Weisch’s video “The Machine is Us/ing Us” highlights the ways in which Web 2.0 is both vulnerable due to questions of authorship and ownership, and somewhat exploitative of users. “The Machine” that Weisch discusses is often use to us despite the ominous name he gives it. We entrust it to hold baby photos, messages to our loved ones, and content that we collaboratively create with our friends. However, as Weisch pointed out, much of what we create is in a grey area. Who owns it? Who is the author? What do we do when we don’t know the source?
The SCP wiki I mentioned in my last post provides answers some of these questions. In this post, I’d like to dig into its history as a way of reaching these answers. The origins of the site lie in creepypasta, which are scary stories akin to urban legends and are often accompanied by images. These stories are often reposted and shared on the internet as images, or as text in emails and forums. The first piece of content that would grow into the wiki was SCP-173. It was first posted on /x/, 4chan‘s “paranormal” board that is predominantly dedicated to creepypasta. Because posting on /x/ is by default anonymous, nobody knows who wrote SCP-173. Other anonymous users continued to revise SCP 173, and even wrote new SCPs and short stories that would later be collected to form the base the wiki that exists today. But what do we do with works with mixed authorship? What do we do when someone asks for their content to be removed from a collaborative work in an attempt to harm the community by pulling out every single brick, beam, and nail they contributed? Does the community fall apart in the face of threats of litigation?
The SCP wiki has not only had such a situation play out, but also demonstrates the importance of creative commons. A prominent contributor had a dramatic falling out with the staff, and demanded that they remove not only his works, but any mention of or reference to anything that he had created from the site or else he would sue. He was a prolific writer whose characters had formed a considerable part of the site’s lore. Administrators and other volunteer staff responded by scrubbing the site of his original works, and retconning or expunging those of others. Although the staff did this as a way of removing him from the site before banning him for his offenses against members of the community, niether they nor the Web Archive that hosts backups of the writers content actually needed to fear his legal threats. They were protected by the fact that the Creative Commons 3.0 license that the wiki uses does not allow the original content creator to revoke the license of derivative creators:
CC licenses are not revocable. Once a work is published under a CC license, licensees may continue using the work according to the license terms for the duration of copyright protection. Notwithstanding, CC licenses do not prohibit licensors from ceasing distribution of their works at any time. Additionally, CC licenses provide a mechanism for licensors and authors to ask that others using their work remove the credit to them that is otherwise required by the license. You should think carefully before choosing a Creative Commons license.
This aspect of the creative commons license is useful for any community that wants to keep their content open for general use and access: it prevents one irate individual from harming the entire community by lashing out with legal threats. Whether it is a game, video, image, or written fiction based on another work, the same protection applies. It lets the machine keep working without disruption.