Climbing Over The Bars: Can Free-License Free Your Project?

Sunday, November 13, 2011
You can't be too careful

Let’s play a word-association game. I say “Creative Commons” or “Free License” and your first thought is...

Was it copyright-free photographs for your blog or royalty-free images for your book trailer? If so, you are not alone. We have become accustomed to searching for license-free artwork, but when was the last time you searched the public domain for quotes, song lyrics, or other tidbits for your work in progress? More appropriately, when was the last time you offered your own writing free to the public to copy or use?

Did I hear someone in the audience just gasp?

Okay, then when was the last time you ran a search on your own name to find the other websites your writing is posted. Come-on, you know you do this... Is it just so you can rant about copyright infringement or do you, perhaps secretly, want to see if anyone out there enjoys your work enough to mention it again? Ah!

We know that copying is a form of flattery, yet most of us bar ourselves from this form of flattery by hiding behind our copyrights. After all, we need to protect ourselves—protect our revenue. But is there a point where this protective fortress can actually hinder the expansion of our readership or pocketbook?

I came across the above cartoon the other day strictly by accident. I wasn’t feeling well and just wanted to “veg” in front of a movie for a few minutes. I was on YouTube checking out the free movies and ran across one that I enjoyed so much I began looking up how to get a copy of the movie or soundtrack. The movie was available for free download. That got my attention--who does that?

This unscheduled chase spurred me to read up on free license. Did you know there are several forms of free-license you can add on top of your copyright? I’ve paraphrased them below.

CC-BY-SA: Others may share or adapt the original work with attribution and under a similar license.

CC-BY: Others may share or adapt the original work with attribution, but don’t imply that the original creator endorses your new version.

CC-0: Public Domain. This work is set free to become whatever others will make with it.

In what instances would a writer attach a free license? I can think of a few:

--The writer is just starting out in an area and wants to gather a following.

--The writer feels that her message may help others and her main goal is to get the information out to them.

--The writer has books to sell and is using the free information to drive the sales.

Whether or not this model works to the writer’s best interest is fodder for a long debate, but while you are forming your opinion take into consideration the evidence just placed before you.

I tripped over public domain information.
I enjoyed the material enough to follow up on the artist.
I supported that artist by purchasing a CD.
I am sharing information I learned with you, in my altered context.
And I am linking specific portions of this new altered material back to the original, not because I have to, but because I want to.

By Robyn Chausse
with a nod to Nina Paley and Question Copyright .Org

Do you use free-license material? Would you or Do you offer your own work under free-license? Why or Why Not? In what ways do copyright laws protect us? Share your thoughts here...



Several months ago I sought permission from a photographer to use one of his photos. I didn't hear back from him so figured, it's the Internet it's probably okay. Months later he contacted me, LIVID that I had the audacity to use his photo without permission. I apologized profusely and purchased the photo. He still threatened to sue me! Since then I've made it a point to use only CLEARLY LABELED copyright free photos from public domain sites and always attribute the photo to the photographer even though it's not always required. I've also made my photos available for use. It only seems fair. Most people are very generous especially if you make proper attributions. I think we can be mannerly about it. :) Most people mean no ill-intent.

Anonymous said...

I almost think I would be honored if someone like my work well enough to "borrow" it (:
I'm just kidding, just feeling bummed.

Tamara Marnell said...

In my personal experience, most of the people who bother to pirate books/music/photos like the copyright holders enough to give them money as well. Sure, they may rip your book off from some torrent service and you're out that $5, but that's the same result as reading it in a bookstore before putting it back on the shelf. If they really like you, they will pay for it (or at least your future releases, once they're hooked). I actually intend to distribute my first chapters completely free as a form of advertisement. Someone could potentially take it off the Internet and pass it off as their own, but it wouldn't do them much good without the other 16 :p

Robyn Chausse said...

Hi Grace,

Yes, good point for bloggers to note. Everything is copyrighted unless specified otherwise either by being available on a copyright-free website or being posted with the free-copyright add-ons discussed in the article. Our copyright is automatic.

Hi Tamara,
That is a good example of using a free-license; offer the first few chapters free to download and share with friends, then if people like them they can purchase the book.

Thanks to each of you for commenting. I think we all appreciate our copyright protection in general, but when you find yourself with something you want to share freely remember to tell your readers that it is okay to copy, download, quote or share. The copyright is automatic unless stated otherwise.

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