Participating in the Creative Commons

I’ve explained before why I release my photographs under a Creative Commons license, and I’m happy to report that we’ve done something similar here at Virginia Quarterly Review.

A literary writers conference by the name of “LWC}NYC” is held each year. It’s a wonky professional writers’ thing that you and I would probably find of no interest. At last year’s event there was a panel discussion involving five big-deal publishing industry figures, including the publisher of HarperCollins, the publisher of Alfred A. Knopf, and the editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly. The 45-minute talk was very well received, and was recorded. Somehow we ended up with the recording, and knew that it could be valuable to writers aspiring to learn more about the industry.

We paid Charlottesville-based Wordcast Productions to clean up the audio, and then we passed that audio onto a woman who transcribed the entire discussion. We then encoded that audio as an MP3 suitable for transferring online and marked up the transcript using the HTML definition list standard, making it easy to parse. The resulting document is useful, but what makes it significantly more useful is that we released the whole shebang under the Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works Creative Commons license, with the permission of the discussion’s participants.

As it turns out, this has been valuable — industry blogs and mailing lists have been excited to read it, and everybody knows that they can legally reproduce the audio and the transcript as they see fit. VQR could have retained the copyright over the transcript, as an original compilation of our own, but what good would that do us? Plus, while we funded the audio and text conversion, it’s not even an original creation of our own, so we don’t really have any great moral right to retain rights over it.

The end result is that this information is able to be made available as widely as possible, furthering the mission of both VQR and the university, and there’s a lot to like about that.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

4 replies on “Participating in the Creative Commons”

  1. If people need a more selfish motivation to free-license their work, consider this: I upload my better illustrative photographs to Wikipedia, and I’ve gotten inquiries from people who have found my work there. One or two of the photos will even be published.

    Putting your stuff out for free distribution is *excellent* advertising.

  2. So wait – even though you had nothing to do with organizing the panel and didn’t create the content, you could have copyrighted it? So like, if I get up in public and make a speech, you can write it down and copyright what I said? That’s what the law is? That seems really weird.

  3. First, copyright is not a verb.

    In the US (and with a number of exceptions that don’t matter here) copyright vests in the creator the moment a creative expression (e.g., the words spoken at the panel) is fixed in a tangible form (e.g., the recording made of the panel discussion). The resulting copyright only attaches to the actual recording made. If someone else was in the room and made a recording of the same thing, they’d have a copyright in *that* recording. The copyright attaches not to the idea, but the fixation of that idea.

    So, to answer your question, yes, you could get up in public to speak, someone can record it, and they would own the copyright to that particular recording. That does not, however, prevent you from speaking those same words again, making your own recording, etc.

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