How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Attribution-ShareAlike

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Content on my website and my Flickr account has been licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license for a while.  I was pretty proud of myself.  But then I got to thinking: why don’t I choose Attribution-ShareAlike?  Obviously, it was product of two kneejerk reactions: I don’t want someone else to make money off my stuff, and I don’t want someone messing with my stuff.

When it comes to the whole non-commercial use issue, I admit that I bought into a pretty powerful narrative: that I could very well be sitting on valuable content which some evil businessperson could exploit for their own gain – if only I didn’t have that non-commercial clause.  Then I realized how I plead with journals, conferences, and other academic sources to take my content, do whatever they want to with it, and publish it without giving me a dime.  This is because in academia, exposure is far more valuable than money.

It is not likely at all that some publisher is going to stumble upon my site, compile all my posts, copyedit them, and publish them for a profit.  The copyleft nature of these licenses guarantees that they must license their derivative works under the same license, and I don’t know of any commercial presses who have printed books that are freely licensed except for academic celebrities like Lawrence Lessig – why sell something everyone can get for free?  Yet even if they did and paid me nothing, I would be quite grateful.

The second issue I had was with someone editing my work, which is why I had chosen the no derivatives CC license.  However, my two biggest fears were protected by the GNU FDL and CC licenses that allow derivatives.  Others still have to give you attribution when remixing your work, so my worry that someone would take one of my posts or papers and expand it into a prize-winning masterpiece was unfounded, not to mention misanthropic.  Also, if someone edited my work to include something despicable like Nazi propaganda, both licenses ensure that my name cannot be used to endorse the derivative work.

Another big point for me was the realization that everything on the Internet is effectively public domain – not legally, but effectively.  Anyone can already do anything they want to anything they can find on the Internet and redistribute it however they want.  I’ve put papers up on my website before I switched to a CC license, and the awesome legal force that is copyright hasn’t stopped someone from plagiarizing off me (funny story – it was for the same class taught by the same professor at my university the semester after I took it).  What am I going to do – DRM my blog?  No, those of us who rail against the music industry for using a failed business model should realize that we in academia have been using a failed model too.

So I have decided to release everything under two licenses: the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0, and the GNU Free Documentation License 2.0 or later.  These licenses are similar, although there are a few nuanced differences that make them incompatible.  Wikipedia uses the GNU FDL, while many other wikis and blogs use a Creative Commons License.  This ensures that content on my site can be reused on all sites that use these two licenses.