Retaining the right to censor is an act of hate

Nina Paley (I highly recommend all her animations and appreciate her free culture activism) has an idea called the copyheart:

Use it wherever you would use the ©copyright symbol. Instead of

© Copyright 2010 by Author/Artist. All Rights Reserved.

you could write

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying is an act of love. Please copy.

I love the sentiment. Mike Masnick thinks the copyheart is cool. Unsurprising, since he doesn’t appreciate public copyright tools. That’s a problem, since cool without the aid of rigorous public copyright tools fails to build a commons that everyone can use. We don’t need help with materials that can be used by those with a low level of legal exposure: that’s everything that isn’t held in secret.

Expanding on the problem: unfortunately one automatically obtains copyright the moment one produces an original expression in a fixed form (e.g., this blog post). Copyright is a poor name, for it isn’t the right to copy; rather it is the exclusive right to restrict others from making copies (including altered copies, performances, and an ever-growing list of nearby uses, essentially forever). Copyrestriction would be better. However, others aren’t restricted automagically (and when attempts are made to do so, restrictions are usually massively over-applied); the copyright holder must take action, must play the role of the censor. Censorright would be even more apt. Not granting rights to the public in advance means one is retaining the right to censor.

Why would Paley want something that grants the public no rights in advance, while complaining loudly about some Creative Commons licenses for not granting enough rights in advance? Probably because she’s skeptical of public licenses, period, claiming they legitimize copyright. I almost completely disagree: copyright exists, is automatic, and is ever-increasing in scope and restrictiveness; public copyright tools are just a reality-based response that allow opting out of some or all of one’s right to censor, can offer limited protection (in the case of copyleft) from downstream censors, and also signal that some or all of a censor’s right is not desired, and most importantly help build substantial projects and bodies of work that do not rely on censorship (eventually evidence has to matter).

Now Paley is well aware of these arguments, and addresses some of them in the Copyheart Manifesto (which is more like a FAQ) and elsewhere. She says that free licenses “aren’t solving the problems of copyright restrictions.” That’s something that needs debate. I’d argue they’re one of the few rays of light against censorship, and they are creating space for “solutions” to be developed (see “most importantly” previous paragraph). She even almost directly addresses the problem that copyheart-like mechanisms (Kopimi is very similar; “all rights reversed” is more opaque simple statement that has been used occasionally for decades that Paley notes):

Q.Is the ♡Copyheart legally binding?

A. Probably not, although you could test it:

Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
Sue someone for copying it.
See what the judge says.

We really don’t think laws and “imaginary property” have any place in peoples’ love or cultural relations. Creating more legally binding licenses and contracts just perpetuates the problem of law – a.k.a. state force – intruding where it doesn’t belong. That ♡copyheart isn’t a legally binding license is not a bug – it’s a feature!

Sadly, when the right to censor is the automatic default, it is not using a legally binding license that perpetuates the problem, but I repeat myself. I appreciate offering the test above, but it is far too easy a test (though I don’t know how it would turn out). Takedown notices, other chilling effects, and just plain avoidance, are far more common than actual suits. A better test would be this:

  1. Mark your work with the ♡Copyheart message.
  2. Have someone else upload the work to Wikimedia Commons, not mentioning that you asked them to.
  3. See if the Wikimedia Commons community is willing to rely on your copyheart message to make and keep available your work.

One reason the work probably won’t remain on Wikimedia Commons (note I’d be very happy to be proved wrong) is that copyheart doesn’t clearly say that altering the copyhearted work is ok with the copyhearter. Permitting adaptation is a requirement for free culture; Paley agrees.

The situation may not be totally hopeless for copyheart. Kopimi started as an equally simple exhortation to copy. There are some works on Wikimedia Commons labeled as Kopimi (though I’m not sure how many if any are only relying on Kopimi; many works on Wikimedia Commons are multi-licensed), though the template used for Kopimi uploads on Wikimedia Commons goes beyond simple exhortation to copy:

This work is labeled as Kopimi, meaning that the copyright holder of this work does not only release it, but specifically requests that this work be used and copied for any purpose, including unlimited commercial use and redistribution. It is believed in good faith that a work classified as Kopimi is free to use in any way, including modification and the creation of derivative works.

Now it would be possible to take copyheart in this direction, say:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes.

One may as well finish the job and back this sentiment with a rigorous legal tool that takes every step possible to rid oneself of the right to censor, worldwide:

♡2010 by Author/Artist. Copying and adaptation are acts of love. Please copy and adapt for any purposes without any restrictions whatsoever.

The link is to the backing legally rigorous tool, CC0.

Speaking of censorship, the EFF has been doing a fantastic job in fighting many of its forms. Please join them in saying no to censorship.

Not only does EFF fight censorship, they also retain almost no right to censor works they produce. They use a Creative Commons Attribution license, which only requires giving credit to make any use (well, any use that doesn’t imply endorsement). You should also join them is saying no to censorship in this way — no to your own ability to be a censor.

You should also make annual donations of $ to both CC and EFF, and send ♡.

15 Responses

  1. 1) There is an implied license – a legally recognised concept (YJMV).
    2) The artist retains the privilege of copyright – no-one else can sue infringers.
    3) The artist is not going to sue for infringement (without severe reputational consequences).
    4) This is about love and respect for one’s audience and their rights, and their love and respect for the artist and their rights. All consequently disrespect the privilege of copyright (Queen Anne’s suspension of our right to copy).

    Sure, no cultural intercourse can occur without a third party being able to claim infringement (however dubious the grounds), but this is the case anyway, even with CC licenses.

    A free culture is not a permissive culture, but one in which the very idea of permission is rejected.

  2. Hi Crosbie,

    Why should I trust your future self (you say reputation, but why not give me a guarantee?) or moreso, your heirs?


  3. Sedicious says:

    IANAL, but I read it as an explicit license. It would correspond to CC by-nd except without an explicit attribution requirement—but if authorship is explicitly stated within the copied work, and the copied work is not modified, then that’s effectively moot.

  4. Hi Mike,

    We’re talking about human beings here, not immortal publishing corporations.

    People can be trusted. Corporations cannot.

    An artist that exhorts the copying of their work is already granting an implied license. Even with an explicit CC license, the fickle can still make the mistake of believing they can rescind a license and sue anyway. Who can afford to defend in court to demonstrate possession of a CC license (in the hope evidence of it exists within say)?

    Copyright is so corrosive there are no guarantees against it. There is no immunity. These days you don’t even need evidence, mere suspicion is sufficient.

    We must be careful to understand the difference between the copyleft culture of free software, with the GPL the coder’s manifesto (coders embrace legalese even if they don’t realise the law is not a computer), and the free culture of naturally liberated people, only a few of whom are wary of copyright as a lightning strike hazard (should they venture exposed into high risk areas).

    Only a lawyer could think that a set of licenses would be sufficient to defend human beings against an instrument of injustice in the possession of immortal corporations.

    Publishing corporations (of music, movies, software, books, etc.) will not follow the example set by a few enlightened artists who’ve realised how terrible it is to threaten their audience with disconnection, bankruptcy, or imprisonment for doing what comes naturally.

    People’s need and right to share and engage with their own culture is primordial, and the Internet reveals this. In this respect copyright has already ended as a monopoly.

    At some point it must be recognised that it must also end as a weapon.

    Licenses only neutralise copyright from individual works. They don’t neutralise copyright from society. For that you need abolition.

  5. Hi Crosbie,

    People can’t be trusted. Take Stephen Joyce, as an extreme example.

    An exhortation to share is certainly better than none. Agree there is no immunity and copyright is corrosive. I’m for giving as much immunity as possible.

    I think you overstate the difference between coders and non-coders, code and culture, with respect to copyright. Not that there aren’t differences. I will have to explore this more another time.

    I don’t know of a lawyer who thinks licenses are sufficient. Necessary for a large set of users, but not sufficient.

    No disagreement with your last two paragraphs (other than “must”: bad things can and do continue indefinitely). I think neutralising copyright from large numbers of individual works is a tremendous step forward. I see no evidence the weapon is going to disappear merely because most people ignore it at a low level. Many activities to fight it are necessary. Voluntary relinquishment of the right to censor is one.

    I briefly mentioned a couple other means of “beating the bounds of the commons” (another way to put the fight) in an interview with Lewis Hyde (not remotely an abolitionist) that I enjoyed conducting tremendously, see the 4th question at

  6. Sedicious,

    I think you’re about right, though a lawyer might say it isn’t explicit enough, eg one saying this in a microblog conversation about this post —

    There’s a very long history of rough statements that might evaluate to something like one of the now existing CC licenses, eg from 868 and 1967

  7. Mike, when I say “people can be trusted” I mean ‘can’ as in the verb ‘trust’ has meaning when applied to human beings, but is inappropriately applied to corporations, walls or tea leaves. Or rather, trust has a specific meaning when applied to people that it cannot have when used in the sense of ‘have confidence’ with respect to material or legally created objects.

    Trust is experience built up through an ongoing mutually valuable relationship between individuals.

    Moreover, ‘trust’ is a measure. It’s not a binary thing like ‘faith’ or ‘pregnancy’.

    E.g. I may trust a stranger less than a colleague I have known for a few months. Even so, I still trust a stranger to some extent, however little, as they in turn trust me. The level of trust naturally increases as the relationship develops.

    One cannot trust a corporation. It’s an invalid operation.

    Thus people can be trusted (a lot or a little), whereas corporations cannot.

  8. gurdonark says:

    I favor reasonable copyright, limited to a reasonable term. I also favor Creative Commons licenses, which i see as useful tools rather than dogmatic positions on copyright. i also favor, though, Nina Paley, and her cool animations. Though I do not plan to use her heart, I think her heart is in the right place. It’s okay that we don’t all think the same–so long as we create a shared commons.

  9. Crosbie,

    I’m not sure why you say one can’t trust a corporation at all, like a tea leaf. Corporations are driven by humans, which face reputation and other risks that are imperfectly reflected in corporate action, but does not result in “trust” being an invalid operation.

    There are reasons to be more distrustful of corporations than of individuals, at least in some domains. Thanks for highlighting another reason rigorous legal tools are necessary. For anything potentially seen as a corporate asset to be shared, it must be shared in a legally rigorous way. Licenses written with that intent are the only way to go, not statements of corporate love, which I would agree ought engender zero trust.


    I ♡ “Though I do not plan to use her heart, I think her heart is in the right place” in any of the many ways that sentence might be read.

  10. Mike, “censorright” is the wrong term, because, as you well know, there is and can be no natural right to censoring others. In Unix terms, copyright gives to the creator write privileges over anything that anyone else might do with the created work (republish it, share it, copy it, modify it, re-use it, etc.). Not that I have a better term…

  11. Nina Paley says:

    I still use, and intend to continue using, CC ShareAlike licenses. Licenses are for lawyers, and for those times my works encounter a lawyer, I want the ShareAlike license to be there. But no matter how simple CC attempts to make their system, the sad reality is that most people don’t understand CC licenses (including – and maybe especially – people who use CC licenses). The happy reality is that most people don’t care. My great hope for Free Culture is that given the tools to simply ignore copyright, people will. The ♡copyheart is an invitation to imagine a post-copyright and post-lawyer world. I agree it’s impractical for a lawyer world, but the more people spend time in a post-lawyer world – even in their imaginations – the better this world will be.

  12. Peter,

    Struggle against use of the word “right” to denote only such things that are “natural” is not my battle. However, “censorprivilege” works too.


    Public copyright licenses are tools to ignore copyright. Paradoxically, they use copyright. They must, as copyright is automatic. Why just imagine a post-copyright world when one can create one?

    How do you (and recommend others to) understand which works might encounter lawyers, and which won’t?

    Your “great hope for Free Culture” seems to have been realized through filesharing, already. I have higher hopes than that.

  13. Nina Paley says:

    How do you (and recommend others to) understand which works might encounter lawyers, and which won’t?

    They’re the same works. I use a ShareAlike license, AND a copyheart ststement. One is a license, the other is an easily understandable statement of intent that would work with no State, no copyright, and no threat of legal force.

    I’m not pushing copyheart as a replacement for licenses, because it’s not. One doesn’t cancel out the other; because copyheart (or any other statement or symbol) isn’t a legal license, it doesn’t compete with existing licenses. Copyheart is just a suggestion for how one might mark their works, if they want to encourage sharing without legitimizing the State.

    Your “great hope for Free Culture” seems to have been realized through filesharing, already.
    There’s still too much guilt and fear around file sharing. And file sharing isn’t nearly as widespread as its made out – many of my friends don’t even know how to download something from, let alone use torrents. I myself have never torrented anything, or had success with any of my few attempts to file share.

  14. They’re the same works. I use a ShareAlike license, AND a copyheart ststement. One is a license, the other is an easily understandable statement of intent that would work with no State, no copyright, and no threat of legal force.

    Great, happy to hear that. You should make this practice and recommendation clear on :-)

    Re filesharing, I’d say there’s a lot more FUD from non-practitioners than fear and guilt among practitioners. However, you’re right, it is an activity for l33ts and fools (latter ending up with more malware than content they wanted) with poor ease of use. I think the war on filesharing has been somewhat successful here — suppressing anything that is relatively easy (and centralized) as well as research and investment in full P2P. The last is especially sad: the net is a more centralized, fragile, controllable, oligopolistic place as a result.

  15. […] just ignore them. I can’t find a good example, but some exhortations and the like of copyheart and kopimi are a subset of the genre. But unless one can make the case that the participation of wealthy […]

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