Today The Seattle Star turns eight years old. While some people are using the New Year’s holiday to contemplate what they looked like ten years ago, I am instead focused on the future.
Last year my thoughts were about the re-opening of the public domain in the United States, and about the idea of the commons in general here. And we held good to our words. We held more events celebrating the commons (though never enough), increased our coverage on the subject, and rebooted our Thing of the Week to bring you art and science and literature that celebrate openness. I am proud of those accomplishments. But we still need more.
When I attended the Creative Commons Summit in Lisbon last May, I was rather taken aback by how very academic most of the sessions were. My thoughts on that summit are detailed here, but my takeaway was simple: the commons and the people are largely out of touch with each other, and the artists who should be bridging that gap are far too silent.
As I sit here now, looking at my tickets to the next summit in Lisbon, my opinion remains the same. But my mind has turned to focus more sharply on a specific aspect: bad faith.
One thing I’ve noticed much of over the past years is how people start out excited by Creative Commons and free/libre/open source software, then simply give up on it. For something as fragile as the commons movement, such surrender weakens everything from within.
In fact, I’ve been considering presenting a talk on this very subject, “Why Artists Give Up on the Commons.” The big names on my sheet are Nine Inch Nails and Bosques de mi Mente, but there are plenty of others. The Flickr/IBM brouhaha is part of this, too. If the Commons can’t retain the trust of its artists, reaching the laity becomes an exponentially more difficult task. Yet no one has really investigated why this happens.
Too, there hasn’t been nearly enough talk about how much Creative Commons and other openly-licensed work gets absorbed and locked away by people who do not share in return. To these people, the Commons is merely something to raid, not to feed, fertilize, or maintain.
We still need to make the commons more accessible, too. Before 1978, “commons” was the default here in the USA. The monstrous industry known as copyright had to be entered into willingly. Amateurs simply ignored it as irrelevant. Now there are far more amateurs than ever creating work, yet copyright is the default. In fact, it’s more than the default: it is the sine qua non. One cannot create without it, despite what Mike Masnick and Steve Kurtz tell you. There needs to be a movement to restore the commons as the default.
Meanwhile, for my own part, I plan on expanding The Star‘s activities this year. I’ve been talking with some similarly-minded people over the past couple months, and I think it’s possible to create that annual or quarterly celebration of the commons that I wrote about last year. Ideally it will loop in things like Netlabel Day, Public Domain Day, and similar celebrations, and draw upon communities CC-Create, Flickr, FMA, Bandcamp, DeviantArt and other groups where sharing artists make their names. I will certainly keep you posted as it takes shape.
Thank you for being here, after all these years. May the next be even better than the best so far.