Saturday, April 04, 2009

Guest Blog: Creative Commons

I'm a big fan of technology. Like, a “way over-the-top into geek land” fan. I think it all started at the theater when I was six, going on seven. There I was, my jaw on the floor while an Imperial Star Destroyer bore down on Princess Leia's Rebel Blockade Runner. It wasn't exactly a unique moment in the universe, but it was formative!

For me, technology has always been linked with my writing. Back in the day I used to keep all my Dungeons & Dragons character files, all my world-building campaigns, etc. on the family Apple IIgs. Now, too many moons later, I have integrated technology even more deeply into my creative life. I blog occasionally, I Twitter constantly, and I dictate my novel through the use of voice translation software.

Technology has certainly improved the process by which I write, but what about the end product of all that talking to my computer? What do I do with all those blog posts, or with my novel -- assuming I ever get it finished! Can technology and the internet improve that?

This is a question that has intrigued me ever since I first became serious about wanting to turn my writing into a career and I’ve been looking for answers to that question for quite some time. While I still don’t feel like I have a firm answer to the question of how to best leverage technology, I have discovered a few intriguing things and look forward to sharing them with you over my next few blog posts.

The first of these, is something called Creative Commons ( Creative commons builds on core internet principles such as sharing and reuse and applies them to the domain of intellectual capital.

Taken directly from the Creative Commons website:

“Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright.

We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.”

I won't go into all the details surrounding the types of Creative Commons licenses available (you can go to their website to see that), but I will give you the 10,000 foot overview. There are six types Creative Commons licenses, ranging from the least restrictive: a license that lets others redistribute your work, make derivatives of it, and do so for profit, as long as they credit you; to the most restrictive: a license that lets others redistribute your work but not make derivatives, nor do it for profit.

Creative Commons licenses have been legally tested and they have been utilized by many people and corporations, including, the music group Nine Inch Nails and the U.S. Government. In addition, the electronic license widget you add to your online content automatically plugs you into what I call the “Creative Commons Network” making your work available (via search engines such as Firefox) for sharing and reuse, based on the conditions of your license.

So what does that mean to those of us who are writers? It means we can easily and safely secure our creative works without the use of copyright, we can do it for no cost, and we can do it in such a manner that our work becomes easily available to others.

This sort of freedom opens up a whole range of possibilities. Take for example this website. A Creative Commons license can be used to protect all the intellectual capital that exists here. What about those short stories sitting around gathering virtual dust on your hard drive? Slap a Creative Commons license on them and upload them to an internet publishing house or make them available as a free download.

Now, you can see where this is going, right? One could put a Creative Commons license on a novel and then distribute and market that novel via the internet without ever having to interact with a publisher. Of course, there are some major pros and cons to such an approach and a Creative Commons license is only one factor to consider in making such a decision.

So tell me, what do you think about Creative Commons? Have any of you writers used a Creative Commons license before? Has your experience been good or bad? Anyone a playwright? What do you think about being able to legally make derivative works of someone else's novel, short story, etc.? Readers, where have you seen Creative Commons licenses used?

Oh, and by the way: This post by Shawn P. Enderlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Kelly McCullough said...

One note. This: It means we can easily and safely secure our creative works without the use of copyright isn't strictly true. Creative commons is built on top of inherent copyright, not as an alternative structure. Inherent copyright (as opposed to explicit copyright) is also free and automatic with the creation of the work in a fixed form. It's only when you register your copyright (explicit copyright) that there is a cost associated.

Shawn Enderlin said...

Kelly, you are correct. Thanks for clarifying that point. :-)

Shawn Enderlin said...

Kelly, when I first read your comment I was like, "Well that makes sense." But then I started thinking and I've been Googling for evidence of your comment that "Creative Commons is built on top of inherent copyright." Like I said, it makes sense, but I haven't found it.

If you find that, can you forward me a http link?

Not that I want to get into a nitpick fight, because this isn't part of the core point of my post! :-)

Kelly McCullough said...

I don't have the cite handy, as I think it's from one of the copyright law books I read when I was learning to understand literary contracts, but I can lay it out pretty easily.

It goes like this: Creative commons licenses provide grants of (varying) rights over a work by that works creator. The only legal* rights a creator has to their work under our system of government are those rights granted the creator by copyright law (both constitutional and statutory). So, without inherent copyright the creator would have no rights to grant. What creative commons does is allow you to very precisely bestow portions of your copyright on the general public.

*as opposed to moral rights which are whole different kettle of fish