Friday, December 04, 2009

Open Letter to Sherman Alexie

While going through my backlog of TV shows from the past week, I was watching the Colbert Report from Tuesday (December 1). During his interview with Sherman Alexie, I heard something that sounded rather offensive to my ears. Skip to 3:14 to hear it.

For those of you who hate Flash or don't wish to watch the video, the context here is that Colbert is asking why he doesn't allow his books to be digitized. His response, up to the point which I reference above, was the typical response about how the music industry is losing money because of the rampant piracy, and that the only way to make money is via live shows. And then he makes this statement:

[...]and with the open-source culture on the Internet, the idea of ownership, of artistic ownership goes away.

Mr. Alexie, to use a colloquialism: What have you been smoking? I know that you're BFF with The Stranger, but this is ridiculous. You're supposed to be intelligent, not ignorant. There are a couple of things that are inaccurate with your statement.

First, I'm pretty sure you're referring to the Free culture movement. "Open source", while it can refer to non-technical ideas, is more closely associated with software and its licenses. But I'm being pedantic.

Secondly (and more importantly), where does the idea of ownership go away? Maybe if you release the work into the public domain, sure. However, the majority of "free culture licenses" (e.g., Creative Commons licenses) ensure that one still owns the work that they create. The significant difference between traditional copyright and those licenses is that certain rights are granted by default, instead of having to ask the author about it. For example, this blog post (and the entire blog, for that matter) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License (as explicitly stated in the sidebar). What this means is that I have granted noncommercial entities to reproduce (or even "remix") my work (in full or in part) in other works, so long as I am credited, and the work retains the same license. Nowhere did I relinquish my ownership of this blog post. If a commercial entity wants to use my work, or someone wants to reproduce/remix my work under a different license, traditional copyright applies and they have to ask (assuming the use doesn't fall under "fair use").

As one of the literate (see the interview for the reference) and also a dead-tree book lover, I suggest that you read two books, both by Professor Lawrence Lessig: Free Culture and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Both should be available at your local bookstore.

Finally, thank you, Mr. Alexie, for reminding me that I still need to donate to the Creative Commons this year. I want to spread the Free culture movement as quickly as possible, making sure that the views that you expressed are corrected just as quickly.