Two alternatives to traditional copyright.

Just as fans of movies and music are increasingly turning away from legal sources and getting their content from each other, new generations of media makers — like the Canadian remix artist Girl Talk — are choosing to ignore traditional copyright laws. And with incumbent media companies fighting hard to keep their acquisitions out of the public domain, can you really blame them?

In his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, author Lawrence Lessig makes the case that traditional copyright is largely an artifact of the 20th century, then draws attention to two working alternatives.

The first is the GNU General Public License (or copyleft), for software and similar works. The basic idea is that the source code to an author’s software is made available for free, with the understanding that any modifications to that software will also be made freely available for the benefit of the community. You can see the GPL in action through any of the Linux distributions that are derivatives of Ubuntu — like Jolicloud, the OS I’m currently using on my netbook.

The second is Creative Commons licensing, like the one covering this blog (see the very bottom of this and every other page on the site). A creative commons license gives an author granular control over how their work can be shared, re-purposed or remixed. I’ve had personal success with Creative Commons and the photos I share on Flickr — thanks to my CC license there I’ve been published in print worldwide.

So while the big media companies struggle with copyright laws that are arguably irrelevant, modern makers of media are served well with two alternatives — the GPL for software and Creative Commons for content.

Do you have a GPL or Creative Commons success story of your own? Or do you think traditional copyright is the only means for an author to monetize their work? Let’s talk about it…

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