05 May 2009

Letting Go is Hard to Do

A few weeks ago, Leo Babauta published a great post entitled "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (or, the Privatization of the English Language)" about yet another idiocy of the intellectual monopolists. Now he has another, winningly-entitled: "The Culture of Sharing: Why Releasing Copyright Will Be the Smartest Thing You Do." Here's the core message:

Last year I Uncopyrighted my blog, Zen Habits, and my ebook, Zen To Done, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. People have used my articles in blogs, newsletters, magazines, ebooks, books and more. And yes, they’ve made profits off me without me getting any of that money … but at the same time, I’ve benefitted: my ideas have spread, my name and brand have spread, and my readership has grown and grown. Since I Uncopyrighted the blog, it has grown from about 30K subscribers to 113K.

You can Uncopyright your blog, your ebooks, and even your print books. And I can almost guarantee you: it’ll be the best thing you can do as a writer.

His heart is certainly in the right place; the only problem is that "uncopyrighting" is not as easy as it looks. Although Creative Commons has come out with what it calls cc0 - "no copyright" - I believe that in some jurisdictions it's practically impossible to renounce your rights as a creator (I'd be interested in receiving confirmation or refutation of this point.)

What you *can* do even there (presumably) is to adopt a licence that grants considerable rights to users (like the GNU GPL). But it's worth noting that most of these *depend* on copyright law, rather than denying it completely.


Bill Hooker said...

As I understand it, *all* copyleft and Creative Commons type licenses depend on copyright. Equally, all licenses impose restrictions on users -- even if it's just attribution (David Wiley has argued that on a global level even CC-BY might be overly restrictive).

The basic question is whether you, as licensor, want to *control* use of your work or *enable* it.

If you want to get rid of copyright, the Public Domain is your space -- and CC0 or the ODC PDDL (http://www.opendatacommons.org/licenses/pddl/1.0/) are your instruments. John Wilbanks and Peter Murray-Rust have argued persuasively for the Public Domain as the natural home of scientific information (especially data). The experiences of authors like Scalzi, Doctorow, Lessig and now Babauta (and surely dozens I don't know) indicate that creative content can live happily in the same space, without detriment to the creator.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for the comment. One issue I was raising was not whether putting your stuff in the public domain is a good idea - it clearly is - but whether, in some jurisdictions, it's really possible.

Andrew Katz said...

In England and Wales, I'd be comfortable saying that a deed poll (which is just a fancy name for a deed executed by only one person)confirming that:
(1) the author waives all moral rights and
(2) the author irrevocably undertakes not to enforce any rights associated with the copyright in the work

would be pretty much indistinguishable from a donation to the public domain for all practical purposes. If you publish the existence of the deed poll somewhere, like the London Gazette, you (may!) also be giving notice of the existence of the deed to any third party who comes into possession of the copyright work (e.g. if you die intestate), who would therefore be bound by it.

In England and Wales, it's not at all clear that it is possible to donate any work to the public domain as such, so I would not recommend this approach.

However, in civil law jurisdictions, in particular, it can be impossible to give up some rights. For example, in France, moral rights are perpetual, inalienable and inviolable.

Glyn Moody said...

Thanks for that clarification, Andrew. I guessed that (a) it was more complicated than it looked and (b) there'd probably be a way around at least some of the problems.