Sunday, March 31, 2013

Agency of Cultural Affairs Promotes Creative Commons

The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs ("ACA") started to promote Creative Commons. 

ACA recognized that there are some people who want their work to be widely used. Ten years ago, in around 2003, ACA started to promote "Free Use Marks" for this purpose, but there were many problems on Free Use marks. There are three kinds of marks, a Copy OK mark, a Disabled OK mark, and an Education OK mark. The Copy OK mark is similar to Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC license (CC BY-NC-ND). But there are some differences, such as the fact that some commercial usage (like putting on brochures provided for free) are OK whereas more importantly, on-line distribution is prohibited. Also, Article 37 of the Copyright already excludes commercial translation to Braille from infringement but the Disabled OK mark only permits non-commercial usage and is therefore misleading. At the time ACA introduced Free Use Marks, some Internet users in Japan even started an "Anti-Free Use Mark" campaign (which, the advocate herself eventually stopped). Whatever the ACA's original intention would have been, I believe that the three marks, at least, do not satisfy the needs of the rights holders who want their work to be widely used.

What happened is that virtually nobody used the Free Use Mark and ACA has been considering establishing another set of licenses and marks symbolizing the license called CLIP license. However, during the contemplation, creative commons ("CC") became dominant for people who believe in a 'free' and 'share' culture even in Japan. Under CC, the rights holders have a choice of relatively easy-to-understand variations of what rights to retain. Even Jack Valenti, the president of MPAA agreed with CC's concept that there are rights holders who want to give up part or all of their copyright. Although the original idea is similar to Free Use Marks, CC is flexible and fits many rights holders' needs. This month, ACA finally abandoned their efforts to promote their original license/marks such as Free Use Marks and CLIP license and instead decided to promote CC.

I think that from the viewpoint of efficiency, supporting CC is a much better policy than promoting "Free Use Marks." The first and the easiest thing for ACA to do is to put a CC license on the webpages and other printed materials prepared by ACA. In Japan, copyrights exist in most of the works even if governmental officials prepare them. According to Article 32-2 of the Copyright Law, governmental works prepared to make information publicly known can be freely used as "explanatory materials." "Explanatory material" means that when you reproduce governmental material, you need to add a certain amount of additional explanation to qualify it. I do not think such a requirement is compelling (at least from policy viewpoint) and just reproducing the governmental works without any additional explanation would usually have a good consequence because it helps to make the information in the governmental work more publicly known. I believe that most of the materials on ACA's websites and printed materials ACA publish can be published under an Attribution license (CC BY).

DISCLAIMER: "IT Law issues in Japan" only provides general information about Japanese information technology law and does not, under any circumstances, constitute legal advice. You should first obtain the advice of professional legal counsel who is qualified in Japan before acting or refraining from acting based on this blog.

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