Tag Archives: intellectual property

Why I Licensed Under Creative Commons: I’m Building the World I Want to Live In

This post is specifically about interacting with copyright in the U.S., but the ideas could probably be extrapolated to other countries.

I just read a very humble article by an author who got in legal trouble for using a copyrighted photograph on her blog without permission.  Beyond the details of her own case, she goes on to talk about things like screenshots from movies, about Tumblr and Pinterest, and about just how much rampant Internet activity is flagrantly violating copyright law.

I don’t know the details of the case the author got in trouble for — I might come down on the side of the photographer on that one (morally and logically, I mean; clearly he was in the right legally), because people cribbing someone else’s work for their blogs with no attribution does the original creator little good at all, and I think people should be recognized and compensated for their work.  But there are a whole lot of other categories the blogger talks about that make me highly uncomfortable in their illegality, speaking as someone online engaged in media and culture.

For instance, I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that this blogger is absolutely right when she says screenshots posted and reblogged on Tumblr or celebrity photos thumbtacked on Pinterest are, in fact, violations of copyright that the posters could easily get sued for.  The animated GIFs so popular in Goodreads reviews, the ironic LOL cat-esque screen grabs from the latest superhero movies, the fan-made trailers on YouTube: all against the law.  In author communities I’ve seen it considered common knowledge that a single song lyric quoted in a novel will bring the RIAA legal teams down on the poor hapless author, whether or not the singer or band is attributed.  Nobody’s taken fanfiction to court yet, but it could certainly happen.[1]

I dislike living in that world.

I dislike living in a world in which a creator can be forced into a legal snarl when he does a parody mashup of Buffy and Twilight.  I dislike living in a world in which a kid’s life can be ruined for downloading a few songs.  I dislike living in a world in which a Marvel fan on Tumblr has to choose between “they probably won’t sue me for this” and disengaging, removing something from her life that gives her great joy and only helps the movie franchise she’s celebrating.  I dislike living in a world in which celebrations of media by the fans of that media are under the Sword of Damocles, and the rights owners can any time decide to cut that thread.

Copyright is meant to protect both creators and society; it was historically an inducement for creators to share and engage with others as much as it was a protection for them.  In modern times it has swelled into a monstrous behemoth designed to stymie creativity as much as it encourages it.  The fact that certain types of common engagement by fans that actually help a franchise are actually illegal — and are not made legal by the people owning the rights — is at the heart of what I see as both the legal and cultural problems with copyright.

There are quite a few more liberal-minded authors these days who say they don’t mind fanfiction, or who turn a blind eye to piracy as something that is not a big deal and might even be helpful.  I applaud these authors — but the fact remains that their fans are still breaking the law.  Personally, I didn’t want to just say these things are okay, to assure any fans I was lucky enough to get that I wouldn’t sue them while still keeping the legal right to do so in my pocket.  Not when I had the power to do otherwise.

And thanks to Creative Commons, I do have that power.  I can declare that I am aligning the legal rights on my book with exactly the world I want to live in.  For any fans I might have, I can remove the Sword of Damocles from above their heads.[2]

Would I prefer it if people bought my book instead of pirating?  Well, yes, of course!  I would definitely prefer people buy it; the more I earn off the series, the more time I’ll be able to spend writing it, not to mention that I do want to be compensated for my work.  But do I think I need to retain the right to sue someone for pirating my work, especially when I believe that piracy might gain me a new fan?  Do I think I need the power to C&D fanfiction or fan art when those people are just celebrating my characters and giving me free advertisement?  In short, why on earth would I need to keep that Sword of Damocles up there, if I say my personal philosophy is that I never intend to use it?

The answer is: I don’t.  I’ve taken it down, and I wish other creators would, too. I wish movie and television studios would explicitly allow a lot of the variants of noncommercial fan activity that help build their fandoms, I wish authors with no objection to fanfiction would give the public a legal release, I wish more creators wouldn’t feel frightened of releasing under Creative Commons . . . More than anything, I wish we had broader legal protections of fair use, but absent that, I want the culture to make that decision independently even if the legal framework won’t.

So that’s what I’m doing, as a creator: on my own work, I’m decriminalizing the things I don’t think should be crimes.

I’m building the world I want to live in.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  Everything mentioned in this post as regards U.S. copyright law is my own understanding of the law as far as I know, but I am not an expert and may be incorrect.

  1. And note that “fair use” is, AFAIK, an affirmative defense: in other words, it doesn’t keep you from getting sued in the first place.
  2. I’m immensely grateful to Creative Commons for this, by the way.  In the absence of the organization, I would not be able to hire a lawyer to draft my own licenses to protect me the way I wanted while still ensuring I could release the rights I desired.  The existence of Creative Commons is nontrivial, and it does  amazing things for culture.

My Business Plan: Ninja Pirate.

It should come as no surprise to people who know me that I’m a huge fan of Creative Commons.  In fact, one of the primary reasons I’m self-publishing is so that I can publish under a Creative Commons license instead of under traditional copyright.  Specifically, I’m going to publish under a CC-BY-NC-SA license, which means:

  • People can pirate my book all they want, as long as (1) they’re not making money, and (2) they leave my name on it.
  • People are free to create fan fiction and other fan works on my writing, as long as they credit my book and license their own work the same way.
  • No one else is allowed to make money off my work except me (unless they make a separate deal with me).

In fact, I am so convinced that piracy will be good for my sales that I will probably try to seed piracy of my book myself (well, if I can figure out how to do that; I’ve never tried to make pirated copies of anything available before!  But it can’t be too hard, right?).  Since I’ll be enabling the piracy, it’ll be sort of like . . . stealth pirating on my part.

In other words, I will be a Ninja Pirate.


(Yes, this entire post was a poor attempt to set up that punchline. I’m going to be over here in this other corner of the Internet now.)

Links and Such Like

Freedom of Information, Intellectual Property, and Such Like

What It’s Like to Get a National Security Letter, from one of the only people in the country able to talk about it: “Again, they advised me to not even ask my board whether or not I can do this. So this is, in some sense, really putting myself at risk personally. Here I am, trying to make a decision as to whether or not we should sue the United States government over a secret demand for information, on my own.”

Buffy vs. Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate: It’s fair use.  Everyone agrees it’s fair use.  Lionsgate even agreed it was fair use . . . initially.  But they’ve still managed to make this remix artist’s life an exhausting mash of court cases.  This is a very good example of how broken copyright law is in the United States.

Science, Math, and Such Like

Why the Internet should STOP saying dolphins rape each other.  It’s scientifically incorrect and trivializes rape.  Excellent read.

Crazy Living Rock.  Go home, Evolution, you’re drunk.

The caterpillar with a stack of heads.  Seriously, Evolution, go home.  And don’t drive.

A scientific paper published as a 38-stanza poem.

What happens when the media and blogosphere start picking up an academic article. Fascinating.

The math on whether Superman could punch someone into space.

And Superman’s ability to inflict people with prosopagnosia.  Since I’m faceblind myself, I got a kick out of this.

A Category 5 Kaiju would only need to eat 18 humans per day.  The math on Kaiju biology!

More math on Pacific Rim: How can they helicopter-lift the GIANT ROBOTS?  I love math on popular media!

A researcher tastes one-billion-year-old water.  For science.

The fallacious ways people weigh medical risk.

HPV rates have dropped by more than half thanks to the vaccine.  FUCK YEAH SCIENCE.

Writing, Blogging, and Such Like

The stats on how much of an article people are likely to read online.  I am totally guilty of most of this, except for the inverse relationship between reading and sharing—generally the articles I share are the ones I was interested enough in to read all the way through!

Why typing two spaces after a period is WRONG.  (Unfortunately, I cannot break myself of the habit, though Twitter is having a good go at it.)

Don’t tell the audience what you’re about to tell them.  Just tell them.

 Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, and Such Like

A tumblr of medieval European art showing that POC, y’know, existed there.  So quit it with the “historical accuracy!” argument.

Fat Nutritionist on beauty as a mask.  Fascinating, thought-provoking, wonderful read.

Real Women Have Carbon-Based Molecules.  Strikes back at the idea that “real women” need to look any particular way.

The Bad Touch.  About the Kickstarter thing.

A 17-year-old girl started a feminist society at school.  What happened next will make you sick.  These girls are high schoolers.

Twitter Trolls Turn Anime Convention Into “Paranoid Nightmare.”  My god . . . the hashtag “#gropecrew” . . . TRIGGER WARNINGS LOTS AND LOTS OF TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son.

 I Have Met George Zimmerman.  One of the many, many moving responses to the Zimmerman verdict.

Game On Ladies: A man discovers what female gamers face when he plays as his wife’s character.

Final Thoughts on the SFWA Thing, and Additional Linkspam

Final Thoughts on the SFWA Thing, in the Form of Other People’s Thoughts

For those who are getting news through my blog, Scalzi apologized in his position as president and editor Jean Rabe resigned.  That’s the latest official news I know of.  While talking about official news, however, I would like to note that SFWA does have an official statement on sexual harassment that was in effect when this article was published.

Jim Hines has a great list of links for those interested, but I shall make particular note of:

Ann Aguirre’s for how much sexism and misogyny are not dead (horrifying);

Mary Robinette Kowal’s for a heartbreaking perspective from someone to whom SFWA means a great deal;

Foz Meadows’ for a breakdown of why the column is so problematic (warning for language);

Laura Resnick, Mike Resnick’s daughter, doesn’t respond to the issue in particular but talks about sexism in SFF;

and Radish Reviews, the wonderful purveyor of the original scans, has a great roundup / summation, including links to the sexist reaction of a former SFWA president and a critique of Scalzi’s apology in the first comment.

Personally, I’m still waiting and seeing.  I want to see what SFWA does to come back from this going forward.

Writing/Publishing/Intellectual Property

Mark Twain’s hilarious, devastating critique of castigation of James Fenimore Cooper’s “Deerslayer.”  Oh, how I hated “Deerslayer;” I love that Twain agrees! Quote: “Now I feel sure, deep down in my heart, that Cooper wrote about the poorest English that exists in our language, and that the English of ‘Deerslayer’ is the very worst that even Cooper ever wrote.”  And people say negative reviews shouldn’t be written with entertainment in mind!

Trademarks.  Fascinating article on what they’re meant to do and how they work, legally.

Tor.com on their experience going DRM-free.  “As it is, we’ve seen no discernible increase in piracy on any of our titles, despite them being DRM-free for nearly a year.”  What!  Shocking! </sarcasm>

Tobias Buckell on why 90 percent of the “knowledge” and advice about self-publishing is crap (with graphs!).


We Have Always Fought: Kameron Hurley brilliantly challenges the long-held ideas about women throughout history.  This is the post that has inspired women all over the net to pop up calling themselves “llamas.”  Highly, highly recommended.

Liz Bourke, one of my favorite people on the entire Internet, wrote a follow-up to an article I had previously linked to (Sophia McDougall’s The Rape of James Bond) that I somehow missed.  She goes into even more depth about the statistics regarding male rape and the strange double standard in fiction that the rape of women is “necessary because REALISM” and the rape of men is . . . nonexistent.  (She has numbers.  Lots and lots of numbers.)

The Hawkeye Initiative succeeds in real life!  A touching story of challenging sexism in the workplace through humor.

Television Writing Staffs Are Still Overwhelmingly White and Male, Surprise!

Hollywood is remaking The Crow, and they want to cast a white guy.  Fucking Hollywood.

What Kind of Asian Are You?  *snerk*  Hilarious video.

The iNotRacist App!  Best.  Satire.  Ever.  (video)

For more satire: Sexual Abuse in the White Community

It’s Time to Retire “Boob Plate” Armor.  Because It Would Kill You.  (Tor.com)

Strong is the New Skinny.  Great article about pushing for healthier aesthetic expectations for women.

Wikipedia’s sexist categorization.

People are racist about a Cheerios commercial featuring an interracial couple.  Every time I decide to have faith in humanity . . .

A former Navy Seal came out as transgender.

Kelly Sue DeConnick on the crap she goes through as a female comics writer.  More of the same, folks.  More of the same.  Still worth a read.


We don’t have a twin primes proof yet, but there’s a new proof that infinitely many pairs of primes come within 70,000,000 numbers of each other.  That’s AWESOME.  Seriously.  We’ve hit finiteness!  And apparently since the publication of the proof a couple months ago, the bound has been reduced to 5 million.  Closer and closer!

If you heard about the poachers who stole 10 percent of an entire tortoise species, here’s a sobering follow-up.

NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!  Scientifically Accurate Ninja Turtles (video) and Scientifically Accurate Spider-Man (video)NOT SAFE FOR WORK!!

Stunning graphical representation of why sharks should be more afraid of you than you are of them.

I feel like reading about obscure neurological conditions like this one should not be so fascinating.

Video of someone solving three Rubik’s cubes in six minutes . . . while juggling them.

And a few more links on Star Trek: Into Darkness, because I can:

Some hilarity from io9 that pretty much sums up how I feel about this movie.

All the plotholes and questions the movie failed to address.  Spoiler: There are a lot.

Could Benedict Cumberbatch really crush a skull with his bare hands?

The first Star Trek conventions were female-dominated.  I’m just going to leave this here.

Links from the Wider Internets

Sexism, Racism, and Homophobia

The Rape of James Bond: You know how when people complain about the prevalence of rape in grimdark fantasy, people argue back with, “But, REALISM!!!1”?  This article makes the INCREDIBLY good point that the logical extension of the “but, realism!” argument is that we need way more rape of men in media.  But . . . people don’t seem to be complaining about not having that in their books and movies at the level it happens in real life.

Straightwashing GLBT Characters: “Now we’re getting Da Vinci’s Demons, that would be Leonardo Da Vinci, he was repeatedly accused of sodomy, never married, was never connected to a female lover, but repeatedly with men, drew erotic pictures of them and left his most valuable painting in his will to one of his live-in “apprentices” Da Vinci. It’s an act of wilful ignorance to not realise Da Vinci played for our team. […] Well his love interest has been cast (a woman) and the trailer shows lots of naked sexy times between them. But, fear not, the writer has assured us that there may, sorta, kinda be some male flirting. FLIRTING!”

Microaggressions.  This site is a stark demonstration of the concept.

More on microaggressions.  I didn’t know there was a name for this before I found these links, but I love that there is, because it helps to have language to be able to point to what’s wrong here when people come back with, “Oh, but that’s not a big deal; get over it!”

For something else striking: Groups that are 100 percent men.

To (All) the White Girls Who Didn’t Get Into the College of Their Dreams: “By your logic, if a white girl with your background doesn’t get into an Ivy League college, it’s because there weren’t enough spots for white students that year. But, if a non-white girl with an identical profile is rejected, who do they blame? No one. They don’t have the excuse; they simply weren’t good enough. We don’t get to make ourselves feel better by engaging in a smear campaign against the fictional Cherokee girl that took our Ivy League slot.”

Anti-gay rights activists say they are the real victims.  Because, y’know, fighting marriage equality is taking so much time, and they’d so much rather be doing something else.

Superhero women in pants.

On Math and Science

Programmable goo helps solve the traveling salesman problem.  SO COOL!  Though like one of the commenters, I want to know how they find the Hamiltonian circuit . . .

Mars is faaaaaaaaaaaar.  Love this!

What happens when you wring out a hand towel in space?  (Awesome video.)

On Writing and Publishing

The differences in expected plot structure in different cultures: not all traditions say plot needs conflict.  Fascinating.

A bestselling author pirates his own book, and finds it helps his sales.

A TechDirt smackdown of author Scott Turow’s rant about the changing wold of publishing.  I skimmed the original rant; the smackdown was much more informative and interesting.

Jane Goodall accused of plagiarism.  And shoddy science.  Sigh.

Hugh Howey, You’re Not Doing Fan Writers Any Favors

You may have heard of successful self-published author Hugh Howey, who’s been in writing news recently for both his strident self-publishing evangelism and a recent infamous blog post in which he used both graphically misogynistic descriptions and belittling language toward autistic people (after which he posted an equally offensive apology; both the original post and original apology have since been taken down).  Neither of these things is what I want to talk about today; I mention them because it would be disingenuous not to admit that I’m coming into this with my opinions colored: my perception of Mr. Howey is that he’s an unthinkingly impulsive man at best and possibly someone who revels in causing cultural chaos.

I recently learned that Mr. Howey is blithely encouraging his fans not only to write fanfiction on his series, but demanding that if they do, they sell it.  He hasn’t consulted with a lawyer about this—in fact, he jokes about how his lawyer is probably going to “have a fit” about it, ha ha HA.

What’s key here, for me, is that he’s quite strident when declaring this from his soapbox, but he’s spouting it all off without putting any licensing structure in place to make it legal.

Independent of my other opinions of Mr. Howey, I think this is a terrible idea for his own interests, his fans’ interests, and for the interests of the greater fan community.  I would generally assume well-intentioned ignorance went into his cavalier declarations here, but taken with what else I’ve seen of him, I can’t help but feel suspicious that at least part of his motive is to wink, kick the hornets’ nest, and then see what happens next.

Here’s the thing.  Under current IP law, you can’t just toss your rights up in the air and expect everything will shake out okay.

And this isn’t just about him.  If this results in him making his copyright less defensible, or in someone writing and selling fanfiction in his world that he’s not comfortable with, I could care less—he invited it. If this causes him problems with Random House, whom he’s now contracted with for the print versions of his book, or with the people who have optioned his work as a film, then that’s between them.

But if I were a fan writer, I would be staying away from writing in his universe with a ten-meter pole.  Why?  Because saying, “It’s all good, guys!  Sell all the stuff you set in my universe!” is not the same thing as licensing his work so that people can legally do so.

Continue reading

Reselling Ebooks: I’m Vindictively Amused By This

There’s some brouhaha about Amazon obtaining a patent to have a “used ebook” marketplace.  A lot of people in the writing world are up in arms about it—understandably so, because what would possibly motivate someone to buy a “new” ebook over a “used” one, when they’re identical except for the price point?

For the record, I think this is not only a terrible idea, but a bizarre and nonsensical one, and I also don’t think Amazon intends to go through with it—I think they are snapping up the patent so no one else will try for it.

But.  BUT!

I have to admit to cackling about this whole kerfuffle in an evil, maniacal, I-am-a-horrible-person sort of way.  Continue reading

Support Aaron’s Law

Those of you who have been following my blog posts about Aaron Swartz, please consider going to Demand Progress’s website and expressing your support for Aaron’s Law.  They have it set up so you can send a letter to your lawmakers with one click.

Here’s what Aaron’s Law would do:

  1. You know those license agreements you always click the “I agree” box next to on every piece of software ever?  Right now if you accidentally break one of those, it’s a felony.  The proposed law would decriminalize such violations; instead those agreements would be treated as contracts, with any disagreements handled in civil court (as they should be).
  2. There’s also a request to the Oversight Committee to open an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct in the Aaron Swartz case.

Demand Progress has a lot more detail on both these points, and it only takes a few seconds to register support for this law.  Please consider doing so!

Redefining Language, and a Culture That Invites Prosecutorial Overreach

I’m still blogging about Aaron Swartz.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot since I heard news of his death and started reading about his case is how successfully American culture has demonized people who believe in freedom of information.  I can’t believe our societal condemnation of copyright infringement as THEFT THEFT THEFT! isn’t what enabled the U.S. Attorney to go after Aaron like she smelled blood.

I am not disinterested in the intellectual property debate, personally, professionally, or financially: I work in film, and I make my money off people paying for creative endeavors.  I believe in freer information because I believe it’s better for creators and better for society, that artists will earn more money and have greater longevity for their work in a freer culture, that the public sphere will benefit from the dissemination and mixing of ideas and knowledge encouraged by greater freedom of information.

I have these opinions because I’ve read extensively on the subject and come to a decision on what attitudes toward intellectual property I feel are appropriate and beneficial.  I’m very reasonable about my opinions.  I am happy to discuss the ramifications of less stringent reservations of rights and why this might or might not work for different business models, I enjoy discussing statistics and studies, and I don’t accuse anyone who believes in more stringent copyright of DESTROYING SOCIETY!!1 or what have you.

And yet.

Continue reading

The Way the World Treated Aaron Swartz is a Disgrace

I have so many things I want to say about Aaron Swartz’s death.

How much the world lost when it lost his brilliance and drive.  How angry I am that the institutions of this world decided instead of valuing him to kick him in the face, and then, once he was down, to keep kicking him.

How ashamed I am of my alma mater that they blithely ignored the ideals of the MIT community in a rabid pursuit of injustice.  How absolutely furious I am that it took the suicide of a brilliant man to make the administration realize how outrageous and harmful their actions were.  How pointless their decision to reexamine their actions now seems.

Continue reading