Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content
I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. - Richard Stallman
I get a lot of emails asking me for permission to reprint Zen Habits articles on other blogs, in newsletters, in conferences and in classrooms. I get requests to translate certain posts, or my entire blog, into dozens of languages. I get requests to translate Zen To Done or republish it in another format.
Until now, I granted limited permission, mostly for non-commercial use.
Now, I'm granting full permission to use any of my content on Zen Habits or in my ebook, Zen To Done, in any way you like.
I release my copyright on this content.
From now on, there is no need to email me for permission. Use it however you want! Email it, share it, reprint it with or without credit. Change it around, put in a bunch of swear words and attribute them to me. It's OK. :)
Credit and payment
While you are under no obligation to do so, I would appreciate it if you give me credit for any work of mine that you use, and ideally, link back to the original. If you feel like spreading a copy of my ebook, I'd appreciate payment. I'd prefer people buy my ebook, but if they want to share with friends, they have every right to do so.
Why I'm releasing copyright
I'm not a big fan of copyright laws anyway, especially as they're being applied these days by corporations, used to crack down on the little guys so they can continue their large profits.
Copyrights are often touted as protecting the artist, but in most cases the artist gets very little while the corporations make most of the money. I'm trying this experiment to see whether releasing copyright really hurts the creator of the content.
I think, in most cases, the protectionism that is touted by "anti-piracy" campaigns and lawsuits and lobbying actually hurts the artist. Limiting distribution to protect profits isn't a good thing.
The lack of copyright, and blatant copying by other artists and even businesses, never hurt Leonardo da Vinci when it comes to images such as the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, or the Vitruvian Man. It's never hurt Shakespeare. I doubt that it's ever really hurt any artist (although I might just be ignorant here).
And while I'm no da Vinci or Shakespeare, I can't help but wonder whether copyright hurts me or helps me. If someone feels like sharing my content on their blog, or in any other form for that matter, that seems like a good thing for me. If someone wanted to share my ebook with 100 friends, I don't see how that hurts me. My work is being spread to many more people than I could do myself. That's a plus, as I see it.
And if someone wants to take my work and improve upon it, as artists have been doing for centuries, I think that's a wonderful thing. If they can take my favorite posts and make something funny or inspiring or thought-provoking or even sad … I say more power to them. The creative community only benefits from derivations and inspirations.
This isn't a new concept, of course, and I'm freely ripping ideas off here. Which is kinda the point.
Counter arguments and all that
There are a number of objects that will likely be brought up to this idea, and while I can't possibly answer all of them, here are a few of my responses in anticipation:
1. Google rank will go down. My understanding is that Google penalizes pages that have exact duplicates on other sites, when it comes to PageRank. I don't know how much of a penalty that is. If people duplicate my content (which they already are, even without permission), it's possible that my PageRank will drop and people will have a harder time finding my content on Google search. If that's the case, I accept that penalty. I've never been one to go for SEO techniques anyway, so this is nothing new to me.
2. You'll lose ebook revenues. If people buy my ebook and then distribute it to 20 people, and each of those distributes it to 20 more, and those to 20 more … I've lost $76,000 in ebook revenues. Perhaps. That's if you agree with the assumption that all those people would have bought the ebook if it hadn't been freely distributed. I don't buy that. In this example, thousands of people are reading my work (and learning about Zen Habits) who wouldn't have otherwise. That's good for any content creator.
3. Who knows what people will do with your work? Someone could take my work, turn it into a piece of … baloney … and put my name on it. They could translate it with all kinds of errors. They could … well, they could do just about anything. But that kind of thinking stems from a mind that wants to control content … while I am of the opinion that you can't control it, and even if you can, it's not a good thing. What if someone takes my work and turns it into something brilliant, and becomes the next James Joyce? Or more likely, what if they take the work and extend the concepts and make it even more useful, to even more people? Release control, and see what happens. People are wonderful, creative creatures. Let's see what they can do.
4. You're making other bloggers look bad. Perhaps, if you want to see things in a negative light. But I'm not doing this as a challenge to other bloggers, or as a comment on their policies. I'm doing it simply to stay in line with my values. And who knows? Maybe others will be inspired by this in some way. Or maybe they won't. Either way, please don't judge others based on what I do.
5. What about when you write that print book you're always talking about? When I get published by a major publisher, I probably won't be able to release copyright. I accept that as a cost of getting published in print, which is a dream of mine. If I contradict myself, very well … I contradict myself. [Edit: I should have attributed this before, but the last sentence is a paraphrase of Whitman.]
6. What if someone publishes a book with all your content and makes a million dollars off it? I hope they at least give me credit. And my deepest desire is that they give some of that money to a good cause.
7. But … but … they're stealing from you! You can't steal what is given freely. I call this sharing, not piracy.
Inspirations: Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig; and GNU by Richard Stallman
Edit: Just to clarify, this post is an official notification that my writing here at Zen Habits and in the Zen To Done ebook are now in the public domain. I hereby waive all claim of copyright in this work; it may be used or altered in any manner without attribution or notice to the me. Attribution, of course, is appreciated.