Why Creative Commons

Posted October 13th, 2010 by emily

Filmmaker Emily James discusses why she’s choosing to release her next film, Just Do It: get off your arse and change the world – a feature documentary about climate activists, under a Creative Commons licence.

For me, publishing Just Do It under a Creative Commons licence – free to watch, free to share – is about a wilful rejection of the economic model that binds current creative work (and in this case filmmaking). Making films is expensive and so it’s unsurprising that it has become more an industry than an art. What is more, the decisions about what gets made (and what doesn’t) have been largely privatised and are now driven almost entirely by commercial concerns (even if that commercial concern is simply getting enough ‘market share’). I’d like to see more space for films (and other work) to be judged on different merits than just box office takings. This may sound naïve, but ‘naïve’ suggests that I don’t understand how ‘the real world works’. Actually, I understand all too well how this world currently works – I just don’t like it, and I think it could be different.

The concept of a creative commons, where ideas can be shared freely, with everyone contributing openly to a shared conversation, without copyright restriction or commercial interests appeals to me at a basic level. Imagine the rich diversity of expression, the breadth of available entertainment, and the level of participation and cross-pollination. Of course, in the utterly capitalist world that we currently live in, it seems almost absurdly idealistic, and I might as well be dancing around with fairies in my tie-died hair. But then, at the same time, developments in Open Source and Free Culture practice make it feel like it really could be just over the next horizon, if only we chose to go that way. So choosing to publish under a Creative Commons licence is for me an act of faith and an attempt to push in the right direction. [for a further and better elaboration on the importance of Creative Commons, check out this blog about Just Do It from Becky Hogge, expert on Open Rights, and friend of the project]

In the case of Just Do It, I had a further reason for wanting to avoid a commercial model: I really did not want to exploit the people who were in the film. I use the word ‘exploit’ here in a literal sense, not an overly emotive one, but both apply.

If I had followed the standard, contemporary funding model for a film such as this, I would be investing my time into a product, getting some pre-sale (the equivalent of an ‘advance’) from distributors and sales agents, maybe some private investment too, and then planning to pull in earnings from DVD and TV sales. Now, to be clear, very few projects on this model ever go into profit, and the vast majority don’t even manage to cover the initial ‘investments’- particularly that of the filmmakers time. Filmmakers are passionate about their projects, and so often engage in a form of ‘auto-exploitation’ in order to get them made. Often they justify this to themselves on the ground that they will own the finished film, and so, when it’s a success (as they must believe it will be!), they will be financially rewarded. The sad truth is that time after time we see that even rather successful films still don’t ever pull in enough to adequately compensate the heavy investment of time and energy. So it’s not a particularly successful model, but it’s a pretty dominant one and it’s the way that most independent filmmakers find themselves having to work.

But with Just Do It, I simply did not want to make a film about these activists which I would then own as an asset and would have to then exploit to recoup my investment. That’s not the relationship that I want to have with this film, with my contributors, with the many other people working on the film, nor with my audience. It felt inappropriate, and out of step with the themes and content of the film. So Just Do It seemed like the perfect film for the sort of Creative Commons experiment that I’d been wanting to do for some while. In so doing, I could attempt to focus on the film creating real culture-shift, rather than on making something that would be a commercial success.

Again, I’m aware of how naïve some will think this sounds, but that’s only because this set of commercial and exploitative relationships have become so ingrained in our culture, that we can’t see beyond them. Making ‘good business sense’ has become the yard stick by which we measure every plan, and this failure of imagination – this acceptance that markets and balance sheets should rule every part of our lives – must be vigorously resisted, particularly when it comes to our creative and social spaces.

So we need to start exploring new models and pushing at the boundaries of this box that we’re in as hard as we can. As with everything in life, if we passively accept the status-quo, we’ve got little hope for a better future. The fast moving world of communication technologies is quickly undermining the old Copyright models, and by participating in the Creative Commons and Copy-left movement, I hope that we can be part of building a new model which is less about control and ownership and more about freedom, sharing, and collaboration.

To find out more about Emily’s current project – Just Do It: get off your arse and change the world check out the website – www.just-do-it.org.uk. Emily will be guest blogging about the project here at Shooting People over the next couple of weeks to coincide with 20 days of match funding from Lush (the soap people). During this period, all donations to the project will be matched, pound for pound, but Lush Cosmetics, so go on over and make a donation. – www.just-do-it.org.uk/20k-in-20-days

  1. chandra

    Hi Emily,
    Your effort need wholehearted support – and I’d just like to extend you that unreservedly. Have been through the entire spin myself and always seem to arrive at a point where thinking within the framework of ‘good business sense’ never actually translates into that. Either one is forced to compromise on the film – and I am not talking about compromise one one’s sense of ‘artistic integrity’, since this can often just be a self indulgent excercise, but compromise on the fidelity of the film’ content itself. Or one is forced to remain on the fringes – possible taking comfort in the thought that it is for a greater good. I don’t think it needs to be either actually – we need to think outside of the context, like you said, of the current funding models.
    It is laudable that people like you are making an effort in that direction. I also saw a recent post calling for a filmmaker’s co-operative – which I think is potentially a workable idea – if we are able to put aside our inflated ‘creative’ egos aside.
    best wishes

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