More on the Creative Commons

By Jason Wojciechowski on July 28, 2005 at 7:49 AM

Andrew Orlowski (on Polish brothers!), who was quoted by John Dvorak in the piece I criticized last week, commented on that post today.

The first part of his comment talks about the meaning of the word "criticism":

" ... if you ask critics of the system to explain it, then of course they're going to give negative answers! That's like asking me to explain why George Bush's foreign policy is solid and then using my answer as evidence that it sucks."

That's strange. The dictionary defines criticism as

1. The act of criticizing, especially adversely.

2. A critical comment or judgment.

3. a. The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works. b. A critical article or essay; a critique. c. The investigation of the origin and history of literary documents; textual criticism.

So your simile is only true if you ignore meanings 2 and 3. The role of criticism is essentially positive - mine certainly is.

I'd like to quote the OED on "criticism" to supplement the definitions above:

"1. The action of criticizing, or passing judgement upon the qualities or merits of anything; esp. the passing of unfavourable judgement; fault-finding, censure."

This is basically the same as the first definition of Orlowski's, but more fleshed-out.

The other definition that is applicable is:

"3. (with pl.) An act of criticizing; a critical remark, comment; a critical essay, critique."

That's a lot of use of "criticize," which is sort of circular. Let's look up "criticize":

1. intr. To play the critic; to pass judgement upon something with respect to its merits or faults. (Often connoting unfavourable judgement.)

2. trans. To discuss critically; to offer judgement upon with respect to merits or faults; to animadvert upon.

b. To censure, find fault with.

To me, the key is in three places: the "especially" in Orlowski's first definition, the "esp." in the first definition of "criticism" and the parenthetical statement in the first definition of "criticize." In other words, yes, the definition of "criticize" allows for positive commentary, as noted by much of the text of all the definitions, but the connotation, which is at least as important as the denotation, is a negative one.

Amusingly enough, Orlowski himself uses "critical" in this sentence in a piece he wrote for The Register, connoting exactly what I'm saying the word connotes: "The first point is made repeatedly by Dvorak's critics, but having digested 300 comments on Slashdot, almost of all of which are critical, I haven't seen a genuine attempt to answer his broader question."

I feel ridiculous for having spent so much time on this, but in the end, given Orlowski's statements on his views on CC in his comment on this blog and in his article (that he linked to in his comment) here, Dvorak would have been better to use, perhaps, "commentator." Or, better, provide a link to something Orlowski has written that indicates his views on CC.

Orlowski's view, as I'm understanding from his piece at The Register is, amusingly enough, best encapsulated by his quote in Dvorak's piece: the "It does nothing" line. I disagree with his premise, however, which is stated succinctly when he writes, "[W]hat we have is a compensation crisis, not a copyright crisis." (Emphasis in the original)

Perhaps we do have a compensation crisis, but that isn't the point of the Creative Commons. The point is, directly from their website, "to build a layer of reasonable, flexible copyright in the face of increasingly restrictive default rules." Lessig and company do see a copyright crisis when they see huge conglomerates of companies owning huge numbers of copyrights in many creative arenas and an American government only too willing to bow to the wishes of those corporations.

Orlowski writes

The social contract that's endured for over a hundred years is really simple. The rights holders can't control the flow of culture - but they can make money off it, and this is willingly given with various provisos. As long as they don't get too greedy, and charge too much; as long as they continue to invest in the storage and transmission technologies that make it more accessible; and most importantly if they ensure that the money goes round fairly: then everyone's pretty much happy.
The CC people see, and Orlowski apparently disagrees, that the rights holders are moving toward a system where they <i>do</i> control the flow of culture.  They believe that corporations <i>are</i> too greedy, and that the money <i>isn't</i> really getting around.

A related point that Orlowski makes that I disagree with is that computers and networks are simply a "boundary case" in copyright law. His basic contention is that copyright law isn't broken just because the computer lobby says it is; it only seems that way to that lobby. Where we don't see eye-to-eye is apparently in the place of that computer lobby in society. I think digital networks and related technology is and will become so pervasive that this lobby only appears to be a fringe group because they're at the forefront of a wave, not because they're a bunch of weirdos who can't deal with the rest of us. Their life is rapidly becoming everybody's life.

In the end, instead of all this exposition, I suppose I could have just left Orlowski's words in his comment on this blog alone: "[Creative Commons] is demonstrably absorbing a lot of people's time and energy. This may be better spent on more achievable and practical goals." Again, where the disagreement resides is in Lessig's belief (which I've been pulled around to) that the copyright situation is a problem and is only getting worse (thus that CC isn't a waste of time, since it tries to attack an extant problem), compared with Orlowski's belief that it's just a small segment of (nerdy) society that's worried about these things, to no good end.

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