Thursday, May 17, 2012

Copyright, Creative Commons and the Modern Writer

So, this morning, after being awoken by the urgent need to sort out the flood happening in my kitchen, I sat down to hop on the internet and check my email. This is generally my morning routine, sans flood. But this morning I found something fascinating in my inbox. This happens occasionally, because I have the best friends ever, but today it was something to do with writing, with my work, with innovation and ingenuity and ... Okay, let me just tell you what it was...

May 17, 2012 -- Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) the crowdfunding site that lets book lovers pay authors and publishers to make their already-published books free to the world under a Creative Commons license, is launching on May 17, 2012 at Noon EDT.

If supporters pledge an amount chosen by the books' rights holders before a given deadline, those books will be released as "unglued" ebook editions. The five authors and titles that will have initial campaigns at launch will be:

● Michael Laser, 6-321
● Joseph Nassise, Riverwatch
● Nancy Rawles, Love Like Gumbo
● Budding Reader, Cat and Rat
● Open Book Publishers, Oral Literature in Africa, by Ruth Finnegan.

For these campaigns, deadlines vary from approximately two to six months, and funding goals from approximately $5,000 to $25,000.

As the popularity of ebooks skyrockets, readers have been discovering both their convenience and their disadvantages. Proprietary formats and digital rights management (DRM) technology lock ebooks to specific devices and make it hard for people to keep reading their books as technology changes. Many ebooks cannot even be lent by libraries. Unglued ebooks solve these problems. They have no DRM and can be copied and shared without infringing copyright due to the Creative Commons license. Instead of receiving royalties, rights holders are paid one licensing fee of their choosing in advance. Book lovers pledge toward this fee using the Unglue.it platform.

"The ebook technology revolution creates new opportunities for innovative markets that support readers, authors, publishers, and libraries," said Eric Hellman, President of Gluejar Inc., the company behind Unglue.it. "Our crowdfunding platform will help the books that we love join the public commons for all to enjoy and cherish, while still respecting copyright and creators' livelihoods."

About Unglue.it: Unglue.it (http://unglue.it) is a crowdfunding platform which rewards rights holders for making their ebooks available to the world under a Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org). Unglue.it runs campaigns for previously published books, allowing book lovers to pledge toward giving them to the world. When rights holders' target prices are reached, they receive funds in exchange for issuing an unglued ebook edition which can be freely read, copied, and shared, noncommercially, worldwide. For more information, see http://unglue.it/press.

For more information please contact:

Eric Hellman
President, Gluejar Inc.
press@gluejar.com


Yup. You read that right. I have so many thoughts it's difficult to know where to begin! I mean, YAY!! Right? At least, I think it's a great big yay. Copyright wasn't intended to last forever, but rather as a way for authors (and other creators) to have a temporary monopoly on their creation, to give them a chance to establish a market, make a profit, and build an audience before the work entered the public domain. However, in recent years, the term of copyright has been extended. Now, on the surface, that maybe sounds like something that's good for the rights' holder. But that really depends on how you measure the success of a work. Public domain allows works to live on in our culture, allows works to live on as part of our collective accomplishments.

Copyright was originally established to help strike a balance between a creator's need to make a profit on their works and the public's need for shared cultural experience. Copyright is a monopoly. The only person allowed to sell the work (to make 'copies,' as it were) is the one who holds the rights. But authors have been selling those rights for... Well, ever. We sell them to publishers, so that they can provide us with cover art and marketing and distribution. We sell the foreign language rights so that our books can be published in other languages. And, while publishers generally don't buy foreign language rights right off the bat, this isn't any different, in that sense. Except that you're selling certain rights directly to the public and putting a cap on how much you earn for some of your rights.

Now, let's take a closer look at these points

1) Selling your rights directly to the public. Self-pubbed authors do that every day, and many with small presses as well. In fact, unless you get an advance, the amount of profit you make off your book is entirely dependent on the public. If they buy your book, you get profits, if they don't, you won't. In unglue.it's setup, the public pays first, and then gets certain rights to your book. What those rights are depends on the CC license under which you release it. You can read about specific CC licenses here.

2) Many books which go through traditional publishers never earn out their advance. I've been told (anyone out there who can confirm or deny this, please do comment!) that $5,000 is a pretty good advance these days and, so far, that's the minimum amount an author has requested for this project. Now, with that kind of advance, and a trad publisher, you can also sell foreign language rights, which is more lucrative. But with a Creative Commons license, you are still absolutely free to sell your book, and you can choose a non-commercial license which means that no one else is allowed to sell your book. Only give it away. So, who would want to buy your book if it's legally available for free? Well, we give books away all the time. We give books away for review, we give books away for promotions, and sometimes we make certain titles free just to get our name out there and generate buzz. Whether or not you want to trust that a given title will continue to sell after being released on a Creative Commons license is up to you, but what about that novella you were going to put up free on Smashwords? There are some things we'll only know when there's actual data coming in, and it's a perfectly valid (and wise) choice to wait for that data. However, we give things away all the time.

Depending on the license you choose, the only difference there has to be here, is that you're saying that the people who have this book? They can give it away, give away copies of it, and lend it out as well. Even if they didn't pay to get it in the first place. Which is the truth with actual physical books. Anyone who buys a book (or is given it by a friend) is absolutely free to give it away, lend it out, scribble in the margins. It's theirs. Now, these are ebooks, and digital media allows people to make unlimited perfect copies and someone could, conceivably, create thousands of copies of your book and give them away for free. Oh, no. The horror. The horror. Is this what we're afraid of? Seriously? I mean... sign me up! I would be thrilled if there was even one person how there who loved my book that much! (Who wasn't a good friend, my fiance, or directly related to me, obviously.)

And, moreover, Creative Commons licenses are customizable! Unglue.it doesn't tell you what license to choose. You don't have to give away all your rights, that's the point of the Creative Commons license. You can choose which license you wish to apply to your work, and which works you choose to apply it to, and which ones you want to keep under a tradition copyright. You could choose to license your work as 'Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs' which would mean that people could give your book away, but could not change it, or sell it, and must attribute it to you. Or, you could use 'share alike' meaning that any work using your work to create a derivative, must also be licensed the same way. And all Creative Commons licenses require attribution.

Now, for those who worry that this kind of thing will encourage piracy, or that this type of licensing will mimic piracy... think of what Neil Gaiman has to say on the subject, or this article, and this article on Forbes, or this article on Discover. Okay, the last one is a little off topic, but the video is funny!

So, those are my thoughts on the topic. I'm sure there are tons of other opinions out there, and I'd love to hear them! What do you guys think about this idea of crowdfunding for the release of rights? Would you ever consider selling your rights this way? What are the possible pitfalls that you see in such an option? The advantages? One way or another, I think this is something we should absolutely be discussing. So, talk to me, people! :-D

Okay, now I have to go check on the progress of Project Dry Out the Kitchen.

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