Monday, October 24, 2005

Free Isn't Really Free

Wife got a Craft Robo (CR). It's a neat machine. It looks like an inkjet printer, but instead of printing, it cuts. Or, think of a small plotter that "draws" with a blade. I've been playing with it a bit, too, and it's gobs of fun. The machine is identical to (same manufacturer as) another cutter called Wishblade (WB). The only difference is the software that comes with each. CR's software lets you cut directly from any TrueType font; WB's software, at present, does not.

So WB owners, to compensate for this, have been tracing fonts; both WB and CR owners have been tracing the outlines of a variety of other designs (clip art, photos, etc.) to be able to cut with their machines. Both machines' software let you save the results in a sort of vector file to re-use.

Or to share.

Well, the web is rife with free fonts and free clip art. Except it really isn't free, is it? Or is it? It's the next verse of the song that the CC folks and Larry Lessig have been singing for quite a while: what can we do with the media we acquire?

In this case, gathering the media (fonts, clip art, etc.) is permissable and encouraged (by the websites that offer it, from the creators, for free), but nobody says anything about derivative works. So this particular group of about 1300 WB/CR owners I've been reading are alternately either breaking the law (or not; who knows for sure) or refusing to share or accept content, unless folks can track down the content creator and get permission.

I did find one clip art site that requires all submissions to be either CC-licensed or public domain, from which I then proceeded to download an image, trace it, and upload the trace file to a WB/CR site for all to use. But many of these WB/CR owners are sitting on hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of "free" fonts, and tons of "free" clip art, that they'd love to trace and share, but can't or won't for fear of infringement.

Let's just say it again: copyright law, which applied adequately (I suppose) in the pre-Internet era, is now broken. When/how can this be fixed?

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