about licensing

Franz Patzig's CC eyesI was thinking about writing a post about licensing stuff online because I find that it would be just dandy if more people would publish their works under a more liberal license. My idea is that a lot of folks don’t do this this simply because they don’t even know about it, so their creations fall under the default full copyright clause.

Recently however another angle came up giving me another reason to write something about licensing. As you might have noticed I use pictures from other people in this blog published under a Creative Commons license. This allows me to use those sweet visuals without having to ask consent of the author for every pic, as long as I attribute him. I’m doing that by linking back to their Flickr site where the original is hosted. This is handy because I don’t have to email everyone and ask them if I can pretty-please use their picture in a blog post, and wait until they send me a reply back. That last bit can take a while because you can never tell when somebody will check their email, and find it in their heart to reply your request.

Sometimes however people haven’t taken a lot of consideration while slapping that CC license on their pictures. Afterwards it turns out that they don’t like the idea of their shots being used in some blog after all, and ask me to change it again. Since I’m a nice guy I have a habit of doing this. But once you’ve set your mind on using a certain visual for your post, it sucks having to remove it and find yourself another one.

So here’s a few things to consider when you’re putting any kind of content or art online:

  1. Whatever license you use, there’s a chance it will be violated. Some people won’t know they are violating it because of their ignorance. Others will but simply don’t give a toss. If you’re serious about your works not being used without permission, consider not publishing them online at all. I know this isn’t very encouraging, but this is a fact of cyberlife.
  2. Even working within the rules set in your chosen license, it’s possible your work will be used for something you don’t like. Let’s say you created a piece of kick ass music you’re proud of and you decide to put it online for others to enjoy freely. You choose a Creative Commons license that allows other to use it non-commercially as long as they attribute you. Someone looking for a soundtrack for his Youtube video on some extreme kind of radish fetish decides to use your beautifully crafted musical masterpiece, and attributes you as he should. You however are a radish-friend, and feel appalled as you find your music used in such a radish-unfriendly manner. Tough luck however. There was nothing in your CC license mentioning any kind of limitations concerning radish pornography.

So it’s good to ponder these above points, and see if this kind of permissive license is something you want to choose for your creative brain farts.
However, I’d suggest you look on the bright side of things and consider all the good things that can come from them as well. Or better, what’s the worst that can happen, and is it really that bad? It’s like Matt from the WordPress team said in his post about people doing unwanted things with his open source blogging software.

“Good people will do good things with it, and bad people will do bad things with it”.

Instead of looking at the bad ways your product is being used, you should concentrate on the good stuff, which is why you made it in the first place.
If you think about how many people that might benefit from your free or permissive license, and that those people might be doing creative things with it in ways you couldn’t even think of, then I guess it’s all worth it. If you want other people to benefit from your work, expand upon it, and perhaps take it to another level, by all means use a CC license and allow them to do so easily.

To close off, here’s another quote from the post by Matt:

“First you have to figure out who you’re fighting, who you’re trying to help, and if the price of freedom is something you’re willing to embrace”

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