Writings: Copyrights, Licenses, and Creative Commons

Okay, no, you know what? I've got five minutes and too much Sprite inside me. We're going to talk about Creative Commons and copyright, okay? Give me a second. This is an American thread because I am an American. Just to be clear. I do not know the nuances of international copyright law. I am also not a lawyer. I am very definitely not YOUR lawyer. This is not legal advice.

Everyone sorta knows what copyright is, right? If a corporation like Disney makes something, it's under copyright and they own it and you don't and it's an enormous pain in the ass. Because it means that if you want to use or make or sell anything based on Disney's work, you either can't or you have to pretend your thing is totally original and that's why these charms I bought for my resin work are called "Cartoon Princess Charms".

Clay charms designed to look like Disney princesses.

OBVIOUSLY that isn't Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Merida, Giselle, and Snow White, and any coincidental resemblance is on you. Et cetera.

Now here's the thing: in America pretty much everything you make is automatically under copyright--YOUR copyright--when you make it. (That used to not be the case; you used to have to register copyright and people sometimes forgot and accidentally public domain'd entire movies.) "But, Ana, I don't want my work to be under copyright! I want people to be able to use it!" Cool! We do that with a license. A license outlines who and how someone can use a copyrighted work.

Big companies like Disney make licenses that are complex and targeted to a single person: For eleventy million dollars, Bob Johnson has a license to print Tangled beer steins. Or whatever. But you can also make licenses that apply to *everyone*, not just Bob Johnson. That's where Creative Commons comes in: some smart folks sat down and created a bunch of licenses that you can copy and apply to your work. Have you ever seen something like this on a webpage?

28mm Dead Male Villagers byCurufinis licensed under theCreative Commons - Attribution - Non-Commercial license

(That's printable dead bodies for your D&D table, by the way, in case the name worried you a bit.) The Creative Common licenses generally mean that people can use your creative work without having a lot of hoops to go through. Here's a page of theirs that actually helps you pick what kind of license is best for you.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/choose/

Each license starts with "Creative Commons" and then adds on words (as needed!) that outline more restrictions. "Attribution" means you have to credit the author. You can use the work, adapt it, sell it, whatever, but you need to say who the original work was by.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

"ShareAlike" means that if someone mods the thing, their new work (based on your old work) MUST be distributed under the same license as your work. This is a way of making sure that a big corporation can't take your design, modify it a tiny bit, and then apply a restrictive copyright to THEIR modification of YOUR work so that now nobody can use it freely.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

"NonCommercial" means other people can't sell the thing you designed. They can use it for themselves, or give it away, but they can't sell it.

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

You might think that's a great one, but it can really suck for small creators like myself and it can limit how much your design is used. If you think about something like, say, dice: how many people can make dice at home, versus how many buy their dice on Etsy? If you came up with a real cool style of 3D printed dice that looked like, idk, the moon and the faces are all the lunar seas, then if people could print and sell it, it'd be all over Etsy. If no one can sell it, then only people with 3D printers at home can make and use 'em.

You might be okay with this! That's fine! Creative Commons is meant to be flexible! I just wanted to explain why you might want to think carefully about what you want for your design, rather than packing on license conditions thinking More = Better.

"What if I make a NonCommercial license but say that small businesses can still use them?" Well...that's really kind of you, but that's kind of tricky to navigate. What constitutes a "small business"? Does that include Etsy, who takes a percentage of sales? Most small business owners are very very risk adverse, so they're probably going to either avoid your design entirely OR maybe 1 in 10 will email you for clear and direct permission. EVEN WITH PERMISSION, small creators can still be harmed by automated systems. I have *explicit written permission* for almost all the material on my YouTube channel and I *still* get copyright strikes from bots.

Going back to Creative Commons licenses, there is also the "No Derivatives" license which means that people can use your design but not build on it in any way. No modifications!

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

"Ana, what if I hate the idea of having my work under copyright, even implicit copyright that I didn't ask for?" I'm glad you asked! You can use a special Creative Commons license, the CC0, to place your work in the public domain!

>> LINK: https://creativecommons.org/share-your-work/public-domain/cc0/

I have actually left instructions in my will asking that all my works be placed in the public domain upon my death, because I care so much about document preservation. By the way! My first novel, Pulchritude, is actually distributed under a CC license. You are technically free to copy and redistribute Pulchritude freely without paying me money! People pay me anyway!

Which brings me to: people LIKE to tip creators. So regardless of which license you feel is right for you, make sure to have a way for people to pay you money in gratitude for the cool thing you designed. Lastly: Artists need to eat and nobody should feel bad over what copyright license they chose to apply to their work. Don't harass creators for making difficult choices!

Thank you! Thread is over! Go home! Love you!

NOTE: Some, but not all, Creative Commons licenses are copyleft licenses. "Copyleft" has an actual meaning and isn't just "copyrights we like".

MORE NOTE: For the record, the Progress Flag is under a Creative Commons license which means it can be freely used and distributed! and that's a good thing! and the creator is nonbinary who uses xe/they pronouns and shouldn't be harassed or misgendered! AND if your favorite store doesn't sell that flag, it's not because they hate the flag, it's because they're nervous about the licensing issue. Etsy is known for taking down shops that are accused of infringement, even IF everyone is behaving. This is an Etsy problem, not a flag problem, and I only mention it here because I understand people are confused when they don't see a great flag they love among someone's cool online shop. Small biz owners have to make a lot of these decisions behind the scenes.

@EmbertheUnusual. Out of curiousity, what kind of license would it be if I want my works to be freely available *except* if you're using them for stuff like promoting hate speech or other creepy shit?

Oh! This is a really good question, okay, hang on, let me get my typing fingers on. So here's the thing: You can write a license to use your work that says ANYTHING. Now, not everything you write is enforceable and that's for the courts to decide. But you CAN write a license that says "if you use this software, you have to give me your firstborn child." (The courts will not enforce that license, but you can write it.)

I have seen licenses that say "you can use this freely, but if you see me on the street you gotta buy me a beer." Big companies have to figure up how much beer they could be liable for in court before using that software. There are coders who have thought about how to implement licenses which promote the public good or at least can't be used for evil. One of these is the Do No Harm license. Here is the full license text. If you want to modify that license text to add/remove things that you feel should be on that list, you totally can!

>> LINK: https://github.com/raisely/NoHarm
>> LINK: https://github.com/raisely/NoHarm/blob/publish/LICENSE.md

Now, that's explicitly a software license and not an art license. But what you could do is merge the two with something like:

This work must not be used by any person or organization that:
a) lobbies for, promotes, or derives a majority of income from actions that support or contribute to:
[list of things]
b) lobbies against, or derives a majority of income from actions that discourage or frustrate:
[list of things]
When these conditions are met, the work may be used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

I am not a lawyer but I think this would cover you. Mind you, if a hate group did use your thing, you'd have to pay to take them to court. Which would suck. But that's true for all copyright violations, really. But ultimately at the end of the day, you can license your work any way you want. Licenses like Creative Commons just make it easy for you to take a pre-written license rather than making one yourself from scratch. It's like... a boxed cake mix vs measuring out flour.

By the way: even if you want to give your work away for free, if you even THINK a big corporation might want to use your thing (and you're okay with that), leave an option for people to (a) email you and (b) BUY a license. "But, Ana, why would a corporation want to BUY something that's free??" License laws are complicated. A lot of businesses are risk adverse and would rather spend $25 per copy of your software than use it for free and risk a lawsuit later for reasons. Money = papertrail = safety. They don't want to worry that the license WAS free but then you changed it on your website and they forgot to keep a copy and the wayback machine didn't archive it and now they're in court and... so much easier just to throw money at a license and say "look, your honor, we paid."

There are also licenses that will explicitly say that something is free to use/sell/etc. for a company with less than 50/100/etc. employees. Things like that. (Like I said, you can write anything in a license. How it's enforced is up to the courts.) LAST BUT NOT LEAST: While I have you here, if you ever take a viral picture and CNN wants permission to use it, make them pay you. This isn't legal advice, I just want you to get paid.

Once again: I am not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice, I have drank 3 Sprites in 1 hour and my purpose is entertainment only and not education. I have a cat on my head as I type this. Good night.


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