In my latest Internet Evolution column, “Digital Licensing: Do It Yourself,” I propose a new kind of self-serve, lightweight “commercial commons” that would allow makers to do small-scale commercial manufacturing of goods that remix copyrights and trademarks, with no upfront payments, and a fixed royalty rate that lets the makerverse operate as a giant, well-compensated R&D lab for products you should be selling:
From edge to edge, the Net is filled with creators of every imaginable tchotchke – and quite a lot of them are for sale.
And quite a lot of that is illegal.
That’s because culture isn’t always non-commercial. All around the physical world, you can find markets where craftspeople turn familiar items from one realm of commerce into handicrafts sold in another realm.
I have a carved wooden Coke bottle from Uganda, a Mickey Mouse kite from Chile, a set of hand-painted KISS matrioshkes from Russia. This, too, is a legitimate form of commerce, and the fact that the villager who carved my Coke bottle was impedance-mismatched with Coke and didn’t send a lawyer to Atlanta to get a license before he started carving isn’t a problem for him, because Coke can’t and won’t enforce against carvers in small stalls in marketplaces in war-torn African nations.
If only this were true for crafters on the Net. Though they deploy the same cultural vocabulary as their developing-world counterparts for much the same reason (it’s the same reason Warhol used Campbell’s soup cans), they don’t have obscurity on their side. They live by the double-edged sword of the search-engine: The same tool that enables their customers to find them also enables rights-holders to discover them and shut them down.
It doesn’t have to be this way.