Is Creative Commons the future of copyright?

smallcover2I listened to a fascinating discussion on In Business on Radio 4 recently with Professor James Boyle of Duke Law School.

Professor Boyle is the co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, and Chairman of the Board of Creative Commons, which is working to facilitate the free availability of art, scholarship, and cultural materials by developing innovative, machine-readable licenses that individuals and institutions can attach to their work.

Although not arguing for the end of all traditional forms of copyright. For instance the intellectual property within movies will still need to be protected in order to recover the significant cost of production. However, he argues for a much more flexible approach to use of creative output.

In this spirit he has ‘published’ his latest book The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind both in hard copy and as a free download under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike License.

Professor Boyle explains his reasons for taking this approach by indicating that the free publicity gained will lead to more sales than those lost to free downloads.

“Why am I allowing you to copy the book for free?  And why is Yale University Press letting me?   To understand why I am doing it, watch this video by Jesse Dylan.  And if you want to  understand why it  makes economic sense to my publisher, read this short article.”

This may seem like a risky or foolish approach to those with a traditional view of Intellectual Property, but there is growing evidence of its success. The latest high profile example is from heavy metal band Nine Inch Nails, who’s Creative Commons licensed Ghosts I-IV was ranked the best selling MP3 album of 2008 on Amazon’s MP3 store.

In other words, a music album that can be legally downloaded and distributed over the Internet for free, has sold more than any others for $5 each, and earned over $1.6 million in revenue for NIN in its first week.

This is all makes fascinating reading given my participation in the next Real Time Club event, Intellectual Property:  Success Story To Be Extended? Just Desserts or Global Gridlock? on 27 January at the National Liberal Club in London.

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