copyright don’t ask don’t tell

The other day I emailed a netlabel to ask if I could rehost their album art. They didn’t have a version of it online for me to include using a direct link, and it wasn’t under a permissive license that would permit me to redistribute it.

Then yesterday I emailed a fellow who had put up a sound sample under a license I can’t use to ask if I could have permission to use the sample anyway.

Neither of these people have gotten back to me. That’s not a coincidence – rights holders have an incentive to be cagey. They benefit from saying nothing. I doubt that either of the people I emailed would object to my use. But compare what they get for saying nothing to what they get for saying something:

– If they say no, I don’t help market their works. I represent viral spread to them, and they want it.

– If they say yes, they give up the opportunity to charge me.

– If they say nothing and I do it anyway, they gain both viral marketing and the ability to sue me.

Not giving permission but not saying no is all upside for rights holders.

They don’t even want to be *asked*. Let’s say a rights holder had a web app for infringers to tell on themselves, so that a user of the app would be submitting a statement to tell the rights holder that they were infringing. Wouldn’t this create an obligation for the rights holder to complain? Oh noes! If they didn’t complain they might lose their ability to sue. If they did complain they might lose viral marketing.

So that’s copyright don’t ask don’t tell. Rights holders want you to infringe without either asking them or telling them.

5 thoughts on “copyright don’t ask don’t tell

  1. Great insight and definitely the case. Everyone’s being cagey until things “get sorted out” (which I don’t think will ever happen).

    For established artists I can understand the hesitance. But for new artists it seems so ridiculous I can’t even begin to understand it.

  2. For artists it goes to the question of what you get for using a permissive license like CC. People are going to remix and repost your stuff no matter what, even without permission, so what do you stand to gain from saying it’s ok?

    The one big thing that artists do stand to gain is that being a decent kind of dude helps create a friendly relationship with listeners. But you could get that vibe benefit just as easily by working at a soup kitchen (on-camera).

  3. You may find it difficult to tell your audience that you love them, but for Christ’s sake, the least you can do is to tell them that you won’t sue them (for sharing or building upon your published work).

    “I will not accept the enslavement of my fellow man, nor any imposition upon his liberty, as reward for the publication of my art”

  4. People are too cagey in general.

    One of my pet grumbles is that when I try to contact people who have licensed NC or ND,
    and who theoretically understand why CC licenses exist, I often even then cannot get a response.

    I think that one solution is to just license as much of one’s own work BY as possible, and to
    liberally grant permissions when possible. The weight of samples created if only 10,000 people acted in this way would remove the worst shackles of permission culture from creativity.


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