Fair use, moral laziness, moral diligence

I share my proposal which I submitted to the blogtalk.net conference in Vienna this May. I will be working on this at our ChaordicIP group, I invite you to join us if you care about the information commons. Send a blank message to ChaordicIP-subscribe@yahoogroups.com


I explore what happens to micro-content when it is taken out of one licensed work and embedded into another licensed work. I use search engines to gather empirical data. I correspond with intellectual property experts to clarify international law. I mathematically model the theoretical system. (I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics). I interview influential bloggers about their norms. I crystallize this all to characterize zones of “fair use”, “moral laziness”, and “moral diligence”. My goal is to clarify the practical consequences, if any, of “moral diligence”, and what concepts might support it.

My first task is to review the kinds of licenses used, such as copyright, public domain, 11 Creative Commons licenses, primarily public domain, open content license, copyleft. I characterize these licenses in terms of a matrix of features: noncommercial, no derivatives, share-alike, attribution, requirement-to-carry-license, allowance-for-exceptions. I then use Google to find, for example, the sites that link to the Creative Commons licenses. The number of such is actually less than 500, if we do not count duplicate results. This means that we can gauge the importance of various kinds of licenses, and observe how they are favored by different forms of micro-content, such as blogs, wikis, email.

Next, I try to define and model what it means, in theory, to embed micro-content. What is a “work”? How is it delineated, and a license attached? What does it mean to copy and embed? What for the new work are the implications of each feature of the license of the embedded work? What is “fair use”? How does it affect embedding? What mathematical structure models all these issues? What are the known properties of such a model? What can we say is the “fair use zone” where copyright is not an issue?

I then turn to what happens in practice. How common is it to copy micro-content? Does such material preserve its own form? Is its license acknowledged? In what situations do we actually observe attribution, or viral “share-alike” behavior, or commercial use of micro-content? What actually encourages or discourages such use? What are the norms? Then I survey clear violations of “fair use”, and attempt to characterize a “morally lazy” zone.

Finally, I explore what should be the key concepts in defining licenses. What are the limitations of “fair use”, and its extension, “moral laziness”? “Moral diligence” requires clarity in delineating works, copying them, posting licenses, recognizing and indicating exceptions. I will look for norms of “good faith” to encourage or discourage viral behavior, commercial use, attribution, and respect for the integrity of a work. My expectation is that “moral diligence” by a small group of people yields a clarity that enables a symbiosis between human editors and automated systems, and encourages the circulation of ideas that stimulate action. I am encouraged by our experience with Primarily Public Domain (= public domain except as noted) and www.ideafeeds.com.

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