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Creative Commons Buzz

Filed in: consumerism, culture, marketing, rights, Tue, May 3 2005 08:30 PT

The Creative Commons/BzzAgent agreement has caused a storm among CC’s advocates. It started with Suw Charman, who objected to advocates being compensated for astroturfing what is a noble cause in and of itself. She goes so far as to call it a “betrayal” of genuine CC activists. The thread spiraled outward from there, and you can follow the Trackbacks, but BzzAgent’s CEO has asked Lessig for guidance, and Lessig has asked his readers for comment.

I’m not scared or disappointed by this experiment. CC has to have reach beyond Web geeks in order to be effective. Anyone who has read Wired over the last two years at least knows something about CC, but that’s only a half million people. Not a lot, in the grand scheme. I’ve talked myself blue in the face to just about everyone I know about CC, but one person I’m never going to reach is the non-techie conspicuous consumer. I know that they would probably understand and agree with the CC model if someone they identified with would explain it to them. That’s a conversation that CC could be having. But they need a broader set of advocates, and this gives them that.
The burden in this form of communication is borne by two actors: in this case, the BzzAgents and Creative Commons. Anyone who wants to be a BzzAgent and still have friends has to have a story that’s genuine. If their story isn’t honest and relevant, the audience will know something is up, and that impacts the agent’s personal reputation. Anyone can trade away their whuffie for a little cash, but they’ll learn it’s way easier to spend than it is to earn. When’s the last time you invited an Amway salesman to your house after they tried to pitch laundry detergent or financial independence to you?

It will also be up to CC to explain itself well to the non-technical. Let’s not mince words here: the stereotypical CC advocate (myself included) is some combination of a lawyer, a geek, an intellectual property activist, and a performer. We’re not going to reach everybody. We need constant pressure from all sorts of people in order to achieve the cultural breakthrough that we want. What is most important is that our new advocates are well-enough informed to convey the urgency of the situation. It will come out soft and irrelevant if, to paraphrase Mark Resch, they’re just listening to the free speech to get the free beer.

As for the people who actually engage in this form of persuasion, I have to think that a lot of them do it because they believe they’re beating the system. And maybe they have: at least they have marketers talking with them, and are getting some form of compensation for helping them. It’s not like HBO is giving out mugs for the water-cooler chat they create. If that’s what it takes to get more people to play ball, and someone is willing to sponsor the reward program to enable that, I’m finding it a little hard to be upset about it. But I guess there’s a fine line between influential and insidious.

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