Rhea Myers

More New Permission Culture


In my perspective, Creative Commons is not about non-commercial use, but about open culture. I am trying to make Magnatune a good example of how the commons does not exclude commercial use. There needs to be incentives for artists and great people to share, and to use Creative Commons. It seems that CC is now battling to find the balance between what is ‘commercial’ and non-commercial’. But from Larry Lessig‘ book, Free Culture, I reckon that the controversy of ‘commercial versus non-commercial’ use, is actually the battle of ‘permission culture versus open culture’.
John is absolutely right about this, and it is immensely disheartening to see the mistakes that Lessig is currently making.
But Magnatune makes music available noncommercially for free. You have to ask permission to use it commercially. Magnatune therefore excludes commercial use from their ‘commons’, pushing it into a proprietary licence system. This is a permission culture.

If we believe, Lessig-style, that artists need financial incentives to produce work, this permission culture is actually a disincentive.

And there are so many problems with commercial ventures acting as a gatekeeper for permission. What happens in five years time when Magnatune shut down and I cannot get a proprietary licence with the same low overhead any more? What happens if I do not become a Magnatune artist and wish to pass on my freedom (sic) to a third party? What happens in seventy years time when the musicians are dead and my grandchildren wish to use the now orphan works? What happens if I am not a multimillionaire and all those thirty dollar economic permissions will stop me performing my “Endtroducing” or my “Paul’s Boutique”?

The measures being proposed by Lessig are the very ones that killed sampling artistically in the 1990s. Incentivizing “producers” killed production.

Lessig is falling into the trap of trying to reproduce the supply-side
economics of big media. Middlemen need financial incentives. Artists need to make a living. There is an important difference there.

We need a distributed, rights based culture to protect the conversation of
culture when things go wrong. Not a centralized, permission based economy to
incentivize distributors when things are going right.
I have a very different definition of the ‘commons’ actually. The ‘commons’ is
a pool of culture, made available for you to reuse without needing to seek
permission from the original creators, at a reasonable price._

This is an unusual definition of a ‘commons’. Although the “original creators”
cannot refuse artistic permission, the system can refuse economic permission.
This is an economic permission culture rather than an artistic one, but it is
still a permission culture.

I think it is all right to charge the price, as long as the price is not the
barrier to reusing it.

This is one of the foundations of Free Software. But Free Software gives freedom generally to paying users, whereas NC requires extra permission to charge the price that makes the work usable in an economic context (or for the artist to offset their costs).

If the work is NC, permission will always potentially be a barrier to use unless, like Lessig currently, we take a “let them eat cake” view of free culture as an economically inexplicable ghetto of reputational or gift economics.

If we are discussing a free culture or an open society, Lessig’s New Permission
Culture simply doesn’t fit. It is harder to get people to use street performer
protocol or whatever than to get them to add a cashback link to their NC work
that no-one will ever use and that won’t work when they change hosts. But we
need to do the hard work of freedom rather than look for easy technological
fixes and close approximations.