ZenHabits.net is now Public Domain, how about Poewar?

As you may recall from my recent kerfuffle with procopywriters.com, I tend to get upset when I see people reusing my site content without my permission, especially if they are using it for profit. This is for a three reasons.

  • I feel I have the right to profit from my work without having to compete with myself.
  • I often encourage writers to post creative work in my comments (such as the 30 Poems in 30 Days project) and I do so with the understanding that I consider their work their own.
  • I have paid for and published articles from other writers in the past and I have done so with the reasonable expectation that I respect their ownership of the copyright.

Yesterday, I read that Zenhabits.net, one of my favorite sites, is giving up all of its copyrights for the material published there. Leo Babauta, the author of the site wrote a post that says, in part:

From now on, there is no need to email me for permission. Use it however you want! Email it, share it, reprint it with or without credit. Change it around, put in a bunch of swear words and attribute them to me. It’s OK.

He goes on to discuss the ways that he would prefer that people share his work, but he makes it clear that his preferences are merely preferences. They are not binding. He has no intention of fighting ANY use of his site’s material. He has freely given up all rights.

I must admit that the idea intrigues me, and it is one I have thought about in the past. If I did so, however, I would have to do the following, just to feel right about it:

  • I would have to either eliminate all previous articles by other writers OR get their permission to release their rights as well.
  • I would have to give any past commenters the opportunity to remove their comments if they feel the need to keep their copyright intact.
  • I would have to create a new comment policy that made it clear that all comments would be considered public domain, something that may discourage people from posting their creative work in the future.
  • I would have to review the policies behind the stock photos I buy to determine any limitations and if I could not find a way to stay within their guidelines, I would have to replace that artwork.
  • I would have to accept that there people will use words to make money without ever giving me credit, much less payment. However, I would no longer have to worry about enforcing my rights, which is always a painful process.

I am not saying I’m going to make this change. I am only considering it because I do feel it would make my life easier and give plenty of people legitimate opportunities to reuse my work without worry.

I want people’s input. I especially want input from people who have posted creative work for this site in the past, either as articles or comments. What do you think of a public domain policy? Is it a brilliant idea or the worst idea ever?

14 thoughts on “ZenHabits.net is now Public Domain, how about Poewar?

  1. I thought of you yesterday when I read Zen Habits. I understand Leo’s reasons, but is he a professional writer besides? You are. I think you ought to keep status quo.

  2. Thank you everyone for your comments on the issue. I do run a decidedly different site than Zen Habits, and the nature of the site obliges me to be more protective than Leo needs to be.

    James, I understand the desire to keep more “salable” work off of the web, although I don’t have similar worries. Because it is my site, and it does earn a reasonable amount of money, I feel I am fairly compensated for my work. If a “publisher” shies away, I can live with that because the audience here is actually larger than the audience I would expect my creative work to garner in the print market. I reach approximately 5000 new readers every week here (in addition to my regulars), and sometimes many more. Unless I wrote a best seller, I doubt I would find a bigger audience in print.

  3. Also James,

    I have considered the idea of having a more private section for workshops and classes, but I do like to reach as wide an audience as possible, so I have thus far decided against limiting portions of the site. I reserve the right to change my mind at any point though.

  4. Hi James,

    I understand what you are talking about, and it makes sense. As I said, I’ve considered it in the past. The public/private issue is only one of several, the most substantial of which is the limits of my schedule (Full time Technical Writer / Blogger / Poet / Husband / Television Addict / Everquest Player). That keeps me from adding to the current complexity of my site.

  5. I am a tech writer and immensely enjoy your entries. I think your current way is already perfectly reasonable, and if you would prefer openness, indicating more collaborative attitude might just be fine, like automatically replying yes to any permission requests unless found guilty later.

  6. John,

    I have a few comments on this issue.

    First and foremost is that as I was reading your post, I get the feeling that your fascination with this idea is comparable to the fascination with watching an on-coming train while standing on the track. While it is quite intriguing, it is ultimately destructive, especially for the professional and the profession.

    To ground the discussion, I need to switch fields and discuss software for a bit. I am a professional code writer, there is more money in this, and the whole notion of copyright and intellectual property apply to this field. Furthermore, the need to profit (support one self) and piracy or theft also exist in this field.

    In the software comunity there are several camps. Many insist upon their rights to make money off their work. Many cite the public’s need for software and computation as an excuse to support Public Domain releases. Many are looking to make a quick buck off other people’s work. Others are looking to get software without paying for it. Some say that copyright and forcing payment supports creative work. Others say that this would be true if the original creator got more of the payment, stating that the only people who make real money are the distributors, or the large monolithic companies that buy out (and sometimes steal) the work.

    Does this sound familiar? I am talking about the software comunity and can name specific individuals and companies engaged in each of these behaviors. The parallel to the general writing community is plain.

    In the software community. Open Source is a big thing. This is, a coder writes it, and distributes it for free. Any one can use, modify, or any thing else. Just don’t hold the original author liable. While much great software is created this way. Much of garbage is also created, and the user is left to try and determine which is which. While the thought is that such a mechanism could undermine the monolithic companies dominating the market. Many companies looking for software, can not accept the risk involved with Open Source Software. As a result, distributing companies have sprung up, who test, axamine and guarentee the distributed releases. If you want the gurentee, then you have to pay them the license fee. The end result is the following: Distributor make huge profits from selling the software and the original coder, while doing the bulk of the work, now gets NOTHING for his work, and is relegated to coding on his spare time, while he looks to support himself some other way. He stood too long on the track.

    Please understand that I have written and released open source software. I did this because I had, in my spare time, written software that I found useful for a specific task. After having the software languish oin my own system, getting limited use, I chose to release the software to the community, in the h0opes that it may be helpful to someone else as well. Similarly, I have released software using the GPL (you may use it at your own risk, change it, distribute it, but please give me credit, do not charge for it, and do not hold me liable ) Which is a moderate approach with the idea that if I can’t profit from this, at least no boy else will either. Unfortunately, I have no real mechanism outside a very expensive legal battle to protect these rights, so I am largely dependant upon the honesty of the community in general.

    Copyright protections suffer from similar enforcement issues: an author or creator must engage in legal battles to protect his work. The burdon on detection and deterance is on the author. Few creative people I know are interested in spending their time hunting down thieves. Most would rather create, which is why they have the stuff to start with. The result of this mechanism is that it protects the rich (who pay others to hunt down theives) or the very large distributors, so that they can continue to reep the profits of selling other people’s works while attempting to pay the pittance the hungry artist is willing to take.

    The bottom line is that copyright supports creativity. It at least offers the potential of payment for production of creative works. Perhaps the payment is but apittance, it is payment. In some socialist countries the disparity of payment has been noticed, and they countires use the copyright law more as a support mechanism for the aritists and creators. Are these countries mecca’s for artists? No, the governement become so oppressive, that the artists tend to flee.

    While copyright can increase creative works, it can also inhibit creative work, by prohibitting various types of derivitive works. For example, I have written a new version of a song, which is more poingant and powerful than the original version. The original version was written in the eastern US in 1933. Under US law, the work was protected for an initial term or 14 years, renewable for another 14 if the author was still alive, making it available to public Domain in 1961. BUT in the interim, the law was changed allowing additional renewals, indefinate renewals, first up to 25 years after the aurhtor’s death, and now up to 70 years! (Thanks Disney!) The original lyricist died in 1980. I wrote my deritive work in 1997, and the work goes beyond the free-use clause, as it could replace the original, and be confused with the original. In order for me to publish my work, the original has to go into Public Domain, or I have to track down the copyright holder, and get explicit permission. As the current song is a revenue generator, I think this is un-likely, should I even be able to find the individual. In this case, copyright is serving to stifle creativity. But is it copyright, of the ability to indefinately renew copyrights, even after the death of the original author? I believe that in this case, and many others, copyright protection may go too far. But, please, don’t get rid of it. It is because of copyright that I earn money. But I think it is about time for the copyright pendulum to start swinging back the other direction.

    Now that I have had my say on copyright, just one other point.
    Your page is publically available to all. No membership is required of any kind. Posting any creative work to the site, regardless of the rights you claim or revoke, is a form of publication and could potentially cause problems when submitting the works for more formal publication. The distributors want access to all the rights. This simple fact has caused me to pause before submitting creative work, and I have not posted some work, which I feel has greater potential. Now, submitting a work to a group of authors for review and commentary is not publication, and will not inhibit furture formal publication efforts. Forcing some sort of membership or signup process, where you arbitrate inclusion in the group by some criteria, in order to participate in the creative activities and to post creative work would move it away from publication and more to submitting to a common group for review. You mentioned resructuring the site. Consider having too parts: the public part, where your general posts go, –no comentary allowed, and a membership part, where posts are permitted. You say it does this? But what is the criteria for membership, and what is the duration? It is still public. You may add ‘classes’, where you allow only certain types of people (some criteria–which could be a simple as the submission of a work for consideration) In the ‘classes’ the posts by these individuals through the ‘class’ pages are accessable only to members of that class, not the general membership and not the public. In this way, you also protect the rights of the participants.
    (By the way, open source web apps are avaiable to do all this!)

    What you do with your own writing is cmpletely your own decision. Good luck.


  7. It is good that you feel fairly compensated for your work on the site. It is excellent work!

    Perhaps I may not have expressed the class notion as clearly as I had hoped.

    This is what I tried to express:
    Post all your material publically, as you currently do. This would include instructions on special topics as you currently do. Allow for general discussion from the general membership of the site (public) as you currently do.

    ADD classes or workshops, which are groups of users, who have applied and been accepted in some fashion… this may be as loosely implemented as you wish. This group is defined only for the duration of the workshop or class and is defined to create a place where they may share creative works in a slightly private setting. Comments to the group are visible only to the group, and (of course) must meet a minimum level of ‘politeness’

    I do not feel that adding such groups would diminish your site in any way, especially if your comments were still publically accessible or accessible to the general membership.

    People should be coming to your site to read your material, not the work of others. When they come they may wish to comment, as often they do. Some may wish to join the creative thread, and share creative thoughts with the others that are drawn to your site. These individuals may appreciate their creative work having some level of protection from the public. The workshop notion would offer that last bit.


  8. I understand completely, my list looks something like:

    Husband / Father several times over / Full Time Code Writer/ Web Developer / Chess Player and Coach / Poet /Handy Man / Film Lover / KNOW IT ALL (according to wife) / Slouch (again according to wife)

    I have many things I’d like to get to, but don’t have the time. (At least not now)

    I enjoy the site.

  9. I’m building a website for articles dedicated to the Public Domain. I’ve already added some sites which have dedicated their articles. ()

    I think the easy way to avoid all those issues is: Continue with copyrights on your old articles. Say: From this day forward my new articles are PD licensed.

    There are a number of decent public domain only photo websites.

    I don’t think commenters worry too much about licenses.

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