Content, Creation, Consumerism, and Control

It seems lately there are a good many pundits out there who want to define how content creators should license their content.  They even go as far as defining what license should be used and what format it should take.

This commentary brings up some interesting questions about creation and consumption of digital works, because at the heart of all of these discussions are assumptions that are broadly made about control and ownership of such works.

What we find particularly interesting is that what these pundits really want is to assert control over other people’s property, and to do it in a particularly insidious way…by asserting their wants and desires over creative work without actually consulting the people who are the creators.

Creative people create like other people breathe – it is that natural a part of their being.  Their creations are an extension of their selves, a bit of their creative heart’s blood that they have made whole and real in a sharable and often tangible way.  Many of us define ourselves by the work we do.  Our work is so often a deep part of ourselves that we find it tremendously troubling to see non-creatives attempt to define and restrain our work, often in a way we ourselves have not and would not agree with.

Because our work so often is an extension of ourselves, we see it as an aggressive form of enslavement and marginalization of content creators to be told by non-creatives how our work should be managed, a level of control which these same pundits would never accept themselves from an outside community. Obviously if a creative is performing work for hire, then the person doing the hiring can in fact stipulate control, but we are referring primarily to the many talented freelance creatives out there who work primarily for themselves.

Creatives are being told, de facto, that we must license content the way ‘they’ want, or ‘we will fail and be bypassed.’ However, so far the actual facts  of content licensing do not reflect this at all.

We at Fashion Research Institute have been watching the swirl but thus far have refrained from commenting.  We think it is important to state on the record that we fully support content creators and their right to license their content in whatever way makes sense to them.  If (and this is a very big if) they wish to license their work using any of the many public and standard licensing agreements available, then they should have the right to do so.  Likewise, if they wish to license their work under any other license, then they should have the right to do so.

Having said this, we think the market itself will speak as content and licensing evolves.  If consumers balk at the license terms any given content creator offers, they can opt to not license with that creator.  What we think is more likely to happen is that content licensing will bifurcate, with creators who make mediocre content being pleased to offer their content with fairly nonrestrictive terms, operating under the assumption that ‘getting their name out there’ is a sound business decision.  Alternately, content creators who provide superior, premium content that is in demand by the marketplace will also be able to define their own license, which may prove to have more restrictive terms but which will still be gladly accepted by a different segment of the marketplace.

We have already seen these assumptions playing out in our own practice.  Fashion Research Institute has its own licenses, and we provide content that ranges from quality retail content to superior, premium certified content.  Consumers who want to know that the content they are being provided has provenance and pedigree, and can be certified, are willing to accept the more restrictive license in return for the security they receive in knowing that the content they are receiving is not laundered or pirated, which gives the consumer an additional layer of legal reassurance. Retail consumers, who do not need the layer of protection provided by the certification process, are generally content with our less restrictive retail license. Other consumers decline our license and take their chances with content creators who are willing to license and price their work according to their own process methodology.

As the industry evolves, the marketplace will shake out into something similar to the animal husbandry marketplace, where pedigreed, pure-bred animals cost more than adoptive animals.  The pure-bred costs more because its provenance can be traced and the purchaser has a pretty good idea what the animal will look like and how it should behave.  Likely the adoptive animal may cost nothing to very little because purchasers get no certificate of assurance about what Fluffy or Fido is going to become or how it will behave. In the same way, premium content will be handled differently than non-premium content because premium content costs more to produce and manage and it will be licensed differently.

2 thoughts on “Content, Creation, Consumerism, and Control

  1. Troy,
    You are absolutely right that creators just grab any old license and try to re-purpose it because they have a sense they ‘need something’. In our years of working with content creators, what we have found is they are very nervous and worried about how things are changing and how to best protect their work. But what often hobbles them is that so many content creators find the actual process of reading pages upon pages of dense legal language is simply too overwhelming, and they give up and opt for an off-the-shelf answer.

    Unfortunately, in this case, off-the-rack doesn’t mean ready-to-wear (a little apparel insider joke there). It was this issue that started us working on this whole question of licensing, legal considerations, DRM, and content management.

    We are working on the legal primer as well as legal templates which content creators can use, free of charge, as a starting point. We had planned to publish these in October, but the review cycle highlighted some areas that needed additional work. The simple truth is that like anything off-the-rack, the templates will only go so far and shouldn’t be regarded as a replacement for solid legal counsel. We’re hoping we can extend how far they go and make that last critical gap much smaller, and hence easier for creators and consumers.

  2. Most creators aren’t able to write a proper license (assuming they know they want one), and hiring an intellectual property lawyer to write a license is too expensive.

    Free, off-the-shelf licenses like the GPL, GFDL, and the various Creative Commons licenses are often not what the creator wants either. Sometimes I get the sense creators are using those licenses just because they don’t know any better.

    Typically what happens is creators don’t write a license at all, and the marketplace where they sell their works might impose some de facto licenses (without them realizing it). It’s pretty crazy.

    What’s really needed is something in between, a marketplace where creators can get licenses that meet their needs at a reasonable cost. Either that or a set of free licenses (or license templates) that target common buyer-seller relationships.

    In any case, I’m glad the FRI is working on this!

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