Arts Council publishes report into Creative Commons and emerging attitudes from artists

creative_commons_haircut_george_kelley_sm"In theory copyright represents the ability to make a living off my work. In practice it represents the threat of myself or my children not being able to express themselves without fear of the rich and powerful invoking their copyrights to silence us."  Contributor

OpenBusiness.cc and the Arts Council of England have published a report looking at the attitudes towards copyright amongst British creatives. Recognising that 170,000 websites in the UK now licesne their work under creative commons including the Tate, FourDocs (and Netribution), the survey explored how artists relate to rights legislation. Although not a representative sample, 96% of those interviewed displayed a negative perception of current copyright law, coupled with a general openness to 'share now, pay later' attitudes which underpin Creative Commons.

From the executive summary: 

Though CC is still used by an avant-garde of mainly rather young artists, more than 170,000 websites in the UK make use of such licences. These include arts projects at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery and, for example, Channel 4's `Four Docs' website. Individual artists use CC licences on their own websites or upload images of their work onto websites such asFlickr, which is an online photographic archive that is intended to facilitate thesharing of images.

Obviously the use of such licences depends heavily on the context and the art form. The digital reproduction of fine arts generally (e.g. painting, printmakingor sculpture) is of poorer quality than the original product, making CC less elevant to their work. However musicians, film makers, authors, graphic designers and new media artists are all heavily affected by copyright as duplicates of their work can easily be made at very high quality.

The survey was funded by Arts Council England and conducted as part of the OpenBusiness.cc initiative, which investigates links between copyright and new modes of creative production. The project explores, amongst otherissues, the use of CC licences, innovative business models and the growth of`open culture' in Brazil, South Africa as well as in the UK. OpenBusiness is also supported by the Open Society Institute and the International
Development Research Centre in Canada.

The focus of this study is:
· An investigation into how artists who are working in digital environments view copyright which structures many commercial relationships, but which can prohibit sharing, copying and theadaptation of existing artistic works.

· An analysis of why some artists use CC licences, which can facilitate sharing, copying and ­ depending on the licence used ­ adaptation forcommercial or non-commercial purposes.

The survey combined qualitative and quantitative data to examine the motivations behind artistic use of CC licences in the arts, and the impact onartists of using such licences.

Potential respondents were contacted through mailing lists of Creative Commons UK and the Arts Council. In total 83 artists were interviewed via an online survey, telephone interviews and a focus group (see appendix 1 for a
copy of the survey).

Results showed that 96% of the artists interviewed displayed a negative inclination towards aspects of current copyright laws mostly describing it as too complex and one sided.

Responses varied from `copyright helps the rich' to more ambivalent arguments, such as copyright is a `double edged sword,' recognising its intention to protect but also noting the debilitating results of this protection in terms of disabling re-use of existing images or other creative content. All the artists surveyed also used conventional copyright licences.

Of the 45 artists completing the online survey, not one subscribed to the view that copyright was a spur to creativity or was helpful in securing income.

When asked why they use CC, and presented with five choices ranging from economic, political, practical, social fashion or other reasons, 50% of artists surveyed opted for `practical' as the reason for use.

The results point to a clear reason why some artists are using CC licences i.e. they find these useful within the digital environment as practical tools for remixing and adaptation which are staple elements of online arts practice.

Simultaneously it can be concluded that reasons for using CC are rooted in the desire to exploit network effects and to better market creative work. Evidence for this view is seen particularly in the phone interviews that were conducted. For example a DJ and composer said:

CC means [...] that I can distribute my productions over the web without fear of getting ripped off, whilst still being able to avoid the business structures that leech off genuine creativity.

It is clear that for many digital artists, remixing is core to the vitality, progression and charm of their work. Several participants expressly stated that they also wanted their own work to be remixed.

Evolving arts practices in digital media often involve re-use and remix of materials. However artists can sometimes be cautious about reuse of their work.

While it is not surprising that users of CC licences might be ambivalent towards standard copyright regimes it is noteworthy that many seem to feel that copyright contradicts their understanding of the purpose of their work.

They intend to use CC because it `keeps their work free'. By `free' they do not necessarily mean that it can be adapted, or taken out of the original context, but that it can move freely through the internet and increase attention for their work.


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