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January 12, 2014 » 11:25 am

My Open Licensing Journey

Today, I relicensed all of my photos on Flickr from CC BY-NC-SA to CC BY. In English, that means that you may reuse, redistribute, remix, and even resell any of my Flickr photos as long as you give me credit.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, but hadn’t, mostly due to laziness. Flickr has a batch relicensing feature, but it failed on my 12,000 photos, so I had to do this mostly manually, which was a pain. I also plan on embedding the license in the pictures themselves from this point forward using Jeffrey Friedl’s Creative Commons Lightroom plugin. I had already done this for my Instagram photos using Philip Neustrom’s clever service, i-am-cc.org.

Why now? It was some combination of me working on my photography workflow today, thinking about licensing for Faster Than 20, and thinking about Aaron Swartz, who died one year ago.

Why do this at all? In general, I’m trying to make the world a better place. I believe that sharing my knowledge artifacts can help with that, but others need to be able to reuse that knowledge. The fewer barriers I create, the easier it is for others to do that. I also believe that doing this is better for me financially, that I am likely to make more money over time by giving away my knowledge than I would by trying to restrict it.

I’ve always been a strong advocate for open licensing, and I’ve always favored less restrictive licenses in theory. But when I first had to choose a license for my photos, I hedged, and I placed a “non-commercial, share-alike” restriction.

In practice, this has worked swimmingly for me. The only problem I’ve had is that non-commercial licenses are incompatible with Wikimedia. When I’ve wanted to upload content to Wikimedia Commons, or when someone has requested that I do, I’ve simply relicensed those particular pictures. That’s worked fine, but it hasn’t been ideal, and I’ve been wanting to get more active on Commons recently, which is a large part of why I’ve been wanting to relicense my content.

My reasons for relicensing, however, run much deeper than these minor roadblocks. It represents my ongoing journey of getting comfortable with giving up control, which speaks to where I am with Faster Than 20’s licensing.

I have long enjoyed the merits of open licensed content, and I’ve always been comfortable licensing my content that way. I’m not naive about the downsides. About a year after I published my first book (in 1996, predating Creative Commons by five years), I found a pirated version on the Internet. I would have been fine with that — it hadn’t sold well, and I wanted people to have access to the content — except that this person had replaced my name with his.

Even after I started open licensing everything, I’ve seen plenty of my content repurposed in ways that violate the already liberal licensing terms. I never feel great about it, but I the benefits have far outweighed the downsides, and it’s not like others have made millions off of my content.

Still, it takes a bit of faith to trust that the upsides will far outweigh the downsides. Over time, I’ve gotten more comfortable with this, and I’m wanting to be more liberal with my licenses.

My current thinking is to license all written content published on Faster Than 20 as CC0 — essentially public domain. In other words, I would be giving up all copyright and all associated rights for content written on Faster Than 20. I would accompany the license with a statement of how I’d like people to engage with the content, but I won’t require it.

I’ve been particularly persuaded by what Mike Linksvayer has been writing about CC0 and the whole suite of new CC licenses. At minimum, I’d like attribution, but who am I kidding? People attribute because they think it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re worried about me coming after them. I can be more explicit and more effective about what I want by inviting people rather than by relying on a license.

Why not release my photos under a CC0 license also? I could blame it on Flickr not offering that option (Flickr’s support for CC-licensed content is seriously lagging), but the reality is that I don’t want to. With pictures, I not only have a responsibility to myself, but also to my subjects. I’m not ready to give up all copyright and renouncing all control.

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4 Responses to “My Open Licensing Journey”

  1. Eugene, thank you for a great overview of your thinking on this. I strongly agree, and applaud your choice! As I mentioned on G+, I have already uploaded a couple of your photos here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Black

    Today I'm doing one better — I gave you the "image reviewer" right on Wikimedia Commons, which will enable a big "Upload from Flickr" button when you use the Upload Wizard. This will allow you to easily upload files directly from Flickr (even entire photo sets by batch if they exist on Flickr). (The files must be marked on Flickr with a compatible license for it to work.)

    I look forward to seeing you more on Commons — not only because of your excellent photography, but because the issues you brought up in the last paragraph are coming to a head lately. I think the rights of the subjects of your photos are better described as "personality rights" and as such, are a pretty different thing from copyright. I think all major photo sharing platforms (including Flickr and Commons) have focused extensively on copyright, while completely neglecting personality rights in their terms of use, upload and tagging processes, etc. This is something it's going to be important to address, and I hope we have your voice in that discussion!

  2. That's awesome! Believe it or not, these are my first special privileges on a Wikimedia project besides strategy, so I'm very honored! And it will make it very easy for me to contribute, which is fantastic.

    I'm also looking forward to the discussion around personality rights. I agree, it's not the same as copyright, but copyright at least allows me to retain a measure of control so that I can take personality rights into consideration. If I gave up copyright, that wouldn't be the case.

  3. I really like your photos, good to see that you finished this project :-)

  4. Thank you, Anna!

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