May 1, 2005

Creative Commons and the Bzzz

Apparently, Creative Commons has signed up for a "pro bono 12 week marketing campaign" with BzzNet, a word-of-mouth marketing firm. This firm markets by recruiting 'BzzAgents' who wander about and inject their chosen campaign targets into conversations or other face to face encounters, in exchange for points - for which they are rewarded. Good ol' guerrilla marketing.

There have been all manner of comments about this online already, some negative, some positive. I'm not totally sure what to think; I've gone and read up on BzzNet, and thought about it a tad, and I guess my position comes down to the following.

First of all, let me state that I am not a passionate Creative Commons supporter. Not because I disagree with it, but because I'm not informed enough and submerged enough in that particular part of the issue to be passionate about it. I do like the idea, and will cheerfully say so. I don't, typically, engage in arguments about it, because I don't have the information base to back said arguments up.

Having said that, I don't like this move. I do like CC in general, quite a bit actually. I think it's a Good Thing, even if I can't support that thought through very many iterations of argument. However, the Bzz move is a problem for me. That's because when I do argue with people over things like copyright, I argue with them in three general areas - one, the technical legalities; two, our respective motivated opinions; and three, the philosophical or moral considerations. Sometimes two or more of these are in alignment. Sometimes they are not. However, I have no trouble arguing with anyone on any side of the debate, so long as - and here's the kicker - our positions in each of these are clear.

Arguing this sort of stuff productively with anyone - from Copyfighter to RIAA rep - is possible only if everyone comes to the table with their motivations and affiliations freely available. In some cases we can't help it; if we're public-facing employees of the RIAA, or if we are known bloggers with on-record opinions, it's easy. If we meet at parties, however, one of the first parts of a discussion - and a critical one - is determining everyone at the table's positions and starting points. If we agree, why argue? Why not discuss? If we're going to discuss or argue copyrights, then I want to know what everyone involved has at stake - is it philosophical? Is it a deeply-held conviction? Is it because their family fortune is based on a fifty-year-old set of IP rights? These are things that, for tactical reasons within the argument (if not politeness at a party) you'd like to know. Why are these other people talking about this with you, and from what point of view?

Suddenly, BzzNet. Now, if I'm at an event, and someone brings up CC, I am in trouble. Because I have read up on this whole debacle, and I know what's going on. Now I have to explicitly wonder about their motivations. Sure, BzzNet can tell me all it wants about how people 'only sign up for things they believe in' - but is there any means of enforcement there? Hell no, not that I can see. And remember, this is the advertising industry. Faking sincerity is their stock in trade. Maybe not BzzNet's, but the industry as a whole, absolutely. So the only thing I have to go on to trust that the BzzAgents in question aren't just shilling for the rewards is the assurance of a BzzNet corporate spokeperson that in fact they're only 'collecting rewards for things they would do anyway.'

That's not comforting.

In sum, the effect of the BzzNet campaign for me is to throw a monkey wrench into what was, until now, a relatively clean intellectual fight - 'clean' in the sense that the motives of everyone involved, whatever you thought of their provenance, were relatively easy to discern, and no-one thought much about hiding. Suddenly, there are mercenaries in the ranks - and I don't know who they are. If I might be permitted my own 'reach' metaphor, you have a group of soldiers fighting for a cause - they know each other, and are committed. New recruits begin to arrive, and they greet them warmly, trusting them as comrades, knowing that unless one believed, one wouldn't join up. Then suddenly, one of the recruits admits that in fact things aren't going all that well at home, and he joined because somebody gave him a big cash bonus - he doesn't even really know much about the ideological cause.

If you were a soldier in that unit, those new recruits would feel a lot less secure at your back.

Update: Mr. Lessig has asked for feedback on CC's involvement with BzzNet, let's see what he gets.

Posted by jbz at May 1, 2005 2:55 PM | TrackBack

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