Jeff Jarvis over at BuzzMachine is always worth a read, especially for those interested in issues of intellectual property, journalism, publishing and the web. This week he’s been discussing something particularly interesting – the notion of Creditrights.
Creditrights are addressed at a problem that is not new – the fact that, as content increasingly becomes digitised, it is also much easier to circumvent copyright legislation and erode/destroy the viability of the content creators’ revenue model with various types of unauthorized use. One way or another, this problem is a general one applicable across all types of publishing – from music and film to newspaper reporting and books.
However, creditrights is focused specifically on online content which is textual or graphic in nature – and which is often very easily shared, borrowed, adapted or used by others through various mechanisms of virtual circulation. The old copyright model would dream (unrealistically) of integrating all these new online channels for dissemination with the old models of payment (i.e. you used my intellectual property and now I should be paid for that).
The reality is that this is not actually possible or feasible from a legislative perspective – look at the massive difficulties that music and film publishers are having chasing people for money from pirated content. Imagine trying to do that for every ‘pirated’ blog post, tweet, or meme…
Rather than attempting to tackle this problem using copyright legislation, which is often far too cumbersome in the online context, Jarvis suggests that we develop the notion of creditrights wherein we establish norms of behaviour (and the digital tools required to support this) to reference sources more often, and more accurately. This ensures that sources benefit in various ways from having their work copied – mainly derived from an enhanced reputation (which can then be monetised in various ways).
Anyway, there’s a very interesting discussion of the concept over on G+ at the moment which I recommend checking out. My particular view is that the idea of creditright is certainly attractive – and workable. However, the problem is that it contains no element of what consitites ‘fair use’ or other such safety nets against exploitation. There is a limit to how much compensation can be provided from something like enhanced reputation compared with what is lost with direct content revenue dropping to a fraction of what one would have expected a few years ago.
Jarvis has essentially suggested that, with a small tweak of how people copy and paste content these days (i.e. embedding credits), the original creators will benefit enormously by way of reputation which, while not equating to revenue itself, can notheless be harnessed for an increased level of moneymaking activity.
Yet again there is a problem because this increasing moneymaking activity (Jarvis suggests public speaking for instance) is only viable because there exists a format or arena of exchange in which one’s ideas (content) is not circulatable without the sanction and control of the one from whom they originate. In other words, creditright only works because notions of intellectual property are less easily violated away from virtual spaces. If someone was able to impersonate you and profit even in person from your enhanced reputation, there’d be little benefit to creditrights.
The bottom line is that, for me at least, creditright vs copyright just doesn’t add up. Jarvis is right that Creditright should be established as a moral standard, and that developing the technical tools to achieve this will greatly help (see a startup like Tynt for example). BUT, in terms of replacing copyright as a principle which gives viability to the revenue model of content creators I’m hugely sceptical for the simple reason that we always need some arena or space in which the creators’ right to earn from original content is recognised.
If we decide that the internet is not to be such a space, but that instead non virtual engagments will be the ones that are monetised then I fear we may have a very temporary solution – and one which is only available to a small minority of those who create valuable content.