What Contracts Can't Do: The Limits of Private Ordering in Facilitating a Creative Commons
67 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2005
Creative Commons is a non-profit U.S. based organization that operates a licensing platform to promote free use of creative works. The idea is to facilitate the release of creative works under generous license terms that would make works available for sharing and reuse. Creative Commons advocates the use of copyrights in a rather subversive way that would ultimately change their meaning.
The paper expresses a skeptical view of this worthy pursuit. While I share Creative Commons' concern with copyright fundamentalism, which inevitably leads to the propertization of everything of value, I am more skeptical of its strategy. The paper explores the legal strategy of Creative Commons and analyzes its potential for enhancing the sharing, distribution and (re)use of creative works.
Creative Commons as a social movement creates a platform for a wide range of ideologies that share an interest in enhancing access to works. This turns out to be a great advantage for a social movement that is seeking to gain a wider public support. Creative Commons' legal strategy reflects the lowest common denominator: empowering owners to govern their creative works. At the same time, however, Creative Commons lacks a comprehensive vision of the information society and a shared definition of the prerequisites for open access to creative works. The end result is ideological fuzziness.
The paper examines the strategic choice of Creative Commons to rely on property rights in its effort to subvert the meaning of copyright. The analysis shows that reliance on property rights, in the absence of a shared sense of free access, may simply strengthen the proprietary regime in creative works. It may reinforce the property discourse as a conceptual framework and as a regulatory scheme for governing the use of information.
The fuzziness of ideology may further lead to the proliferation of contracts. Creative Commons' strategy presupposes that minimizing external information costs is critical for enhancing access to creative works. The lack of standardization increases, however, the cost of accessing creative works, and may further enhance the chilling effect of copyright law.
The paper argues that creating an alternative to copyright may require standardization. To become successful, Creative Commons would have to trade the sovereignty of owners for the reduction of transaction cost that would enhance access to creative works.
Keywords: Creative commons, contracts, private ordering, intellectual property, copyright
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