what is the point of the right to redistribute?

Something I’ve never understood about Creative Commons is the emphasis on redistribution rights.

For the most part, CC licenses focus on who can upload a copy of a file. A song under any CC license can by uploaded by anybody whose activity fits within the terms of the license. For example, the Attribution-Sharealike license allows third parties to upload copies without asking permission as long as they give attribution and use the same license on their uploads.

Who needs the right to upload? It’s not something that anybody making work under a CC license even needs to grant, since virtually of them host freely accessible copies on the web. All anybody needs to access these works is to know the URL of the original file.

With files that are already on the web it doesn’t make sense to do filesharing, so there’s no need to permit redistribution. Filesharing is purely a pain in the ass for users, who have to leave the normal browser experience and launch a dedicated piece of software. You could maybe make a case for BitTorrent as a way to spread the bandwidth load, but that relies on a level of popularity which almost no CC works attain. And anyhow, there’s no need for an explicit license to permit BitTorrent as long as the rights holder hosts the seed file, since that would very much imply that BitTorrenting was fine.

The only thing that you really need a Creative Commons license for is the ability to make derivative works, which gives you the ability to do remixes. This is genuinely useful because there is no other way to do it. Without a license to make a derivative work you are up a creek, and making derivative works is a fundamental operation for participation in culture.

8 thoughts on “what is the point of the right to redistribute?

  1. You have to remember that CC licenses were initially developed in 2002 (maybe starting in 2001) and turned on December 2002 — filesharing seemed like a very interesting case, and merely offering permission to only share verbatim works (licenses with a NoDerivs term) must have seemed interesting in that context.

    I agree that distributing verbatim works isn’t that interesting now, and use of licenses that only permit this does not excite me (eg CC BY-NC-ND). However, it still seems like the right to redistribute verbatim works ought to be a baseline right. While Napster politics may be “fucking boring” (hell yeah), millions of people still do fileshare — activity which should not be criminal under any “open” license, and even web reposting can be valuable — we just don’t have the one or a few good hosts at this point that you imagine in your “web of songs”.

    CC did try creating a license (“sampling”) that only permitted derivative works (no verbatim sharing, and only transformational derivative works), got beat up over it, and retired the license in fairly short order. I didn’t like it mainly because it required transformational derivatives (what’s the definition of that? — potentially no more than what a reasonable fair use would allow — IANAL of course!) and because it was not unambiguously compatible with other CC licenses (no “promotional use”).

    I see a use for liberal derivative use licenses that do not grant permission for verbatim sharing (eg CC BY and CC BY-SA without the verbatim distribution language) — they contribute to the free culture ecology by permitting free derivatives, and let the tentative participate by not giving permission for something that is not very interesting instead of not giving permission for something that is (commercial use). I don’t see how CC could offer such licenses, certainly not hosted on the creativecommons.org domain, since we’ve strongly endorsed at least permission to for noncommercial verbatim distribution globally as a baseline for CC licenses.

  2. A counter argument, that is basically just a little more than what Fabricio already said:

    With my music (all CC-licensed) I want people to freely take advantage of whatever “distribution mechanisms” they like for sharing music–now and in the future. So, if someone uses a filesharing network, or is in a hardrive swap club, or burns CDs for friends–any or all of which might be outside of my own distribution channels (e.g., my website), that’s great by me. I want that / I encourage that / I permit that. And, into the future too–maybe someday a new mechanism will come along, and I won’t know how to use it, but a fan will.

    This is relevant to the Radiohead “On Rainbows” case–fans used the mechanisms that worked for them, beyond the mechanisms that Radiohead offered. Fans filled a void that (many of us, at least, would argue) needed to be filled.

    Economically, this is part of the “sharing economy” in the sense that the burden of effort to distribute a work is itself shared from the artist to their fans and even casual listeners. For example, I actually don’t have time to get my all of my recordings seeded on a bunch of peer to peer filesharing networks, so I’m really happy when a fan does it for me!

  3. Fabricio, what do you need the right for? You can burn a CD anyway.

    tarkowski, I’m not sure what you mean. Can you elaborate?

    Mike, what I have in mind is the basic mission, leaving aside the steps to get there. The question I’m wondering about is what specific abilities CC is trying to enable. CC has a huge burden to make noncommercial verbatim distribution globally a real thing, so it’s crucial to know why this investment is worthwhile.

    There are a couple major agenda items for CC. One is cultural ecology as a whole — are the good singers allowed to sing? Are the paintings we’re getting better or worse? The other is democracy in cultural activity — can anybody at all sing, or is singing reserved for people who are sponsored by large music companies?

    What I’m wondering is why redistribution is a baseline part of either of those goals.

  4. By cd burning I meant burning x number of cds and delivering them to other people. Without the explicit redistribution rights grant I might be inclined to think that what I do is piracy and not fair use (specially if x is a big number).

  5. That’s an interesting use case, Fabricio. do you mean to make a mix CD for friends in a quantity like 25 or to sell a mix CD like bootleggers do?

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