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Copyright matters

25 March 2006


I'm going to stick my head over the parapet now and write something unpopular: Copyright matters.

I know it's trendy nowadays to be all loved-up and say 'hey, man, let the data flow free like a river'. I have great respect for the work of the open source movement, and for the work of the Creative Commons. But just because some people choose to relinquish some of their legal rights, it doesn't mean everybody else should be forced to.

As you might know, I'm pretty defensive of my copyrights. In this post I'll explain some of the reasons why.

Creators should choose how stuff is used

One of the issues that is often overlooked is one of choice. Even a Creative Commons licence gives you a choice over which rights you give away. You can, for example, say content is free to use provided it's not modified or that it can be used only in non-commercial projects.

But a problem with the Creative Commons model is that it assumes you want to assign permission based on usage, and not on who is making that use. I'm pretty politically aware, and there are some organisations that I would never grant permission to use my creative work. I would never want my work to be used against the causes I believe in. There are even individuals with whose views I disagree to the extent that I wouldn't want to actively help them. The law gives me the right to choose on a case-by-case basis who can and can't use my work.

This has nothing to do with free speech, by the way: Just because I respect and defend your right to express your views, it doesn't mean I should help you express them.

Time matters

Anyone want to mow my lawn for free? Go on. I'll tell everyone you did a great job. I thought not.

Time is the scarcest resource we have. Some of us will have more than others (we won't know how much until the end), but we've all got the same number of hours in the day, and days in the week. Working out how to spend it is what life's all about. Respecting how people spend their time is respecting their lives.

Over the last (nearly) ten years, I have spent a lot of time making content and building this website. Content is quick to consume, but slow to create. Writing games takes days. Writing an article can take half a day, once research is factored in. Even taking and scanning photographs is a fairly big job, even before we've factored in the time taken travelling to places to photograph. And let's not even start talking about how long it takes to write a book.

Don't get me wrong - I love it. That's why I do it. But if I've spent my limited life force making things instead of watching TV, it seems only fair that I choose who benefits from that. The law gives me the right to exercise control over how my work is used.

Derivative works are just that

A derivative work is when you take one thing, and then build upon it to make another thing. It's a more creative endeavour than just copying something, and the people who create the derivative work often add value. But they often cause problems too, and I have a right in law to decide who can and can't make derivative works from my material.

There are corners of the internet where people are still cursing me in a foreign language following a dispute over an unauthorised translation of one of my articles. I know that the translator who broke copyright law was only trying to make some ideas more widely available, but the end result could be the exact opposite. Now that I've had the exclusive translation rights stolen from me for that language, I can't license a major publisher to use it (which would have potentially communicated the ideas much more widely). For the record, I tried to reach a compromise where I published the translated version on this website but the translator was unresponsive. The article has been pulled from circulation.

Derivative works also restrict my creative freedom. If I make something, I'm free to adapt and modify it how I like. If somebody else independently alters it and makes new works, I'm having some of my creative options taken from me. Either I can't then do what they've done, or there is another work out there with which I must compete despite creating the original source material.

I do respect the time that people spend in creating derivative works, but request that they also respect the time that I spend in creating source material. If you're interested in translating content or creating derivative works, please contact me. I'll work with you if I can, but reserve my legal right to say 'no'.

Let's talk business

Just because you're not prepared to pay for something, it doesn't mean it doesn't have a value. While many people can and do set up websites for free, I actually write cheques to keep this website online. I also incur real money costs creating content (software, hardware, training). I've put over 300 pages of original content online and nearly all of it is free for you to read.

This is made possible by advertising, and the products I sell, including licences to use my copyright material. By charging people who want to make certain uses of my content, I'm able to publish lots more content for free. If I let people put my work on other websites for free, I end up competing with my own work for the traffic that helps pay the bills. That's the economics of it.

You might think I could avoid all that by just giving the content away, so that other people pay to host it. I can see how this might work for certain types of content. I've allowed unmodified copies of my websafe colour palette program to be circulated freely. But we come back to the control issue again (see above), so I don't allow my other work to be copied in this way.

In certain cases, I will grant a free licence to use my work. In other cases, I will make a charge. You might be surprised at how friendly I am, if you drop me a line.

Copyrights do have a commercial value and they are a part of my wealth. Anyone taking my copyright material is stealing some of my livelihood.

Credit where it's due

It's a buzz when someone says they like what you've made, or that they found it useful in accomplishing their own goals. Knowing the identity of the creator of a work also changes your perception of it. The law gives me a right to be identified as the creator of my creative works.

There are a couple of common web practices which interfere with this right:


I really appreciate people linking to this website to help spread the word, but please link to a HTML page and don't use frames. Don't make it look like you own my content. Ask if you don't understand or you're not sure.

Fair use

I'm not trying to restrict your rights here - just assert my own. So I don't have a problem with people reproducing short excerpts for the purpose of comment provided they're accompanied by a link to the original source. I don't have a problem with people using images from this site as their windows wallpaper on their own computer, although I do have a problem with them passing those images on to others. You're welcome to print out any material here for your own use, but not to circulate it without permission. If you're not sure what's allowed, please drop me a line.

Discussion

If you've got any comments, please email me. I'll update this article with them later.

For the avoidance of any doubt, none of the above and nothing in the comments grants you any rights in relation to my content. If you want to make use of my copyright material, you are required to contact me first.

There are lots of 'contact me' links in the above, because I get particularly annoyed when people don't ask. I'll negotiate if you ask. I won't, if you don't.

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