Long ago, I made a decision to publish everything that I do under a simple Creative Commons Attribution license (CC:By). With all of the licenses available, and all of the clauses listed as part of Creative Commons, why did I choose not to invoke them?

I don't publish things online for fame, nor fortune. I started doing this primarily as an outboard, searchable brain. Over time, the network effects kicked in, and I've kept doing it for the additional reasons of sharing thoughts, experiences, and information with the rest of the class. The conversations that take place across the various bits of the social web have become far more important to me than simply publishing content. In order to honour the spirit of the network, attribution for use of content is required - a simple hyperlink - which then teaches Google, Technorati, and the rest of The Machine about the semantic connection between pages (and people).

Why not invoke the Non Commercial clause, as many do? Technically, someone could just collect every blog post I've written, and every photo I've published to Flickr, and print a book for sale at every bookstore on the planet, without sending me a penny. Yeah. Someone's going to do that. Hey, if there's a market for it, go for it. As long as the Attribution clause is honoured, so the millions of people who buy that book know where the stuff came from. Maybe I'll be able to do the book-signing-circuit and see the world.

The printing-everything-for-profit example is a bit extreme, and silly, but there is a real chance that someone might use a chunk of content, or a photo or two, in a commercial work. Without paying me a single penny. And I'm completely fine with that - as long as Attribution is honoured - because if nothing else, that means that someone is getting some value out of something I've done. There's no harm in including it in a commercial work, and perhaps more importantly, there's no reason for me to discriminate against projects that have commercial interests. Open content is open content, no matter who uses it, no matter how they use it.

Why not the Share Alike clause? Personally, I feel that's a bit onerous - saying "I'll share with you, as long as you adopt the exact philosophy toward sharing content that I do. Otherwise, forget it." I think it's a bit conceited to require anyone to adopt a particular license in order to use/reuse/remix/mashup my content.

Why not just release the content into the Public Domain? Well, as I understand it (thanks to clarification by David Wiley and friends), there are legal measures that prevent that. It's not feasible to cleanly "release" content into the Public Domain - once you publish it, copyright is automatically yours, and various jurisdictions interpret that differently. Given that, the next best thing is the Creative Commons Attribution license - it maintains copyright, with very little friction.

What's the result of adopting CC:By as my license? For my blog, I think it's had no real effect. Most of the bits that get reused would have been covered under Fair Use, even if I had adopted a strict license. So, CC:By just makes it clear that I'm cool with people doing whatever they want with my blog posts.

The largest impact of CC:By has been on my photographs that have been published to Flickr. Everyone is free to download the original, full resolution versions of each image. And they're free to use it for any purpose. That sounds pretty risky. Someone might just grab a bunch of photos and use them in a book, or a game, or a magazine! Yeah. That's what people have done. So far, I've had dozens of photographs republished in dozens of websites, in one board game, in 2 magazines (one as the front cover). And one organization even insisted on paying me for a commercial license (which we arranged separately from the CC:By license so they didn't have to provide attribution, and only after I repeatedly told them they could use the image for free as long as they provided a link).

Honestly, I've stopped keeping track of websites that use my photos - I used to keep a list, but that got too difficult to maintain. I periodically check Technorati and Google for links, and am surprised every now and then by a new website, article, blog post, whatever, using one of my photos. And that makes me smile.

So, while I can't go to the local CostCoâ„¢ and pick up a copy of The Unabridged Works of D'Arcy Norman (handy for those bouts of insomnia), I know that there are people who are getting value out of something that I have created. I'm a firm believer in karma, and what better way generate more of the good stuff?

Which brings me back to the question "why share the content, if it's not going to pay the bills?" I already have a job, and it pays the bills. To me, the value of contributing to the network far outweighs the cost of locking my content down. Adding any friction to the process of using content will mean one of two things will happen:

  1. the content will be avoided, and something else will be used instead
  2. the content will be used anyway, and the license will be ignored

Either way, the network loses. It costs me absolutely nothing to share my content. I'm already publishing blog posts and photographs primarily for documentation, and secondarily for feedback. Use and reuse are "free" from my perspective. I don't have to do anything extra to let people use my stuff if they want. But, I'd have to work hard to lock it down.

Update: I almost forgot about some of the places where my photos have wound up as a result of CC:By. One was used in a kid's book on patterns and shapes. Several have been used in travel guides (for Calgary, Banff, San Francisco, Honolulu, Vancouver, and a couple other places I'm forgetting off the top of my head).

The one reuse of my photos that I wasn't comfortable with, but still allowed because of the license, was a straight reuse of the banner images I use for my blog. For some reason, that really struck me as an odd thing to do - the banner images all have a personal meaning for me, and seeing them stripped of that meaning and displayed just because they are purty pictures just felt wrong. C'est la vie, as they say in Sweden.