Copyright basics for the Internet age.
Too often the debate over creative control tends to the extremes. At one pole is a vision of total control –Â€Â” a world in which every last use of a work is regulated and in which “Â€Âœall rights reserved”Â€Â (and then some) is the norm. At the other end is a vision of anarchy –Â€Â” a world in which creators enjoy a wide range of freedom but are left vulnerable to exploitation. Balance, compromise, and moderation –Â€Â” once the driving forces of a copyright system that valued innovation and protection equally –Â€Â” have become endangered species.
Creative Commons is working to revive them. We use private rights to create public goods: creative works set free for certain uses. Like the free software and open-source movements, our ends are cooperative and community-minded, but our means are voluntary and libertarian. We work to offer creators a best-of-both-worlds way to protect their works while encouraging certain uses of them –Â€Â” to declare “some rights reserved.”Â€Â
In this three-article series, I’ll explain what copyright means to me and how I use Creative Commons on my Web site and blog to protect my work.
Copyright Is Important
As a professional freelance writer, I live in the first world: one where every last use of a work is regulated. Sure, I write computer books for a living. But did you know that some of my book contracts lay out the movie rights for my work? Movie rights for a computer how-to book? Are they kidding?
Sadly, they’re not. They really do take into consideration every last possible use of a work — even if that use is not very likely.
Copyright is important not only to me but to my publishers. Each book contract I sign lays down the rules of who owns the work and who has the right to market, promote, and sell it. We work together to come up with a contract that both parties are happy with, then work together to produce and sell the work so we can both make money. In general, this works pretty well. I write, my books appear in stores, and I get paid. My publisher produces my work, puts it in stores, and gets paid. We’re happy.
How Copyright Infringement Hurts Everyone
When things go wrong is when people take our work — because it really is both mine and my publisher’s together — and illegally reproduce it, either by hard-copy or digital means, and share it with others. This reduces the potential paying market for our product. How many copies of a book do you think we could sell if someone else was giving them away for free to anyone who wanted them?
And when copyright infringement like that exists and becomes widespread, books don’t sell well enough to be worthwhile to produce. Publishers don’t make enough money on certain titles, so they publisher fewer books or, worse yet, go out of business and stop publishing books altogether. Writers find it harder and harder to get book contracts, so they don’t write as much — or they stop writing.
The result: there are fewer resources out there for people who want to learn new things with the assistance of a knowledgeable author and a book they can read and refer to over and over.
All because enough people thought that our work should be distributed for free.
This hit home recently when I discovered a Web site that was distributing, free of charge, two of my books in electronic format. But it wasn’t just my books they were distributing. It was over 300 different computer how-to books — some of which were only a few months old — and tutorial DVDs and even software. The site’s slogan was “Because knowledge should be free.”
What they don’t understand is that their actions are taking away the livelihood of professional writers who work hard to write those books. Authors are people who rely on the income from books sold to survive and thrive and care for their families. Every book illegally distributed rather than sold is money from a writer’s pocket.
You’ve heard the phrase “starving writers,” haven’t you? (I never did like the idea, myself.) Think about that the next time you illegally download a pirated eBook or photocopy pages of a library book to share with your friends.
In the next part of this series, I’ll explain how Creative Commons helps writers and bloggers license their Internet work for use by others.
In the meantime, let’s get a discussion going. Got some thoughts about copyright protection and piracy? Use the Comments link or form for this post to share them.