Response: Epistemic Communities and Social Movements

November 25, 2012

Epistemic Communities and Social Movements: Transnational Dynamics in the Case of Creative Commons by Leonhard Dobusch and Sigrid Quack looks at the history of Intellectual Property law (namely copyright protection) through the lens of Epistemic and Transnational communities. In particular, Dobusch and Quack review the establishment of Creative Commons (which was the result of frustrations from an epistemic community in the United States, quickly growing to become transnational as well). Creative Commons played a significant role in helping creators grant the public freer access to their works while also maintaining the protections that out-dated copyright laws enforced.

Dobusch and Quack discuss Creative Commons’ humble beginnings through the 2003 Supreme Court case “Eldred v. Ashcroft.” Eric Eldred, an Internet publisher of public domain and derivative works, questioned the constitutionality of the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA). The act extended the protections of older copyrighted works (from 1923 onwards) an additional 20 years, and became known as the “Mikey Mouse Protection Act” as the Walt Disney Company was responsible for several lobbying efforts in support of the act. Eldred ultimately lost the case. One of Eldred’s legal advisors, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, responded to this by founding Creative Commons.

It is interesting to note that, while Creative Commons licenses do liberate creators by legally protecting their work while allowing the public to use and re-purpose it for other creative means, these licenses do not necessarily affect corporate agendas (such as Disney’s). We don’t see Mickey Mouse films being released under Creative Commons licenses for obvious reasons. While Creative Commons’ transnational presence does shine a glimmer of hope for freer usage and distribution of intellectual property works in the future, companies and industries that profit from restricting Intellectual Property use from public control will continue to do so under current copyright practices.

Much like how language influences our thoughts through the words available to our vocabulary, new medias influence how we understand the world. The most notable contemporary example of this would be the Internet’s implications on the distribution of music. Because music is so easily shared and distributed today, society is increasingly more comfortable with “stealing” music through acts of “piracy.” Likewise, it is ultimately the role of Government legislation to influence how corporations are run, and without appropriately adjusted copyright policies for the 21st century, these corporations are not likely to change. Although the media industry has attempted to adapt to digital distribution conventions in recent years (NBC’s Hulu and multitudes of music streaming websites are some examples), by and large we still see lawsuits and lobbying efforts pushed by media conglomerates to lessen the rights of the public in attempts to maintain profits.

“Bottom-up” initiatives like Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation offer alternatives to open-minded creators, but without extensive government policies supporting public rights, these types of licenses will never be the norm for major industry players. Legislation should influence corporations, not the other way around.