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A creative commons license is a kind of copyright license that gives people the right to use, share, and expand upon a creator’s work whether this is an art work, a piece of literature, or a scientific or academic material. It offers a significant protection against accusations of copyright infringement and is believed by some to offer artists a degree of flexibility they may desire. It is also in the interest of citizens to see that the artwork they pay for through government funding for the Arts is made available for their benefit in some fashion. Mandating creative commons licensing for all state-funded artwork would accomplish that goal.
Government Funding for the Arts
Work for government is almost by definition being carried out for the people in one form or another. So should all work done by government have a creative commons license making it open to those people?
The state engages in a lot of work that is licensed; it funds art, and culture (usually only in part), as well as scientific and academic research, the creation of significant amounts of software, and the creation of large data resources. Creative commons licensing could apply to all.
Some governments, such as the United States already go part way towards making work they fund available to the public. Any “government [that] work is prepared by an officer or employee of the United States government as part of that person’s official duties” is in the public domain. This means they are similarly open to reuse and reproduction as if they were in the creative commons. However it is notable that this does not apply to works produced by government contractors or by institutions that are largely or fully funded by government such as the Smithsonian
Taxpayers Should Own What they Pay for
Everyone benefits and is enriched by open access to resources that the government can provide. A work is the province of its creator in most respects, since it is from the mind and hand of its creator that it is born. But when the state opts to fund a project, it too becomes a part-owner of the ideas and creation that springs forth. The state should thus seek to make public the work it spends taxpayer money to create. This is in exactly the same way that when an employee of a company creates something, the rights to that work go to the company and not the employee.
The best way to get the most out of government-funded art, if it is going to exist at all, is through mandating that all such works be made publicly available. This allows the work to be redistributed, re-explored, and to be used as springboards for new, derivative works.
The right of the people to the fruits of their tax dollars is hampered by either the creator, or the government, retaining stricter forms of copyright, which effectively entitles the holder of the copyright to full control of the work; work that would not exist had it not been for the largesse of society. If state-funded work is to have meaning it must be in the public sphere and reusable by the public in whatever form they wish. Simply put, the taxpayers paid for it, so they own it.