I’ve newly met a number of people at the annual family reunion that is Open Education 2009 (#opened09). And while you’re never supposed to single people out (esp. because doing so means you’re passing over many others), I must admit that meeting Dave Cormier has been one of the highlights of this year’s conference for me.
After the film screening tonight we got to talking… Warning: poor summary of Dave’s thinking coming up here:
Dave finds himself in a quandry – in order to share things with others he first has to claim ownership in order to assert his legal right to share (via an open license). Most of the things we “make” are really amalgams of so much that’s come before, can we even rightly claim ownership? The current system forces us to if we want to share. The fact that so many of us use an open license so readily just shows how subservient we are to the copyright overlords, and perpetuates and strengthens the very system we believe is so horribly broken.
Leigh made some related comments, but didn’t join us for our evening saunter across Van City.
Dave’s quandry got me to thinking… When your country is a signatory to Berne, everything you create is automatically copyrighted to the full extent of the law whether you desire that “protection” or not. That’s the law. Creative Commons acknowledges and accepts the law, and promotes a way of thinking that says, “Ok, you’ve copyrighted my work without my asking, and now I’m going to have to go to the trouble of formally licensing it so I can share it with others.” One person might see CC as a brilliant hack of the copyright / licensing system against itself; I can also appreciate the perspective that says our use of CC simply perpetuates the brokenness without making progress toward an improvement in the system.
But this whole problem is due to Berne. If the government didn’t automatically copyright my works for me – whether I wanted them to or not – I wouldn’t need a CC license. I could just share with people.
Now, in the US CC offers a public domain dedication (which is NOT a license). The dedication is a mechanism for undoing what Berne has done and placing your work back in an uncopyrighted state so that you can share it without the need for licensing agreements, etc. So it occurred to me tonight walking through Vancouver with Dave… if a person can undo Berne on a case by case basis using the CC domain dedication or a similar legal mechanism… couldn’t you do it with respect to all works you create from a certain point in time forward, indefinitely?
In other words, can’t an individual opt out of Berne?
What would a legal instrument that accomplished this opting out look like? Perhaps rejecting the (c) paradigm one work at a time (by CC licensing individual works) isn’t sending a strong enough message to the people who make policy. Perhaps if people rejected the entire paradigm by completely and permanently opting out of Berne someone would notice that we’re highly dissatisfied.
(Note: What would the unintended consequences be of opting out of Berne? Could the instrument that accomplished the opting out be written in such a way that, if a person occasionally decided they wanted copyright protection, they could still choose to receive it (e.g., by registering their work with the Copyright Office)?)