You’ve Got to Give it Away: Creative Commons

As I think about my blog, I also can’t help but wonder about giving it away. Business 2.0 had an interesting article about the Creative Commons movement, which is basically an effort to encourage artists to give away certain rights to their work on the assumption that free distribution will have greater commercial benefits in the long run. Basically a DJ mixes a song, gives it away for free, then makes more money in the commerical licensing than said DJ would have simply by selling CDs.

It seems a bit more confusing for writers, because I have a hard time imagining what commercial licensing might come from my writing. But the basic idea of gaining greater exposure is still there.

At one time I had a Creative Commons license on this blog, but I switched back to all rights reserved after someone posted a story of mine on their site. They had full rights to do that, it just didn’t jive with me. You can vary the level of permission you give, and the most common I would consider is Attribution (they have to credit the work to me), No commercial use (they can’t make money off it), and non-derivative (the work cannot be changed, adapted, or modified in anyway).

It seems like a good deal, until you consider that anyone can put your work anywhere as long as it’s non-commercial and they give you credit. So anyone could post my blog entries as long as they put “by Kevin D. Hendricks” and it’s not a for-profit venture. My work could also appear in non-profit books or collections without my permission. That may be greater exposure, but I also worry about that loss of creative control.

What if someone wants to use my work in a mocking tone? What if they want to use an article I’ve since changed my mind about? What if they want to use an article I think sucks? Is the idea that you just take the lumps as added publicity? All publicity is good publicity?

I don’t know. I do know I need to think more about this. I’d like to read some of Lawrence Lessig’s books (the guy behind Creative Commons). A quick glance at his stuff gives some rationale for why I might like Creative Commons. You can get his latest book, Free Culture as a free download (or you can just read the whole book online). Within 36 hours of its release the book was available in 9 other formats. That’s some pretty nice distribution. Or is that simply because Lessig is a big name in this field, so of course his book will go all over the place?

The other question is how is Lessig profiting? The hardcover, old skool version costs $16.97 and is #567 on the Amazon sales rank. Apparently people will still buy it even though it’s available for free. But what if his sales tanked? Would the attention garnered by this move earn him larger advances in the future? Is he getting speaking engagements? Article offers? It’s never as simple as the straight up book sales.

I’d be curious to hear what a lawyer says about all this. Hmmm.

One thought on “You’ve Got to Give it Away: Creative Commons”

  1. As someone who writes software occasionally, we deal with this issue as well. Many people release software they write under something called the GPL, which basically gives the following rights to users:
    * The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
    * The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    * The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    * The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

    (see for more info).

    Software is a tool, and while there’s some creativity involved in writing good software, its still generally a very utilitarian thing. I’m a pretty strong supporter of releasing software in this manner, as it tends to give more people better tools to do the things that really make a difference and accomplish neat things, in technology and in everything that uses technology (so everythng, then?).

    I think writing/art is quite different though because your thoughts on your work can change so much over time that you have a greater likelihood of regret over releasing a part of you for the world to use in a fairly open ended manner. That’s the difference. You’re not giving away a tool, you’re making a part of you available for others to use in ways that might not coincide with how you want to be represented.

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