Fly, little orange, be free ("The Orange" licensed under Creative Commons)
I noticed some time ago -- as I went a-Googling -- that people were pirating my story "The Orange".
I always have mixed feelings about this kind of thing. On the one hand, I am awed and pleased by the idea that someone would actually spend their time retyping my story from hardcopy to share with their friends. This mostly seemed to be a case of high-school and college kids typing my story by hand into their blogs -- the way I used to compose mix tapes for my friends when the original peer-to-peer music sharing technology, casette tape, burst upon the scene. The pirates in question always used my name, never tried to pass the work off as their own. They weren't trying to be pirates. Like me, back then, with mix tapes, they felt that a story that addresses you directly, that changes or delights you, is morally yours to disseminate. On some level that is hard to argue with....
Not to mention that I'm absolutely certain that the pirates were, in this particular case, doing me zero financial harm, and probably doing me good.
On the other hand, though, Harper's paid me two hundred bucks to reprint the story in the first place. Another fellow made a deal with me for an option on a short film, and went to great time and trouble to come up with a contract that would satisfy both of us. It would be one thing if, believing in the virtues of free publicity and honoring impassioned readers, I wanted to give the story away; but these folks hadn't asked. Didn't blithely accepting piracy do some dishonor to people who went to great trouble to make sure authors get paid for their work? Like the volunteers at Strange Horizons, donating thousands of hours of highly skilled labor while scrupulously paying authors 5 cents a word? Or Eileen Gunn, who was at that time paying super-pro rates while making up the shortfalls of Infinite Matrix out of her own pocket? Plus, in the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, don't I ultimately lose my copyright if I fail to act against infringement?
So I kept intending to write the piratical bloggers nice letters, full of appreciation, expressing how honored I was, while gently educating them on copyright law. And then magnanimously assigning them noncommercial reprint rights ex post facto, in return for a link to my site.
It was never that inspiring a project though, and I never did it. Something felt weird about it. Like I was greeting a spontaneous expression of love with rules-lawyering. It would be a different matter if I firmly believed pirates were a scourge of artists, like Madonna and Harlan Ellison do. But I don't. I think there will be some ugly growing pains as antiquated business and revenue models adjust to cheap pervasive networking power and digitalization, but that ultimately freeloaders are useful. So it was like I'd be sending these letters on some kind of pedantic principle.
Thankfully, the clever folks at the Creative Commons project have provided a clever and innovative solution. They provide an intermediary range of options -- licenses that allow degrees of freedom between the flinch-inducing "do what ever you like with my baby" of public domain and the fixed "you have reprinted my poem on your blog, you must die now" position of classical information hoarding.
So "The Orange" is now under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license. That means that as long as you credit me, and you aren't making any money, and you don't change it any (or produce derivative works like films), you are free to distribute "The Orange". Post it on your blog. Put it on t-shirts and party balloons. Quote it in your term paper. Go crazy. (If you find yourself making money on it, or rewriting it, though, you need to drop me a line).
Sigh of relief. I feel so much better now.
The inimitable Cory Doctorow, brilliant SF writer, defender of electronic freedom and one of the instigators of the Creative Commons, was kind enough to note this in his Directory of Wonderful Things, Boing Boing. (If you have never been to Boing Boing and were planning to get anything else done today, do not click this link.)Posted by benrosen at July 16, 2004 04:52 PM | Up to blog