they are already paying a collective for follow-on uses of works, or that the fees they they pay would not be reduced by using these alternative models.

  • Non-voluntary statutory licensing: This is similar to an extended license, only there is no requirement to prove that they have a substantial repertoire. An example of such a regime was the creation of the Canadian Private Copying Collective.
  • In Chris's letter he suggested that people have problems with the voluntary collective licensing systems, which is simply not the case. Where the freedom to choose is respected for both the author and their potential customers, there is no controversy. Where the controversy exists, and why many authors are so strongly opposed to the Access Copyright proposal in relation to "Educational use of the Internet" is because it is a non-voluntary system that disrespects both the vast majority of authors who publish on the Internet, as well as our audiences and customers.

    Where money is legitimately due to an author, a voluntary collective society is an appropriate way to simplify the administrative task of collecting royalties. Where an author wishes to use alternative business models (such as the model I use, which is charge once for material that is then released royalty-free under a public license), that choice should be respected. Respect for the choices of authors necessitates a rejection of non-voluntary licensing systems.

    All we are asking for is a little bit of respect, the same thing that the authors from the Creators Copyright Coalition are asking for.