I've just seen this comment on the fediverse:

I'm old enough to remember how @creativecommons was founded as a way for independent creators to safely share their work and build upon each other.

In 2024, their take is now "billion dollar companies plagiarizing your art is fair use".

Hats off to the author, you don't see that kind of, uh, skillful rhetoric chicanery every day. Like "generative AI doesn't compete with artists because artists are not in the data market". 😬

The comment refers to this statement by Creative Commons that is essentially saying that the ingestion of works by large language models (LLMs) is not copyright infringement, but Fair Use (referring to the doctrine in U.S. law that protects certain forms of copying from claims of infringement, for the sake of freedom of speech).

I agree with Creative Commons at the shallowest level: in law, how LLMs consume and use others' creative works is probably not copyright infringement1. I am aware that many don't like what the LLMs are doing, debasing as it does their efforts and creativity, and putting their abilities to earn livings at risk.

I don't disagree; in fact I sympathise.

However, misinformation ("… companies plagiarizing [sic] your art …") is not going to solve the problem. Nor will changes to copyright law, no matter who tries.

We need to remember: copyright is a tool of large corporations to exploit creators and their works in order to maximise profits for their shareholders. This is why changes to copyright laws for the last 150 years or so have benefitted businesses and not creators.

This is why, for example, that in law the offence of helping others to make copies, even for legal uses, is considered a greater offence than just making copies.

Creative works from the middle of the 20th century are literally rotting away – unremembered, unknown, unloved – because large corporations needed copyright to be extended and tightened to protect the revenue streams flowing to them from an infinitesimal fraction of the global corpus.

Copyright is a tool of corporations, not creators.

The clever ploy of the likes of Creative Commons and the FSF's General Public Licence is that they are hacks of the copyright system. They exploit the core control in copyright to make works more available than they would otherwise be. Copyright grants the "owner" of the work control over who can make copies, and allows them to place conditions on that copying. This core feature of copyright was used until the mid-80s exclusively to maximise profit by maximising scarcity. However, the GPL and Creative Commons licences are designed to use the same control to minimise scarcity, and thus make works that use those licences available to the widest possible audience.

Thus …

You can make, modify and share as many copies of this work as you want as long as you just say where you got it from

… uses the exact same properties of copyright law as …

You can't make any copies of this work unless you pay us lots of money, and under no circumstances can you share it without our express permission on a case-by-case basis, making sure we get a cut of your profits

But this dynamic operates in both directions: if users of Creative Commons and other "copyleft" licences want the law changed to stop a form of copying they don't like, then who will benefit most from that change? Those who want culture to be shared as widely as possible are exploiting a feature of copyright to achieve this. Those who want to restrict culture for the sake of their own profits can – and will – do the same. And they have far more expensive lawyers on retainer to help.

Be careful – be very, very careful – of what you wish for.

Copyright is not the friend of the creator, if ever it was. Copyright is most certainly not the solution to protect against owners of LLMs profiting from the works of others. Nor is it any longer (if ever it was) the solution to any problem real creators may have.

The GPL and Creative Commons shouldn't exist. Copyright shouldn't exist. Copyright became irrelevant to creators in the early '90s when the internet exploded with the roll-out of the World Wide Web, making the creation of copies trivially inexpensive.

We need to stop thinking that more copyright protects the interests of creators. I don't know what it might be, but we need something else altogether.

We need to kill copyright.



I say "in law", so don't @ me unless you're an academic or practicing lawyer that specialises in copyright.

You can comment on this post below, or on the matrix room here. If you want, you can "Log in" using your [matrix] ID.

All comments are subject to this site's comment policy.