Friday, September 23, 2011

Writer has Problem with Creative Commons License...

...people actually use the license!!

Marco Arment  writes: “Business Insider’s mass replication of my writing is the only downside that has ever made me reconsider my Creative Commons license.”

Apparently, Arment doesn't get, or didn't get, that the entire idea behind the Creative Commons license is that you are removing all restrictions on republication. Many people jumped on this bandwagon, not really understanding it.

Arment is, now, really saying, "I give unlimited rights to my work, but I am reexamining this because people are actually taking me up on my offer."

The Creative Commons license is actually a very powerful marketing tool that should be handled with care. It works in some cases, but Arment clearly sees that it may not make sense in all cases.

Organizations regularly contact me for permission to run various EPJ posts. I grant permission based on a case-by-case basis depending upon whether I expect the running of the posts will be a net positive or net negative for EPJ. I end up granting permission roughly 50% of the time.

For example, if I have original content in a post of the type where it will drive a lot of google searches to my post, why would I grant permission to someone else to reproduce the post, which will only reduce the number of searches directed to EPJ and instead direct some of the traffic to the web site that has simply reproduced my post?

On the other hand, if a post is not likely to attract a lot of google searches, it may make sense for me to allow it to be posted on another site, since it won't be diluting my traffic but it will bring EPJ to the attention of  potentially new readers.

Someone who doesn't understand the interplay between granting license and holding it back, and when it makes sense to grant permission and when it doesn't, is really playing an inefficient game. The grant of Creative Commons is really saying your work is my work and someone like the savvy Henry Blodget will know how to exploit that.

It's not by accident that Blodget has been able to raise $7 million in a venture capital round and Arment is probably working off a laptop.


  1. What do you do when someone reproduces your work without permission?

  2. RW,

    What is your take on IP?

  3. I, too, would like to hear your take on IP, RW.

  4. Who gives you the power to grant or not grant a license to somebody else?

  5. I think this is a division of labor thing. Business Insider is built to do exactly what it does. Arment is built only to create a specific type of content.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I get the impression that you are saying CC is a bad thing because Arment isn't receiving the amount of traffic as Business Insider.

    That somehow he is small time because he gave the widest possible license. Arment isn't working off a laptop because he's attached an almost unlimited CC to his stuff, he's working off his laptop because he doesn't know how to package and mass market for a wider audience like Business Insider does.

    Whatever problems exist with CC, it's not like an anti-CC approach isn't without it's own problems.

  6. @geoih Who gives you the power to own physical property?

    The thing that has always struck me about the anti-IP crowd is that their arguments are almost identical to a my socialist friend's arguments against ownership of real property.

    Property rights are a human construct that allow us to peacefully interact with each other. Almost every argument against IP can be used against tangible property -- and socialists do use those arguments.

  7. @anon 3:11 - Property rights are recognized by everyone because of scarcity. Because land is scarce, it must be "rationed" in some way. Property is a necessity to every society, given that resources (land) is scarce. No social system functions without some recognition of property, not even socialism.

    IP is not scarce. Someone who whistles a tune within my earshot, can still enjoy that tune if I choose to whistle it as well. My use of the idea does not prohibit another from using it. Ideas cannot be property in the only sense which matters: apportioning a scarce resource to reduce conflict.

    For more on this, try Kinsella's Against Intellectual Property:

  8. As a CC-Attribution artist I say replicate away my friends! That's the whole point.

  9. @wobbles: If I walk onto your property while you're not around and enjoy your back yard, I haven't deprived you of the use of your yard. We still recognize that as a violation of your property rights.

    IP comes from the creativity of people. That is absolutely a scarce resource. The idea that people will generally continue to work for years creating something that they can't control or own is ridiculous.

    But beyond that, saying that scarcity is somehow a magical factor that creates property rights is absurd. Property rights are recognized by convention. They are axiomatic constructs. If I don't recognize your right to property, I will just use it. You may try to stop me, and the winner will be the guy who is bigger, a better fighter, or a better shot. There is no magical quantum-mechanical or deity-based attribute for matter that grants it binding of a property-right.

    My socialist friend argues just that. Somehow, he believes he is granted joint ownership of the entire universe just based upon his existence and your (or my) assertion of property rights is a use of force against him.

  10. "If I walk onto your property while you're not around and enjoy your back yard, I haven't deprived you of the use of your yard."

    Yes, actually you have, since the yard is a finite space and has with it an expectation of security, and if it's fenced, a level of privacy. An idea isn't like that. If you are putting your idea out into the world, it's because you want people to consume it. I don't advertise my yard and expect people to come and enjoy it like I do.

    "IP comes from the creativity of people. That is absolutely a scarce resource"

    I disagree creativity is scarce. Creativity is rampant. Even with all our problems, modern civilization is a testament to that. And it's because creativity is everywhere, that why it's important that if someone comes up with a great idea, it's copied. Because someone will take it and inject their own ideas. And on and on. In fact, in places where the concept of imaginary property is weak or non-existent, there is actually more creativity.

    "The idea that people will generally continue to work for years creating something that they can't control or own is ridiculous."

    They can control a piece of physical property all they want, but if they want to control an idea? That is a bridge too far. Because again were talking about intangible, infinitely reproducable things. And countless people did it in the past. Knowledge of geometry, metal-working, chemistry, tanning, carpentry, cooking, warfare, language, mathematics grew and spread because it was copied, altered, copied again, altered again, combined with something else, etc. The wide breadth of human wealth and knowledge came about because people copied what came before.

    Saying that the argument for a system that is anti-imaginary property is socialistic, is false. Again, because of the combined nature of the infinite reproducibility of copies and the lack of tangibility. Property rights definitely exist in physical property, but not in ideas.

    If the usual philosophic arguments are not convincing to you, so be it. But how about an positivistic empirical approach?

    Below is the free online version of Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine's Against Intellectual Monopoly, which is the most exhaustive historical and empirical case study of the effects of idea monopolies.

    Or see the most recent study showing that idea monopoly laws cost the US economy half trillion dollars of 20 years.

    A world without imaginary property isn't a perfect world at all, but it appears to be a better one.

  11. Anon@143PM-

    Good job! A rational "knowledge tree" (wherein each creator is given a nominal sum by people that improve upon an original idea) would be far better than the current IP regime.