Joining the Uncopyright Revolution

A year and a half ago, Leo Babauta, author the the ZenHabits blog, signed on as a soldier in a revolution — the uncopyright revolution. I came upon this concept only a couple of days ago in a post entitled Grab and Run: The Great Uncopyright Experiment on Mary Jaksch’s Goodlife Zen blog. If you have any interest in copyright matters, I urge you to read both Leo’s and Mary’s posts. They may change your life.

I’ve already discussed copyright on this blog twice this year. In March, I posted an article explaining the basics of copyright law and associated ethics. That post was prompted by the dismay a friend felt after discovering that whole posts from her blog had been pirated and reposted by a woman she had inspired to begin blogging, and whom she considered a friend.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the resulting fiasco after Amazon arbitrarily pulled George Orwell’s works out of all accessible Kindles that had purchased the work. At bottom, that mess resulted from violation of copyright law. Orwell has been dead for nearly sixty years, and his works are in the public domain nearly everywhere else in the world. Animal Farm was written in 1945 and Nineteen Eight-Four in 1949, shortly before his death. You can download the text of either book from the Internet, but not legally in this country.

I won’t go into those legalities other than to say they make me nuts! I think it’s insane that if 49 years after I die, someone picks up something I wrote, finds it inspiring, and wants to share it with the world, they can’t do it, because it's still protected by copyright. Even my kids are likely to be gone by then, maybe even my grandchildren, but my estate is still protected. Whoopee! Who are the winners here?

Furthermore, I have long believed that all inspiration comes from the same Source, and there is nothing exclusive about it. I’ve learned and benefited enormously from the works of others, incorporating their thoughts into my own and building on them. I’ve always believed that I “owe back to the pot” at least to the extent I've been fed from it; that the world will be a richer place if creative people cross-pollinate by freely sharing ideas, even to the extent of copying; and that if I become protective and proprietary about whatever small amount of wisdom I may have accrued, the creative part of my mind will soon be Saharan.

Please do not take this to mean that I advocate copying. The exercise involved in putting your own spin and personal touch on ideas you value helps cement them in your mind and keeps your brain healthy. I don’t even share links to things without adding a few words to explain why I find them valuable. But if you sincerely believe you don’t have any value to add, by all means, pass material along — with a link back, please.

So when I read Mary’s post and tracked back to find Leo’s, I thought Oh yes! That’s IT! I’ll do that too. Like them, I declare my blog Public Domain. As you'll see from the notice in the left sidebar, I've taken that step. You are welcome to copy, adapt, and build on articles found in this blog as you wish. That being done, I hope that if you do copy or adapt from it, you’ll link back and identify the source. Crediting source material publicly affirms your integrity and generates good karma. And I hope you’ll let me know so I can smile with grateful satisfaction, knowing yet more people are finding my work valuable and inspiring.

Write now: about your feelings around copyright and ownership of words and ideas. Do you feel proprietary about your work, or welcome others to share?


Debbie said...

As a librarian I know this topic can be discussed until the cows come home (cliche). At any rate, I tried to instill in my students the importance of giving credit for any ideas, text, photos, artwork, music, etc..... used. If someone uses what I produce, I really do appreciate credit. I like the idea of public domain, but you will find that ANYTHING I use on my blog that is not mine, credit is clearly given. Thanks for posting a thoughtful topic. I will continue to reflect upon it.

Sharon Lippincott said...


Giving people the right to use something does not excuse a lack of ethics and basic consideration, but those are character traits and won't be affected one way or another by copyright law.

I use lots of Creative Commons licensed photos in my blog and instructional material. Like you, I cite the source and include links. "It's the right thing to do" and it's the respect I hope for from others.

Good for you for instilling virtue in your students. BTW, I love your blog!

Garret Gillespie said...

So what we're talking about here is "courtesy."

I have long held the belief that there is no governing body on this earth that will ever have the power to "protect" digitally shareable information. If it can be shared, in a digital format, it will be.

And I, like you, see the benefit.

As with any new form of information sharing, the first perpretrators feel compelled to lift the information on the sly, but, in time, the pendulum swings back with increased numbers giving and receiving credit where it is due.

Just like traffic flows better when courtesy rules the day, information expands when it is shared and credited appropriately...that's why we call it a "flow" of information.

Excellent post, Thanks.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Garrett, courtesy is a terrific word for this, and also respect. I'm happy to report that I find most people exercise both. The rest? Who cares? They'll reap what they sow. Thanks for your comment.

Pat's Place said...

I agree--now! A few months ago I was incensed when someone took whole blog posts and used them as her own. But I think my son really hit the nail on the head when he said that if I dared to put my work "out there" then the work was open to the whole world--and many people think they have a right to copy what is "out there" without a second thought. I do believe he is right--whether that is right or wrong is another matter. Times are a'changing!

Sharon Lippincott said...

Pat, how nice to hear your agreement. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Still, it's hard not to feel proprietary.

Besides, as you point out, there is no protection against the ignorant, who may be ever so well-meaning. Ignorance, laziness, whatever. We always have more words, more inspiration, and will stay ahead of the curve! Who cares about yesterday's words?

Lindsay Price said...

It's a tightrope in the wind this copyright discussion. I know writers who are just so iron clad on their rights and when all you have to make your living is words it's hard to argue.

I will however, loosely quote Cory Doctorow when I say that my problem is not piracy, my problem is obscurity. And the more into the world I can get my work, the more I'm known, the more that my living will be made by my words.

And with the blooming, growing, abstracting of the internet, copyright really needs to take on new forms and definitions.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Lindsay, thanks for your thoughts and support. This is indeed a hot topic.

A month ago I queried King Features to ask if I could include the 7-1-2009 "Baby Blues" strip in a blog post. I explained that there is no charge for the blog, and that it generates no income, thus I have no budget for buying content.

Yes, I could certainly use the strip, no problem. I could obtain a license to post it for SIXTY DAYS for $50. So, dear readers, you lose -- I did not post that excellent entry, they lose a little free advertising, the world is a little smaller and darker as a result.

Something is wrong with this picture. I suppose that King Features thinks they are making money that way. I think they are losing big time because of all the people like me who won't post without permission, so don't give them further visibility.

Shoot. This should have been a whole post!

Sherrie Miranda said...

I wonder how you would feel if someone else were making money off your writing. Or if your book that you spent years on were being passed around with no mention of your name.
Yes, sometimes laws get a little irritating, but they are generally made to protect those in the right, in this case the writer who often spends years working with no compensation. I say once the compensation begins, let it continue. Why shouldn't Orwell's descendents make the money that he would make were he still alive. My guess is that he wouldn't have it any other way UNLESS he was a socialist.
If you are a Socialist, I apologize too.
P.S. I have no problem with Socialism myself but I still want to make as much as I can when my book gets published, even if I do decide to give much of it away. The choice should be mine.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Sherrie, that did happen to me, with my first book. A sympathetic friend shared a handout from an internal training program at MELLON BANK, at that time one of the largest and most profitable financial institutions in the country. The handout had several pages directly xeroxed from my book, MEETINGS: Do's, Don'ts and Donuts with no attribution whatsoever. The worst of it was that the publisher had sent a FREE promotional copy of the book to the training director, who then ripped it off.

I was incensed. I did write a letter to the training director (whom I knew), objecting and requesting payment. The letter was never acknowledged. I could not afford the time or money to pursue it, and didn't think to report it to the publisher.

So, my point is, that can and does happen, whether your work is copyrighted or not, and the people who do it may well be able to afford to be ethical. There are no guarantees, and my outcome is the likely one. It's easier on my state-of-mind to release it now.

BTW, Mellon Bank has pretty much dissolved. I'm still here. That says something, though I'm not sure what.

Sharon Lippincott said...

P.S. to all,

Recent evidence shows that the copyright issue with Orwell's work and the Kindle Affair is that the copyright applies to the formatting and layout done by the publisher, not to Orwell's content, which is out of range, even by the ammended statutes. Orwell's estate is deriving nothing!

Publisher's choose to obscure this fine point.

Anonymous said...

I write to tell the stories of my family and to help others with their family research. My writings and my photos are all licensed using Creative Commons share w/attribution license. Yes, I do find my work claimed by others but for the most part I am getting attribution for my efforts.

It's more important to me to document the family stories than to take credit.

Sharon Lippincott said...


Thanks for sharing your experience. We are coming from a similar place: the message matters more than the messenger. People who "get that" attribute. As I write this, the tune "The Walls of Jericho" began running through my mind. What's the message there?