Monday, August 04, 2008

The Creative Commons Connection (Part 3): Should I allow my work to be exploited?

[From Part 2]

Prior to Molly's talk, I'd read her earlier post on The Psychology of Creative Commons.

Where she shared her thoughts about this other blogger (Paul Courant) who changed his blog's Creative Commons license -- from Attribution-NonCommercial (BY-NC) to simply Attribution (BY) only.

NOTE: When you adopt a Creative Commons license with a NonCommercial (NC) label, if someone wants to use it for commercial purposes, they'd have to seek your explicit permission. If they intend to use it for non-commercial purposes, they don't have to contact you for permission because you've already given permission in advance. And in both cases, they'd have to attribute your work, i.e. acknowledge you as the creator/ owner.

Basically, Paul Courant is saying to the Whole Wide World that so long you attribute him as the creator, you can share/ make copies/ amend his original work/ sell his work without paying him any royalties.

Let me repeat that for you: he's giving advanced permission to you to make money from using his work, without paying him a cent.

I bet you're asking, "Why would anyone want to do that?"

It's mind-boggling, isn't it?

Why would you allow your work to be exploited?

Look up "Exploit" in any dictionary and they'd all agree that using someone's work without compensating them qualifies as exploitation.


But is it?

Reading Paul's explanation and Molly's thoughts (plus what she elaborated in her talk), my interpretation is this:
  1. You expect a very low chance that anyone would ever pay you for your work
  2. Your main aim is for your work (and hence your name and reputation) to be spread as far and as wide as possible. This aim is more important than you actually earning money from your work
  3. So you only ask to be credited as the author of the work
  4. It's possible some people may make money from your work and NOT even give you credit in name
  5. But you accept this fact
  6. Plus, the very act of allowing others to benefit commercially from your work, without having to pay you, increases the chance of your work (plus your name and reputation) being cast wider
  7. There's even a chance that someone will decide to pay you in the end!

So it's not so crazy after all.

We see the equivalent of this happening all the time. By retailers.
  • "Use first, pay later".
  • "Buy now, and if you're not satisfied, full money-back with no questions asked".
Granted their motivations may be different (i.e. reduce perceived risk of purchase) but I'd argue the net effect is the same (i.e. increase use).

In fact, anyone who adopts a "Attribution" only CC license (i.e. automatically allow commercial use) is acting like an entrepreneur.

You're weighing the risk of not being attributed at all against the potential increase of (using Molly's term) "maximising influence".

That's taking power into your hands.

Far from being exploited, you're empowering yourself.

Risk of exploitation is already there
Each time I publish my text or music online, I'm prepared for it to be used or modified without permission. Or attribution even.

Who's to say someone hasn't already taken advantage of my words or music, profiting from it (monetary or otherwise) without benefiting or attributing to me?

The reality is that once I've publish my work online (words, pictures, videos) I don't have 100% control over it anymore.

Most individuals like you and I won't have the means or access to sophisticated digital content/ rights management systems, and even those aren't 100% future-proof against copyright violation.

Am I ready for it?
This is the million-dollar question, isn't it?

Here's my answer; this is the license I'd be adopting from now on:
Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Ivan Chew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share, copy, modify, sell this work. You don't have to pay me (although you might want to make a donation to a charitable organisation of your choice!) I only ask that you credit and link to "Ivan Chew,". You don't necessarily have to notify me but I'd always appreciate a friendly email.

I'll also be modifying the license to Attribution-only, for my music. The new ones will definitely use the above license.

For my particular license, I've added additional text ("You don't have to pay me... You are free to share... friendly email"). I feel the current CC license could be improved, to make it clearer on the terms of use and how people can attribute.

This doesn't mean I have to stick to this particular CC license. It'll depend on the situation. But most times, I'd use this.

My motivations
I'm doing this because I've long decided that I'm not going to make money out of this blog (hence, no ads in my blog).

If you make money from using my work, good for you!

I hope you'll make a donation to a charity, in lieu of paying me. We both get to earn positive karma this way.

It feels good to give. My words away, I mean.

(Whether it'll be taken is another matter!)

I'm prepared for not being credited at all, even in name.

That's OK by me too.

'Cos that's your karma.

I'm perfectly happy with mine.

p.s. Thanks to Molly, for her talk. She was the tipping point!


  1. Ivan, I salute you for your decision.

    I've mulled over the BY-NC-SA license, which I've attached to my blog and photos on Flickr.

    One or two of my photos have been used by Schmap. I believe they are commercial, but I let them use anyway since they asked nicely.

    One of my photos has also been used by a local production company, which offered payment for use without attribution in an upcoming gallery.

    I suppose a BY CC license would have forced them to ask me for permission (and eventually offer payment) as they needed to use the photo as is, without attribution.

    Guess there's more mulling to do.

  2. Anonymous1:56 am

    Glad I found your post Ivan. I have been trying to figure out which way to go and your post definitely helped me sort some of this mess out.


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