Friday, April 28, 2017

Making a living as an author vs. off of authors.

Two articles crossed my desk today that I thought were interesting contrasts.

Hackers, Amusement Parks, and Activism: Where to Start with Cory Doctorow is a review on Tor, a site for SF and fantasy readers. Cory is a science fiction author that I'm a fan of both for his fiction storytelling as well as his political views that are well grounded in science and evidence-based thinking.

John Degen: On Creative Commons and the future of the sharing economy is a familiar angry rant from John Degen about how the "free culture movement" is trying to make it hard for authors to make a living. I put "free culture movement" in quotations as his (ab)use of that term wouldn't be recognized by those who are part of the movement, such as Cory Doctorow.

The two have a few things in common: both have released some of their own under creative commons licenses, and both are people I've sat down and spoken with in person (not surprisingly, copyright came up -- see notes from the first time I met with Mr Degen). They are both Canadians from Toronto, although Cory currently lives previously lived in London (Yes -- he can afford that as a writer :-).

There are more things they don't have in common: Cory Doctorow makes a living as science fiction author, while John Degen primarily makes his living as staff within groups that claim to represent authors (Currently the E.D. of the Writers Union of Canada, previously the E.D. of the Professional Writers Association of Canada). I say claim, as I've met a number of authors over the years who don't believe TWUC or PWAC represent their interests, and feel abandoned by those groups. As a software author I never expected to be represented by these groups, but it has always surprised me how hostile they are to my interests.

Creative Commons is not an alternative to copyright, but a series of licenses copyright holders can apply to their works. The idea is to harness a wider range of licensing models to better match the funding models and communities around creative works. It is naive to believe that business models that apply to the authoring and distribution of fiction novels applies to non-fiction educational and scientific material (textbooks, journals). This is only two very different areas of creativity which are primarily written text, and there are many more when you move from the written word intended for human audiences to computer software, or to audio, video, visual arts, photography, and so-on.

Creative Commons isn't about free as in no-money, and has never been about reducing payments to authors. You can tell Mr. Degen is trying to confuse you into thinking it is by mentioning the cost of conferences. It is about recognizing that authors are best rewarded financially and otherwise when the licensing and business model matches the type of creativity they are involved in.

Cory Doctorow understand these differences and will talk about that diversity, and how one-size-fits-all can't work and harms the interests of creators. This will be part of what will be discussed at the Creative Commons summit, support for creators who need more from their copyrighted works than a one-size-fits-all licensing model.

Diversity and choice is not a bad thing. Sometimes I really want to eat a Hamburger, but I would hate a world where I was not allowed to eat anything else. And unlike Mr Degen, I do not believe that the very existence of pasta dishes is a threat to the Hamburger.

(Note: Not the first time I've critiqued Mr. Degen's articles on this blog.)

May 2 updates:

  • Cory Doctorow doesn't live in London, and hasn't since 2015. I've been following his books and activism, but missed this change in his personal life.
  • The misinformation that Mr. Degen is known for spreading, and that he never budges from when confronted with logic and evidence that contradicts his opinion, has been corrected by individuals and institutions globally. This includes Myth: Fair use decimated educational publishing in Canada from Australia.

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