Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 1 second
Let me share with you this true story of my Sudanese friend. One I share with students when I teach about copyright and plagiarism (and how to differentiate them). She was educated in the UK, but now lives in Sudan and has kids. She noticed her nieces/nephews science books were really bad so she created her own version with colorful illustrations and photos and they helped. She started using those books with others in her family. And then with others. Then it occurred to her she could commercialize this and make money, or go to the ministry of higher education and offer her services to make similar books across the science curriculum.
You know what happened when she went? She showed them her work and they took out a (badly) photocopied version of it and said “oh? We already have this”. And just like that, a golden opportunity to make a difference in her country’s education system was gone.
Someone stole her work and gave it to others – copyright violation.
Someone used her work without attributing to her – plagiarism.
This kind of thing happens in my part of the world ALL THE TIME. Someone can take work you did and attribute it to themselves and make money off of it even if you had been offering it for free.
That bothers me.
While I do believe that making one’s work public (as in online in any form, whether public domain or other license) makes it easy for people to recognize it as yours originally… Putting a CC0 or public domain license on it means someone else can take it exactly as is and claim it as their own and make money off of something you created and made FREE. That bothers me. Even knowing that a license like copyright or CC-BY-NC won’t actually stop unethical people from doing what they will do (and even with copyright I don’t create stuff worth suing over!) it still makes me uncomfortable to go out and say CC0.
I think it’s all contextual. Some things I am OK with making CC0, like the picture of a cat. Some things are copyrighted like the DigPedCairo photos (my university owns the copyright but all organizers have permission to use them). Some things are CC-BY-NC-SA like my blog posts. My thesis is CC-BY-NC-ND because HELL no I don’t want people taking parts of my thesis out of contexts and doing stuff with it (though isn’t that exactly what we do when we quote someone’s work in an in-text reference?)
There is privilege in posting our work openly in any form. You are comfortable enough in the quality of your work to put it out there. You are confident of your fame (to an extent) that you feel people will recognize it as yours even if not quoted as such. But recently, the DML Twitter account tweeted an article by someone else, and quoted a line from their article. The funny part? The line was taken VERBATIM from an article I had written…for DML. So there’s that. I contacted the author and they promised to add a citation. I believe it was an innocent mistake. But notice that it was a quotable line. Notice that the tweeter of said quotable line was from the same organization where I had written that line…maybe a month or two earlier. So there’s that.
There is also the reality that much of what we do, say, write, make is not completely original. Even my thoughts are inspired by others and I won’t always attribute. I won’t always actually know where they came from because the thread is sooooo long it would be hard to trace the origin.
But I also know how much it hurts people when their work or ideas are attributed to someone else. It’s not just an emotional hurt (though that’s bad enough), it can be career limiting and it can be a barrier to progress (as in the Sudanese case above).
But then I am thinking… why not put all my photos in the public domain? Why not do the most friction free license? The main difference, as I can see is that I am not licensing with an expectation of attribution. Frankly, even with a CC-BY license, often people do not attribute (those catfishers using my photos for their fake profiles NEVER give me credit).
Alan, if you haven’t noticed, even attributes images he took himself. Because
Because being part of sharing commons is not about following rules; it is setting an example for others.
Sooooo should I let go completely?
I recently told another professor she was free to reuse my Twitter Scavenger Hunt activity however she liked, no permission or attribution necessary. I originally got the idea from someone else (Kim Fox, a mass comm professor at AUC) but changed it dramatically to fit my context. And yeah. My version is famous enough within my circles that people know it but it’s something I would put as CC0 so more people can benefit from it.
But not everything I create can be CC0. Not yet. And in my local context these things can really really matter. It can make the difference between who gets a job or tenure or promotion and who doesn’t.
You don’t know CC0 in practice until someone takes an important body of your work and sells it as their own to others who don’t recognize it as your own or that it is freely available.
I know that I can copyright and even DRM something and someone could steal and commercialize it. I know. That just won’t always be an acceptable state of affairs for me.
(i am not saying Never, Alan)