The digital world enables us to share and interact with everything. Many new tools, however, challenges the concept of privacy and intellectual property rights. About this subject, Masaaki Hasegawa, student of IE’s Master in Visual Media Communication interviewed Mr. Dominick Chen, executive board member of Creative Commons, in Japan. The company he leads is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools.
M. Could you imagine your current job when you were a graduate student?
D. I was already member of the board of Creative Commons Japan when I was in the master course at University of Tokyo, so there isn’t much difference since then.
M. How did you get interested in Creative Commons?
D. Back in 2002, I was an undergraduate student at UCLA, in the Design/Media Arts department. At that time I was very much intrigued by the new possibilities of the Internet, especially its ability to expand ways of collaboration between different artists and creators. But at the same time I learned about the restriction imposed by the current legal system of the copyright, and the Napster case was becoming a big social issue in the US. Then, one day, I discovered the Creative Commons movement was trying to dissolve this antagonism between the new and old, and I started participating in late 2003.
M. The original concept of copyright should be to protect creators from exploitation. However, it seems that copyright is centralized into the huge corporations and they use it as a means of exploitation. How do you think about the gap between the philosophy behind the copyright and the real world?
D. In my opinion, the very core of the foundation of copyright is to bring balance between the benefits of individual creators and that of the culture. In this sense, I believe the idea behind the initial British copyright in early 18th century was righteous, as it restricted the protection period of copyright to 14 years after publishing. But as we all know, the dynamics of capitalist economy allowed corporate to continuously expand this period until now (70 years after the death of the author). This evolution might be justified in the pre-networked society, where physical costs of reproducing and distributing the works were critical. But nowadays, in a networked world, the reality has been shifting drastically, since the communication cost of works is asymptotically diminishing to zero. This is a disruptive change, and this is why we need to update the real world rules of copyright based on its initial philosophy.
M. It seems that understanding of concept and philosophy is important to share the idea of copyright and creative commons. Do you think education system also take an important role to build up the culture?
D. “Education” is also in its way of redefinition. If you mean teaching in traditional education institutions such as universities, I think the education system needs to be updated to match the reality of the Internet. The best way to understand the concept and philosophy of Creative Commons is to practice open contents publishing and sharing, just like the best way of learning computer science is to actually build software and sometime start up your own venture company to disseminate your application in the real world market. Many questions arise from this point of view: who is eligible to teach such practice in universities? what sort of curriculum we could come up with?
M. The idea of Creative Commons would be a solution to a gap of development between the digital environment and the copyright? Or Creative Commons leads the economy to a totally different direction?
D. Creative Commons is a solution to mediate the clash between the old copyright system and the innovative force of the Internet. But I think it is also a social experiment that tries to fill the gap between many different boundaries: copyright-protected works and public domain, amateurs and professionals, private and public, market and non-market. I believe what we are seeing today is a new type of economy that is flourishing form these bridged regions, and we need to pay sufficient attention and care in order to nurture them.
M. The culture and the economy seem resemble to each other. Like excessive government intervention with market impedes the healthy development of economy, it seems that excessive protection of right holders potentially impedes the healthy growth of the creative industry. From this perspective, how do you think about current regulation and law, in the world?
D. I think ‘governance’ is also in its own way of update. For instance the open government initiatives led by the US and UK and followed by many other countries is one instance of this change that is happening. In my opinion, governing a country has similar points to managing an online community; they both need to ‘design serendipity’ like Michael Nielsen says in his book “Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science” , or in other words, incorporate contingency (both positive and negative) into their management process. And another important change is that governance is not a topdown action anymore, as the citizens can more and more directly reflect their thoughts and idea to the policy making processes.
M. When people talk about copyright, they tend to discuss about the monetary profit of the author. Like Richard Stallman mentioned, do you think we need to consider much more about the right of user in order for healthy development of the creative industry?
D. To give freedom to the user of works is not a charity, but a design. Openly publishing works to allow users to freely recreate and redistribute is a form of communication between the author and the users. Works are to be considered resources of communication, and as a result of this communication, both the author and users should benefit in some way or another; we should not place disproportionate weight on one side.
M. People tend to believe that creative commons would cause to lose the potential monetary profit. How do you encounter this kind of consideration?
D. Every time I hear this kind of opinion, I feel sad they only see a shallow aspect of what open licensing is about. One just needs to take a look at the open source economy, mainly that of GNU/Linux operating system; why wouldn’t this be possible in the world of creative contents? Creative Commons does offer licenses that allow commercial use of the work, and it also enables creators to deploy a dual-licensing model (providing the work both for non-commercial use and commercial use under different conditions).
M. Interestingly, the music industry has recently experienced the growth of market though it is still possible to download the music illegally. Would this indicate that what impedes the growth of creative market is not piracy of copyright, but the system of distribution or the vested interests group?
D. I believe that P2P file sharing, despite the fact it’s legal or not, can contribute to the sale of contents, namely music works, in a long term. For instance, a user can discover new musician without paying on illegal networks, and later buy a new album of the same artist on legal market. However, I think detailed quantitative research needs to be developed in order to really understand the correlation between them.
M. As the advent of Spotify and Read Pettie, the concept of owning product seems to alter into that of reaching. How this tendency would effect on the copyright and the Creative Commons in the future?
D. I think there is a shift in what the users/customers are looking for: they don’t necessarily want to ‘own’ the work, but they are looking for ways to ‘access’ it conveniently. We less and less download works, but more and more access them online. There is a general tendency to shift to the ‘cloud’ and ‘mobile’ environment, and its inevitably changing the ways we remix and share works. Regarding this matter, I produced an iOS app in 2009 that lets users stream and remix music fragments and post them online directly (https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/audiovisual-mixer-for-into/id338225050?mt=8 ).
M. When Napster voluntarily shut down its service, users scattered to a variety of services that was decentralization of music service. This caused the music industry to take a long time to change its ecosystem until Spotify appeared.
Do you think centralizing people who would share the concept of Creative Commons is also important to encounter the current issues on copyright and develop the Creative Commons market?
D. Creative Commons is not about centralizing users to one place, it is designed so that works can be put out of any ‘walled garden’ and freely migrate to a multitude of different domains. Spotify and alike are about letting users access to music most conveniently, but I’m interested in how they will enable their own form of remix culture. At the same time, I also think Creative Commons and other open licensing needs technological innovation to track the branching history of such remixes.
M. What is the key-point to disseminate the creative commons in the society?
D. I don’t think there is a magic solution, it’s a time-consuming process. The idea of open contents can be spread out only by innovative application and real world examples that users can actually get interested in. So the key point would be to promote the adoption of CC licenses to as many creators and developers as possible.
M. Please tell me your future vision and ideal about creative commons.
D. I think it’s just as important today to think about how would people use Creative Commons licensed works and provide actual interface, as to disseminate the concept of CC license. This is why I’m personally more focused on building applications that let users express their creativity.