Fair Use, Creative Commons and this Film

There is a raging debate among those who care about sharing information.

For us, this debate is about sharing the The Commons film itself: Should we Copyright The Commons film and the terabytes of material we have collected to make it? Or, should we make all of our film work for The Commons free and open, now, releasing it to public download, letting people decide how best to use it? We recognize this is an evolving area of understanding. New social agreements are being tested all around us. Occasionally, justice and sharing may conflict – and many attitudes and expectations are colored by legacy issues.

We’ve spent a lot of time debating this – especially since our film (we hope!) will inspire people to move forward in a world where sharing is a normal, everyday part of Commoners’ lives – including the natural world’s needs.

Here are three ways of looking at fair use:

First, we could look at our film this way: People agreed to speak with us because of the purpose we stated about The Commons. These are agreements that we cannot ignore – our integrity is at stake. We have created a sort of community via making this film. How can one respect the wishes of those who generously gave of their wisdom, and showed their feelings, if we allow any use of the material, by anyone forever? Can we guarantee others will show the respect due to our subjects? Is there any way of ensuring respectful future use?

Second, we could look at our film this way: Standard “Copyright” laws control legal access toThe Commons film material. This is used to restrict information, obtain payment and allow viewing under strict controls. It has a lot of liabilities, many legacy problems – but it has the advantage of allowing us to make sure our cast’s wishes and agreements are preserved. It also allows us to receive some compensation for five years’ work producing The Commons, because freeloaders, “free-riders” can be minimized.

Third, we could look at our film this way: Information is free for all – and should be. Restricting information prevents learning, it prevents democratic debate, and it unfairly controls information others need to live well. In this model, restricted information is a relic of past knowledge-control strategies – and corrupt corporate control of media. If we used this model, we would immediately release all of our material free, for any use others thought best. In this model, getting paid for our efforts is optional, and wholly dependent on others free will. But, freeloaders, free-riders or disrespectful usage of material cannot be minimized – they cannot be known if they occur, and there is no longer any recourse if we get sued, for example.

I wonder, would those who encouraged Free Knowledge defend us in court, if we got sued by some oil company that hated a re-cut of our film’s material?

We have to make a decision here, understanding the merits and weaknesses of the many views expressed by many, many people. Here is our approach, provisionally, unless we can identify a better way forward:

Prelude: Release our prior film, Nicotine Bees to the Creative Commons.

Step 1: We intend to seek a normal Copyright and show the film for about 1.5 years. Payment to see the film will be a temporary requirement, based on the Purchasing Power Parity of the viewer: those with fewer monetary resources will be asked for a reduced fee – or no fee.

Step 2: Release the film under a Creative Commons license after about 1.5 years.

Step 3: Share related material on a case-by-case basis. We will also share related material as ‘extras’ for the film; these will be released free online. Respect for our subjects is the paramount concern at all times.

Please send ideas for better ways – technology may help!

Kevin Hansen



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