Creative Commons and Publishing

June 29, 2007


I haven’t talked about Creative Commons in a while. Last night I went to the London CC Salon, which turned out to be a sort of pep rally for free culture – not a bad thing.

One of the films shown is embedded below (or watch it on YouTube) and makes for a pretty funky introduction to the concepts behind CC. The video is one of the many pieces of CC-licensed work included on Free Me, a DVD created to show off and promulgate the CC ethos. Eventually, it is intended to be sent to journalists and MPs to try to get them to think differently about copyright law.

There hasn’t been much CC-licensed activity in publishing yet, with the notable exceptions of Lawrence Lessig’s Free Culture and novels from experimentalists like Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow. The latter two tell some interesting stories about the possibilities of CC.

Stross’ novel Accelerando was released simultaneously in bookstores and as a free, CC-licensed download from the web. According to him and his publisher, this didn’t harm sales one iota – in fact, they’re pretty sure it increased them, not only because of the attendant publicity but because people who downloaded the book and liked it went out and bought the book from shops. Score one to CC.

Doctorow’s Overclocked, downloadable from his site, goes even further. Whereas Accelerando‘s Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs license allows sharing in the original form but nothing more, Overclocked‘s Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license means fans can do what the hell they like with the text – including turning it into a song, creating new methods of distribution, or translating it into their local language.

I think the last one is particularly significant, for authors and publishers. Translation of all but the most mainstream books into all but the most widely-spoken languages is often prohibitively expensive – and in many parts of the world, the author never sees any money for it anyway. CC even provides a developing nations license (now merged with the general licenses) to give different rights according to geographical location. As Tim O’Reilly put it: “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”

One really interesting use of these licenses – and I don’t know how this would be done, but I’m sure it’s possible – would be for authors to assign CC licenses to their work when they die, so that the rights to the work would pass directly into the public domain, instead of to the current, bad and corrupt system of author estates** which are allowed to leech off this work for 75 years. Such a move would instantly free up huge chunks of our literary heritage for redistribution and rediscovery.

In fact, there might be a case here for campaigning for existing estates to use CC licenses now. The Society of Authors – who use the income from a number of literary estates, including those of Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster, to finance their work – might be a good place to start…

There’s something here too about historical parallels with (or reversals of) physical enclosure and the tragedy of the commons. However, that will have to wait: today is the first day of London Lit Plus, and I expect to see you all there.

** No, they’re not all like that. But plenty are…


  1. […] a nice article on Creative Commons and publishing (book publishing for the premise of the article, but the points are pertinent for other […]

    Pingback by Bright Meadow — July 1, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  2. Nice post, but no mention of the Joneses. Sigh.

    That’s half of Grolsch you owe me.

    Thanks for the great chat – we must do that again.

    You might be interested in watching this video called ‘How to use an open licence:-


    Comment by zeroinfluencer — July 3, 2007 @ 12:56 am

  3. Hey David – Thanks for dropping by. Have been telling lots of people about WATJ, but it takes more than a Grolsch to buy the premium space…

    Like the C4 vid – and yes, be good to see you again…

    Comment by James Bridle — July 3, 2007 @ 8:47 am

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