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Copyright guru Lawrence Lessig started a mutiny among supporters this spring, when the Stanford Law School professor’s nonprofit group, Creative Commons, joined forces with advertising firm BzzAgent. In February, BzzAgent offered the group a free 10-week marketing campaign, a service the company had already given the March of Dimes and the National Outdoor Leadership School. The pro bono market blitz would follow BzzAgent’s word-of-mouth model. The agency would send out information about Creative Commons to 3,000 unpaid volunteers who would then promote the group to their friends, family and acquaintances without mentioning their advertising agency affiliation. Creative Commons was happy to accept, hoping to inform a larger audience about its flexible copyright licenses, marked with a CC, which allow users to easily make their works available to the public. But as soon as the group announced the partnership, Creative Commons users rioted. Creative Commons is more than just a product to be sold by advertisers masquerading as supporters, railed users, it’s a grassroots reform movement advocating less-restrictive copyright laws. The debate soon escalated to a full-scale blog war, with bloggers and BzzAgent founder and president Dave Balter calling each other “liars” in nasty posts. Just days later, Lessig severed the relationship, agreeing that his group’s “authenticity would be jeopardized by messengers whose message is mixed.” Balter thinks Creative Commons is being shortsighted. It’s hard for products to jump communities, he says, and Creative Commons users’ obsession with building a movement will prevent the group from getting exposure among less tech-savvy people. “It’s like the band that everyone loves until people like it, and it’s no longer cool,” says Balter. “CC needs help in structuring how to let their community engage with people outside themselves.” Creative Commons users believe that the organization can expand its reach without receiving external guidance or sacrificing its identity. The group launched an online dialogue space, known as a wiki, to brainstorm ideas, like sponsoring a concert of bands that use the Creative Commons license. “It can be a movement for some people and just a product for others,” says Lessig. “What we are looking for is the best mix of those.”

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