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Danny O’Brien on Copying and Attribution in a Digital Age


Cory Doctorow points us to a great post by EFF’s International Outreach Coordinator Danny O’Brien (NOTE: O’Brien didn’t write the article on behalf of EFF, rather on his own time on a personal blog) on the cultural difference between ‘attribution’ and ‘copying’ on the Internet. O’Brien makes the astute point that while copying is relatively uncontroversial to most web-users, lack of proper attribution is widely considered web-sacrilege. Doctorow accurately relates O’Brien’s argument to our original CC-licences, which had the ability for users to pass over the Attribution clause. We did away with that choice in version 2.0, as 97%-98% of users were choosing to use licenses that included our BY clause. From O’Brien’s piece “Copyright, Fraud and Window Taxes (No, not that Windows)“:

In a digital world, many people don’t see the act of copying as a particularly momentous or profitable event. Copying isn’t what we do as an act of purchasing; copying is a thing we do to our valuable artifacts. People are scandalised when its suggested that you should pay for a copy copied to backup drives, or iPods; they’re amazed when vested interests demand that cached copies or transitory files should count as extra purchases. Copying is no longer a good proxy for incoming revenue; which means it is no longer a good place to extract remuneration […] Nowadays, copying isn’t always the core part of remunerative creative business. But accurate accreditation very much is.

Of course we have our Public Domain Declaration for anyone who wishes to give a work directly to the commons without wanting attribution. This aside, O’Brien’s piece is a salient observation on the cultural language of the web – as the CC community has shown, many are ready to give their content away more freely but not without the cultural currency of proper accreditation. For more reading, head to the comments section at the BB post for a good discussion of how O’Brien’s argument functions in regards to proper attribution and ‘moral rights‘.

(UPDATED 8/11/08)

Posted 08 August 2008