One of the most enduring American tales from one of our favorite authors, Mark Twain, is that of Tom Sawyer. Tom was tasked with whitewashing a fence, a job he loathed to do while his buddies were all at play.

So Tom used his noggin rather than his hands and convinced some other boys to do his work for him and to pay him for the privilege. They actually paid him in the boyhood currency of, “a dead rat on a string, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar – but no dog – the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.”

A boyhood bonanza handed over to Tom to do what he considered a nasty chore. Great story that still draws chuckles, smirks, and laughs some 100+ years later. But we see the very same thing trick performed everyday in our creative community. In the 21st Century, the role of Tom Sawyer “selling” to creative community, the privilege of doing the heavy work, goes by the name “Creative Commons” (CC).

Recently we read a story of a photographer who gave away his rights with a CC license, sued the map company that used it on the cover of their map, and promptly lost in court when he tried to sue. Article link here.

What amazes us is that photographers buy into the concept of CC. They are just a gullible as Tom’s friends were. From the comments we read online, many defend the concept of giving away your work as though by using a CC license you control how it’s being stolen, err…we mean used. No, on second thought, we really mean stolen.

Let’s pull back the curtain and see who actually funds and supports CC. It’s not altruistic individuals who want to see the free flow of ideas and information. Nope, it’s companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Mozilla, Sun, the Hewlett Foundation, and other similar big businesses that benefit and thrive on free content. A source for this info is a wonderful article, written years ago by Mark Halprin in the Wall Street Journal apply titled “Copyright Critics Rationalize Theft”. We are both amazed that individual creators who profess their disdain for “big business” willingly assist multi-nationals in boosting their share prices by working for them without any real compensation. Creators don’t even get the equivalent of any state’s minimum wage.

The licensing for CC is purposely confusing, as pointed out by the photographer mentioned above who sued and lost because of his CC license. One thing to note is that if someone does illegally use your image against the CC license, typically your only recourse is to do what you would have done if there was no CC license, namely sue under copyright law in court. The CC licensing scheme offers no real protection. All it does is enable others to use your intellectual property either free of charge or on the cheap.

In our opinion, Creative Commons has nothing over Tom Sawyer. Question for those photographers still saying their images aren’t worth anything and are happy to have others use them: Why are they in fact being used via CC if they have no value? Perhaps the Creative Commons has successfully whitewashed and confused its contributors about the concept of licensing beyond recognition and thus enabled others to freely use your valuable images.

If you open your eyes you will see all those photographers lining up to help Creative Commons and others whitewash an endless supply of fences.