Copyright, licensing, the government and you

Walt Crawford has a long piece in the latest Cites & Insights about the Creative Commons Non-Commercial license, responding to some online arguments against them by the Free Content community (Walt’s capitalization creates a useful distinction) including Wikipedia. My approach to the NC designation which I also use on this site, is philosophically much the same as Walt’s. If you’re using my content as a primary method of making money for yourself, please cut me in on it. If you’re not, then go ahead and use what you’d like. Letting me know is always appreciated.

This specific designation on this blog has come into play three times that I can recall.

  1. The New York Times magazine reprinted a text version of my Five Technically Legal Signs for Your Library, only they changed five to three and changed some of the wording and credited the material incorrectly. I wrote them a pointed email outlining this and highlighting the site license, and they allowed me a heavily edited response in the letters section of the next issue.
  2. When a Wikipedia editor wrote an article about me, I was asked if I would offer my “The FBI Has Not Been Here” sign as an illustration. This seemed to be preferable to some dorky picture of me, so I agreed. They needed me to remove the license from that image in order to have it be available on Wikipedia which is a Free Content site — meaning that you can use any image in Wikipedia for any puspose at all. Remember the people who own the content and dictate the terms of the license can negotiate other deals for their own content, the license is just a shortcut for people who want to know “what can I do with this content without even asking?”
  3. When TechSoup asked to reprint an article of mine on safety and security issues for public access PCs that had originally appeared on WebJunction, they asked if I wouldn’t mind putting a CC license on the content so that it could be reprinted by other nonprofits which seemed fine to me. We had a little back and forth about how much editing the reprinted article would go through. The fact that I had licensed the content made it a little easier to have the content presented the way I wanted it to be presented and I’m happy with the result.

This luxury assumes of course that you own the content to begin with, and that you know you own it. As we move into the shiny world of user-created content in the form of blogs, podcasts, collaborative online projects and ephemeral notations (do you own the comments you put on someone else’s blog?) this will get more complicated before it gets simpler. For another copright consideration to sink your teeth into, K. Matthew Danes has put together a long easy-to-read piece on what copying means in a library context including a deep look at Section 108 which governs copying by libraries. Read and learn.