It seems like a bunch of stuff related to reusing material has been coming up lately.
For example, various people have quoted our Stories We've Seen Too Often list in full, without asking us first. Harper's published it a while back; more recently, various bloggers copied and pasted it into their blogs. I initially reacted with annoyance; one of my key tenets is that if you want to copy something someone else has written, you should ask first. (To be fair, I don't always do that in all circumstances.) I even added a note on the page saying something like "If you want to reprint this, please ask us." But after a couple of people wrote to ask for permission, I thought about it more carefully, and realized that I don't actually have any serious objection to people copying that list; I was just taken by surprise.
So I added a section on how to reprint the list, which basically says "You have permission to reprint this if you really want to, but please credit us." And now people don't have to ask for permission, and I don't have to be disgruntled by their not asking.
And then there's the Featured Blog thing at the Asimov's and Analog sites. I confess that it seems a little odd to me; there are lots of ways that people read this journal outside of the context of my page, but those usually involve acquiring a feed and displaying the contents of the feed in some way that matches the new context (usually intermixed with other people's feeds), like a LiveJournal "friends" list. Embedding my whole blog main page in the page seems to me to be a pretty unusual approach. There's nothing wrong with it; it's just not what I'm used to.
And I just received a request from another blogger to be a "guest blogger," by which they meant (in this case) that they wanted permission to reprint the entirety of my "How I explained infodumps and saved humanity" piece (which, I'm delighted to see, is still #5 in the list of Google search results for [infodump]). My immediate gut reaction was a negative one--I'm happy for people to quote a couple paragraphs of that and link to the original, but I'm hesitant to allow people to copy an entire entry written by me and post it elsewhere, even if they ask nicely first (as this other blogger did).
And then there's Creative Commons. Ben R. asked us recently about adding a Creative Commons license to his latest Strange Horizons story, "The House Beyond Your Sky," in our archives after our exclusivity period is over. Which made me think more about Creative Commons licenses and what does and doesn't appeal to me about them.
I love the idea of creators granting blanket permission for others to use their creations in certain ways, and Creative Commons lets you do that. But I'm a little uncomfortable, for my own work, with letting go of control over the original work.
I don't mind if someone takes a journal entry of mine (or other thing I've written) and publishes a detailed annotated version of it. I don't mind if someone translates it into another language (though the control freak in me wants to somehow be sure they've done a good job with the translation; rather difficult, given that I don't read any languages other than English). I don't mind if someone quotes from it. But I don't like the idea of someone creating a full word-for-word copy, without adding anything new, and publishing it elsewhere.
I think part of why I don't like that idea is that on the web, there should only need to be one copy of a given work. If I've got the definitive version of a work on my site, then I'd much rather have people link to it than copy it. In some cases, making copies of something that appears online is (in some sense) good because the site where the work lives might go away (or slip behind a for-pay password wall) and then the work would be gone from the web; but in my case, my site is pretty likely to last my lifetime (unless the web as we know it goes away before I die), and if the web still exists by then, I hope someone will keep my stuff online even after I die.
And in some cases, making copies of something is good because the site where the work lives has limited bandwidth and the work is large; that's one reason that software distribution often has mirror sites. But the work I create is almost exclusively plain text, and I have a lot of bandwidth, and so far I haven't needed mirrors.
So it occurred to me that I think what I really want is a Creative Commons license that allows only derivative works--not exact copies of the whole work.
So I was pleased to learn that the new Creative Commons Sampling License allows exactly that. The legal language and the plain-English language aren't as much in sync on certain points as I would like; in particular, the CC General Counsel informed me in email that the intent of the Sampling License is to allow people to use the entire work if they want to, as long as they use it transformatively (like translating it). Which is pretty much what I want, but probably not what most people will think the Sampling License allows.
At any rate, I've been toying with the idea of applying a CC Sampling License to my whole journal. I'm not quite ready to make that jump yet, but I'm intrigued by the idea.
As for allowing someone to copy an entire entry and repost it elsewhere (after explicitly asking permission, not as part of a CC license), I'm still on the fence. I know that a lot of people don't follow links, so more people are likely to read the piece if I allow a full copy; and what harm is there, really, in allowing that? I'm not making any money off the piece either way, nor is anyone else. I lose a certain amount of control over it--but I lost a certain amount of control over it by posting it on the web. I don't lose PageRank or whuffie, because the copy will include a link back to the original.
And yet, my gut feeling is still opposed to the idea. I'm not sure why.
But I suppose I need a couple of disclaimers here first, to quell outraged comments from authors who think I'm talking about their work instead of mine:
- I am totally not saying everyone should CC license their work.
- My situation is very different from that of fiction writers who are trying to make a living from their work. I'm talking entirely about work that will never make me any money (I have no interest in trying to sell this stuff) and that I'm delighted to have people read for free on my own site.