The Copyright Series: Creative Commons

Creative Commons licensing was developed with the idea that U.S. copyright is too extensive. Creative Commons works are typically found online, and are often licensed as such so that users can simply share the licensed material with no intervention. For instance, if I declared one of my short stories to be Creative Commons, you could email it to all your friends without purchasing additional copies (which traditional copyright would require).

There are actually multiple Creative Commons licenses, each of which grant specific “baseline rights.” The baseline rights, as described by the Creative Commons corporation, are the following:

  • Attribution: A work may be copied, distributed, displayed and used in derivative works, as long as all licensees credit the original author or creator.
  • Noncommercial: A work may be copied, distributed, displayed and used in derivative works, but only for noncommercial purposes.
  • No Derivative Works: A work may be copied, distributed and displayed, but cannot be used in derivative works.
  • Share Alike: A work may be used in derivative works, but only if derivative works use an identical license to the license that covers the original work.

Now, many works are licensed using multiple baseline rights. There are a total of eleven valid Creative Commons licenses, six of which are commonly used:

  1. Attribution alone
  2. Attribution & Noncommercial
  3. Attribution & NoDerivs
  4. Attribution & ShareAlike
  5. Attribution & Noncommercial + NoDerivs
  6. Attribution & Noncommercial + ShareAlike

What does all of this mean for freelance writers, though?

There are a few examples of writers who have managed to make money while licensing their works with Creative Commons. Cory Doctorow is one of the most notable: he has published several books through traditional publishing houses but has made the same books available online for free. However, at least for now, Doctorow is the exception, rather than the rule. It is extremely difficult to make money from works that are freely distributed, and generally is not a good tactic for freelance writers.

However, some online content providers (ezines, blogs, websites, etc.) are starting to distribute their content with Creative Commons licenses, so freelance writers submitting to such a market must be aware of how such licenses work. Some of these markets are paying, so do not discount them immediately. Instead, consider your chances of reselling the piece you plan to submit later on.

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