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« The French Exception | Main |, and an answer to Tim Bray »

May 1, 2005

Creative Commons crossing the line?

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Posted by Kevin Marks

Creative Commons' decision to work with BzzAgents has upset big CC supporters, such as Suw:

for Creative Commons to start using BzzAgents is, not to put too fine a point on it, a betrayal of the work done by grassroots activists who are genuinely concerned about the state of copyright today. The people who have been working hard on promoting CC, who are contributing CC material to the ever growing commons, who are writing about copyright reform, putting together seminars and events, these are CC's 'buzz agents', and they do all this work for free, because they believe on a fundamental level that it is important.

and Richard Eriksson:
BzzAgent and undercover marketing are, in a word, creepy. The premise is that people will go to social events or places where people gather and have conversations with people, judge whether there is a chance to discuss a product that that person has been tasked with mentioning, and bring it up as naturally as possible. [...]
Their top 100 agents page highlights someone who interrupts a conversation about politics to talk about what shoes the politicians were wearing.

Why do they feel so betrayed?

I think this is because BzzAgents crosses the line between the two moral syndromes that Jane Jacobs identifies in Systems of Survival - the Guardian syndrome, which is based on loyalty and social groups, and the Commercial one, which is based on honest dealing and collaboration with strangers.
By giving people incentives to subvert social situations for their paying customers, BzzAgents criss-cross these lines thoroughly. Petulantly calling people liars when they mention their distaste for this sits ill with a professed desire for "honest, authentic word of mouth".

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Comments (17) | Category: social software


1. Dev Purkayastha on May 1, 2005 11:39 AM writes...

(Long time Many2Many reader here, also currently working for BzzAgent. Hi!)

The BzzAgent campaign for CC is reaching out there, into "laypeople" as it were - i.e. people who wouldn't be typically be involving themselves in copyright issues. This is *massively* important, and I'm actually worried about people who preferred a tighter, smaller core of believers in CC, rather than getting CC out there as widely as possible.

The separate issue of whether BzzAgent is good, and whether BzzAgent is representing CC (and moreover, how CC decisions are made) is important, *but* we can't lose sight that Creative Commons may well be working itself out of its technocratic niche right now, and we can't squander that opportunity.

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2. Judson on May 1, 2005 3:21 PM writes...

Looks like they have shut down their comments on that entry, the only one that doesn't have commenting available. That's much more upsetting to me than their arguably poor choice in marketing.

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3. Ben Yates on May 1, 2005 5:55 PM writes...

Dev: anybody creative knows about copyright. I know a lot of musicians, and they're all well-informed on the subject. Non-creative people, conversely, don't really need to know much about copyright. Will bzzagents be able to find the right audience?

(And I think you'll find that this generates negative buzz, rather then positive, when people find out what's happening, so your point's rather moot.)

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4. Dev Purkayastha on May 1, 2005 6:03 PM writes...

Judson: You sure? Comments looked open to me last chance I check. Let me know, since if comments are shut down that's a technical error - we don't shutdown comments on the blog (to my knowledge).

Ben: I actually disagree - "non-creative" people are still consumers and supporters of creative people, so there needs to be support on both ends of the spectrum. (And of course, non-creative people know creative people, and I'm not really a fan of segregating folk in such a fashion.)

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5. Ross Mayfield on May 1, 2005 9:32 PM writes...

Lessig posted in referrence to this post:

> As I'm partial to Corante, I'd be willing to ask CC to pull the relationship on the basis of that bad judgment alone. But I'd be really keen for some feedback...

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6. Lemi4 on May 1, 2005 10:36 PM writes...

Umm... Dev, you do know that the word 'consumer' is a big no-no in this community, don't you?

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7. Dev Purkayastha on May 1, 2005 11:14 PM writes...

Lemi4: Huh? I'm confused. Please clarify?

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8. orcmid on May 2, 2005 3:51 AM writes...

"Consumer" is found distasteful by some because it is seen as objectifying people. "Customer" seems to fare better, although "Customer Relationship Management" doesn't. Actually, CRM training is a lot like BzzAgents, except you know who you're talking to, and these days I get these warning messages that not only may my call be monitored, but the representative has access to my records and will suggest other offerings that I may be interested in. Unfortunately, I can't opt out of that without letting the purpose of my call not be fulfilled. Ick. No, not ick. Ewwwwww.

Another example might be the ATM where I do my branch banking. For a short time, my transaction was interrupted by a screen promoting mortgage loans that I had to click through, sort of like surfing Yahoo Groups. Fortunately, they stopped that after but a few weeks too many. I suspect their customers didn't like being treated as consumers.

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9. Hugh Kearns on May 2, 2005 5:24 AM writes...

There is a fundamental error being repeated by all contributors, and it is this: copyright contains all possible permutations in dealing with creative work, including null or gratis licensing, so there is no requirement for a (privately owned?)system - especially one that appears to be promoted by non-creatives. The question I would ask is: who are the beneficial owners of CC, and what are their plans to develop a double c logo and brand for sale to the subscribers? I suspect the spin doctors will flamm it up, hiding it behind leftthinking/community/socialist/modernist principles that is always so attractive to the student/youth/innocent sector. Copyright was conceived in the sixth century AD, in Ireland, and it has performed for one-and-a-half millennia without difficulty. You are now telling me that some anonymous American think-tank is going to improve it!? - Tell it to the Marines, pal. Hugh Kearns.

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10. Dev on May 2, 2005 11:09 AM writes...

Ah, I see. When I said "consumer", I wasn't meaning the marketspeak connotation, but more like "supporter". In my mind, when I get new music, I'm literally a consumer of it (and a voracious one like that) - that's the sense I meant.

In any case: I still think that the "non-creatives" can still give feedback (in favor of CC) to the creatives who they are supporting. I've done it.

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11. orcmid on May 2, 2005 3:14 PM writes...

Thanks Dev. Agreed. The "consumer-producer" model is a pattern in communication-protocol work too. I'm doing some performance-pattern work and I would love to have some labels that make the symmetry of the relationship clear without using "consumer." My Encarta dictionary is no help on "customer" (when in the 15th century did anyone speak of customary business practice?). Oddly, patron might do it. Strange. What do you think?

A couple of things: I first grocked the problem with "Customer Relationship Management" from a presentation by Jerry Michalski at OOPSLA in Seattle a while back. I'd love to have those slides.

Hugh Kearns: What are you talking about? I don't see where Creative Commons is not advocating a change in copyright (unless you want to talk about orphaned works), but about promoting a consistent, widely usable instrument for people who want to provide an automatic license grant. It's similar to what has grown up in the software community around open-source licenses of various flavors. There's no legislation required. Maybe there are CC supporters who want something more than that, but the actual licenses are pretty straightforward. I see them as useful for letting people know clearly and exactly what I am willing for them to do with work that is my IP. Works for me. Nobody has to CC any work of theirs.

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12. orcmid on May 2, 2005 3:21 PM writes...

Oops, more on Hugh Kearns sort-of-question. I checked with the Copyright Office at one time to find out how one registers a work being in the public domain. Seemed like a reasonable enough question at the time. You can register a copyrighted work, deposit it for the Library of Congress, record transfers and licensing to others, but there doesn't seem to be a way to record that the work has been given an automatic, perpetual license of some form. (This speaks to the orphaned-work problem too.)

So, one way is to affix such license, since it is meant to be non-revocable anyhow, to the work in some appropriate way. The Creative Commons licenses provide ways to do that. It is not necessary to use any Creative Commons trademark, and it appears that the recommended use of them is automatically licensed too. (The licenses themselves have been placed in the public domain if I read them correctly.

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13. orcmid on May 2, 2005 3:28 PM writes...

[hit post too soon]. Uh, the electronic copy of the Attribution 2.0 deed has electronic notice embedded in it that suggests it is licensed under Attribution 2.0. Recursion (or reflexion or self-reference) is a wonderful thing.

Here's the thing: Creative Commons walks their own talk. There's no hidden business model that I can see.

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14. orcmid on May 2, 2005 3:35 PM writes...

[merde!] Uh, I edited a phrase badly. It should read "I don't see where Creative Commons *is* advocating a change in copyright ..." The "not" up there is a hangover from a previous version of the sentence. OK, I will shut up now.

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15. jake l on May 2, 2005 6:14 PM writes...


Life is really becoming like Science Fiction. Although I guess the book "Pattern Recognition" was set more or less in the present.

To me the problem with this buzz agent stuff is that all of a sudden you're dealing with an Amway scenario. That's what Amway is about: encouraging people to utilize their personal relationships to try and sell things. Now obviously, this is one of the foundations of all sales work. But there is a graceful and ungraceful way to do it. And I suspect that good salespeople know when to go there and when not to go there. Morever, if you sell things for a living, it's much harder to hide that that is what you do, because profession is one the very first things people ask about in casual conversation.

But if the answer to the what do you do question is "I'm a school teacher," then the selling/buzz spreading motivation is hidden. That of course makes it more effective. But it also pisses people off, because there is something disengenuous about it.

That to me is the risk of something like this for a group that has evidently had really good karma with its users. If you kill the trust, you're taking a big risk, whether you're a band, a politician, a company, or something like the CC.

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16. Evelyn Rodriguez on May 3, 2005 6:03 AM writes...

"anybody creative knows about copyright. I know a lot of musicians, and they're all well-informed on the subject. Non-creative people, conversely, don't really need to know much about copyright."

Non-creatives? Uh, I thought the idea was that with the ease of creating these days EVERYONE can be a creator and producer - and not just be relegated to the role of consumer of content.

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17. james governor on May 3, 2005 7:29 AM writes...

What bothers me isn't the bzzz thing per se, but the fact while i consider myself a Creative Commons advocate, and professional user, its so hard to maintain contact with the organization. i am a real advocate doing real work. i think CC needs to work on its advocate relationship program.

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