[cross-posted from OpenMediaWeb.org]

One of the core messages that came out of the Media Web Meetup III: the Producers was this:

Copyright laws, DMCA, etc. were tools that were instituted to help large organizations protect themselves from large organizations, it did not imagine the negotiations of individual producers in the Open Media Web. Instead of bringing the massive amount of baggage these tools wield into our communities of indie content producers, we should start talking about how - as a community - we need to figure out an ethical set of protocols for how to handle these negotiations...and these protocols needs to be flexible, relationship-based and anchored in social capital.

Ironically, these protocols appear to exist moreso in the world of text than they do in the world of multi-media. What do I mean by that? Think about what happens in blogging communities. Very early on in the days of blogging, a community protocol was established around attribution, even when attribution desires were not voiced. If you were blogging about an idea that someone else had or using a quote from another blog, it was attributed and there was a link back to the original idea/text. Now, if you didn't do that, you weren't served a takedown notice, you may be seen as a jerk (relationship based) and people would lose respect for you (the loss of Social Capital) and they would stop reading your blog (real social consequences). There are grey areas to this (flexible), but in general, successful bloggers err on the side of caution and attribute as much as possible.

And this works great. It not only keeps people honest, but it has benefited the entire community, circulating ideas and helping encourage more people to contribute those ideas (the myth of the 'stolen ideas' is busted when bloggers get recognition and prestige from publishing theirs openly, which encourages others to do the same). There were no laws separating bloggers from bloggers here. No centralized rulebook. It happened organically through a series of communications and experiences in the early growth of the community.

But when it comes to multi-media, we somehow passed over an early opportunity to establish similar protocols. Images, audio files and videos are constantly passed around online without attribution, used without permission and then big, expensive, heavy legal tools are wielded to stop this behavior. When a photographer's image is posted on a website that doesn't attribute or get permission, the same social stigma doesn't take place. Photographers are told, "That's what happens when you post your work online". And, more often, a photographer won't find out that their work is being lifted anyway, since multi-media isn't as searchable (a simple filename change throws off the trail).

Even though their heart is in the right place, Creative Commons doesn't really alleviate this situation, and it may even exacerbate it. Many photographers find that it further harms the perceived value of their work, as lack of education leads to the interpretation of a CC license to mean, "It's Free!" And, since it is a legal tool (and not a community agreement), it remains an externalized barrier that stands between personal drives to resolution that should be taken up within the web community.

We should really look at this as an issue to solve with community tools, not more legal clout.

The wonderful panel that included Jason Schultz (EFF), Lane Hartwell (photographer), Heather Champ (Flickr) and Jim Goldstein (photographer) would all probably agree with me when I say that this is a real issue of the Open Media Web. One that we should be as conscious of as the early bloggers were of the flow and exchange of their own intellectual property (with a lower case i and p).