Einar's blog
09 juni 2020

License Change

I have decided to license all the photography, music, writing and videos I make under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial ShareAlike 4.0 International license. I have done this because I like the idea that art, culture, software, ideas, technology, science etc is a shared common for all of humanity to use in any way, share so others might enjoy it too, modify to the user's needs and distribute in modified forms. As a user of Free Software (also known as Libre Software or Open Source Software) on a daily basis, I enjoy those freedoms myself and I want everything I make to adhere to the same principles and that is why I release my work under a free culture license.

In software, most (if not all) of the successful companies make and use free software to some extent and even companies that has spent the last 30 years actively fighting against it are now gradually coming around to the reality that there is more money to be made by free software than by proprietary software. Microsoft now makes more money on Linux servers (which are free software) in their Azure cloud than they do off of Windows Servers. Red Hat, which only makes free software under copyleft licenses, was sold to IBM for 9 billion US$ a few years ago. Free software is more valuable than proprietary software because there are many practical advantages for users, programmers and security auditors in having access to source code and collaborating across companies and individual contributors instead of working alone. The advantage of cooperation and coopetition has a parrallell in pedagogy called the proximal zone which every teacher knows well from their classroom.

In cultural and artistic endeavours, it seems harder to monetize the sharing and cooperation on good ideas than in software. It is hard enough to get paid to do anything artistic in the first place and then it seems countre-intuitive to "give away" everything you make. The support-driven model from Red Hat where the company gives away all the source code they make, but sell a fully supported enterprise Linux made from those sources where you can contact them and get help if you need it seems hard to replicate around cultural and artistic products like writing, photos, music, art etc.

Copyright seems like a way to ensure that only the original creator earns off of the cultural product. It does that, but it also means that companies or people inheriting intelectual property rights can continue to milk money out of old cultural products. A prime example is Disney who still owns the copyright on a mouse in red trousers and a duck in a navy uniform almost hundred years after they were created and which actively discourages remixing and reuse of some or all components of these, by now, culturally significant icons. People must be allowed to sing Happy Birthday or rearrange Jazz tunes or make new editions of books of them without having to deal with the rights of people that has died half a century or longer ago. It just makes no sense that people or companies that has not created an original work should earn money off of it. It seems very random and unfair. I think the original creators should earn off of their work, but I do not understand why intellectual property rights could be inherited or sold off.

There are authors who license their works under a free culture license and still survives economically. Often they would share a free PDF of their book on their website at the same time as making a print version and an ebook version available for purchase. Especially writers involved in Free Software or Free Culture often do this. Some even makes the free version the only version and asks for contributions on patreon or other platforms if people enjoy their work.

I don't know of any musicians licensing their music under a free culture license, but there are many video creators and podcasters that do this. There are different ways of doing it. One way is to give away everything and ask people that like your content for support through platforms like patreon, paypal and others. Another way is to add advertising to the content ala youtube. LBRY has a scheme where a cryptocoin (LBC) are used to tip creators and these coins can be exchanged for money. Many creators combine these strategies.

Another model is to sell services related to the cultural products and art you make. Some photographers actually live off of workshops, (e)books, video courses and magazine articles and to a lesser degree off of selling prints or digital files of their actual photography. Most of these photographers still use full copyright on their photos even if they often share them on social media to promote their work, but when their income is mainly from other work, there seems little risk involved in licensing their photography under free culture licenses.

There are different free culture licenses just as there are different free software licenses. They range from making the work freely available for everyone to do whatever they like with to making sharing of the work legal, but with restrictions to how the work can be modified, relicensed and even used. Since I would like to earn money off of my work if possible and I do not think it is fair for others to earn money off of my work without me benefitting from it, I have opted for a license with a Non-Commercial clause which states that the work can not be used for commercial purposes. If anyone would like to use any of my work for commercial purposes, they would have to get in touch and I could license it to them for that specific use, but I am ok with people using my work non-commercially.

Another thing that is important to me is that my work is not relicensed under full copyright or a free culture license without the non-commercial clause. Hence, I have opted to use a license with a ShareAlike feature which means that it is not legal to relicense the work even if it has been modified. This means that if someone takes my photograph and crops it, they cannot relicense it as their own and sell it for money. It basically ensure that the Non-Commercial part of the license is effective.

I am ok with people sharing my work, but I would like to get the credit for it. That is why I have opted for a license that demands attribution of the original creator for the work. This combined with the ShareAlike-feature means that if someone should share my work, change it and share the changed version, they will still be required to attribute me as the original creator and not change the license of their changed version from my version of the work, meaning that any derivatives of their work also has to attribute me and only use the work noncommercially, thereby giving the impetus for anyone interested in commercial use to get in touch with me for a license for commercial purposes which they can only do since they know who the original creator is.

Even with these restrictions, I think it is good to release every cultural product I make under a Creative Commons license that ensures that people are free to share, modify and distribute their shared version of what I make. I believe in people's freedom to do this and that it is valuable for everyone to be able to do so, but I feel the need to make certain restrictions to be sure that I can reap the potential economical rewards of my work and that I get the credit for it.

I think the CC-BY-NC-SA 4.0 international license is a good compromise between giving everything away freely and having full copyright. Should I ever decide to sell my work, I can do so without needing to change my license or stop sharing my work for free at the same time. If I should ever sell photo prints, having a digital version freely available for sharing would not make the print any less valuable. The same goes for freely available written works in digital form versus selling ebooks and print books. When music is concerned, things are slightly different, but since record sales and streaming basically earns musicians very little these days, maybe live concerts and digital records might be an analogy to the photo print and its digital copy under a free license.

Should I ever make any software, I think I would opt for a GPL or AGPL license since these ensure the freedom of the users to the largest degree while still making it possible to sell the software commercially and earn a living and also makes relicensing the software under another license illegal. Even if attribution is not required under the (A)GPL, the source code would usually credit the original author(s) of the software.

I am pragmatic when it comes to these matters in connection with employment. I currently work as a teacher and retain the rights to everything I produce myself to do whatever I wish with, but if I in the future should work with software, writing, photography, music or other cultural products for an employer, then I would comply with whatever license they use. I would prefer to not create work under full copyright or under permissive licenses, but I do understand why people and companies some times choose to do so and I think it is within the original creators right to do so (even if I think the length of copyright under the current laws make no sense).

All blog content is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0.