One reason to use a Free Culture license on your work

Try freedom sometime. (Image by snapwiresnaps, CC0.)
Try freedom sometime.
(Image by snapwiresnaps, CC0.)
I have a friend who was published through a small publisher. Not a New York imprint, but an actual, out-in-the-boonies small publisher.

The reason I say “was” and not “is”, is that this small publisher suddenly lost several authors and artists, all at the same time, is facing tax fraud allegations in multiple countries, stands accused of skimming profits from authors, and has had criminal charges filed against her in her state of residence.

My friend is not one of the authors who walked. His first instinct was to sit tight and just wait for the rights to his books revert to him.

That, by the way, is a terrible idea, and I’ve already advised him to talk to an intellectual property lawyer about filing a cross-complaint to get the rights back as soon as possible, given that the publisher will obviously not be able to fulfill the terms of her side of their contract.

And the reason I advised this was made clear when another writer joined in with a bit of his experience. He had works with a publisher who was facing a trial, and the publisher knew he would lose. After failing to “sell” the rights back to the author, they were sold to a holding company, which then changed owners seven times in six months. As he put it: “They effectively made the properties nuclear waste that is sitting on a list somewhere in title/name only.”

Does he still hold the copyright? Technically, but only technically.

This is a common story these days, and not a surprise with the copyright law the way it is. But let us not dwell on that for now. Let us, instead, look at how my friend might have avoided this hassle and expense with Creative Commons licensing, specifically a Free Culture license.

If you decide to go with a publisher, rather than publishing yourself through Amazon, you can still insist that your work go out with a CC license. The publisher will fight it, naturally, as it makes available to anyone rights that are generally the purview of the publisher exclusively.

So, perhaps, you will have to take a smaller advance, or give other concessions, to get that license included in the book.

But imagine you get it. Your novel gets published by Small House Publications, Inc. And it goes out with “Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License 4.0” on the copyright page.

Now imagine that the publisher gets arrested for fraud six months later, and decides to hold all the copyrights of all his authors hostage, either to improve his negotiating position, or to squeeze a little money from his clients when he can’t get any from any other source, or even simply to screw with people because he’s getting screwed with himself. Happens all the time.

But you don’t need to worry.

Because you can put out your own edition of your book immediately. Without asking permission from anyone.

The only restriction you have is that you have to put it out under the same license, of course (that’s what “share alike” means), but you’ve already done that.

You’ll also probably have to mock up a new cover, since the license almost certainly won’t apply to the one the publisher put on his edition of your book.

And if you really want to twit him, you can even release yours as “the only author-approved edition”, which it will be, since you and the publisher will at that point be at loggerheads.

This is one of the great advantages of free culture for artists. No longer do the products of your mind need to be signed away to corporate suits to be held hostage whenever there’s a regime change or the CEO decides he doesn’t like your tone of voice.

The era of Buddy Holly having to beg for permission to record his own music is over, if you want it to be.

You can do business with the big five publishers or the record companies, if you want. But if you require your work to go out with free culture licenses, you are no longer owned by them. They can try their manipulations and abusive tactics, and you can just walk, use all your material again, and let them keep their editions of it hostage if they want, or release them once they realize that won’t hold you any more.

Free culture doesn’t just benefit consumers of culture, it’s a boon to creators as well.

Free Library for the #UmbrellaRevolution

The Law frontispiece

The law perverted! The law—and, in its wake, all the collective forces of the nation—the law, I say, not only diverted from its proper direction, but made to pursue one entirely contrary! The law become the tool of every kind of avarice, instead of being its check! The law guilty of that very iniquity which it was its mission to punish! Truly, this is a serious fact, if it exists, and one to which I feel bound to call the attention of my fellow citizens.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law

One of the many, many inspiring details of the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, now powering into its fourth week, is the spontaneous creation of protest libraries, shelves of books right on the street for any and all protesters to borrow and read.

In that same spirit, I offer the following ebooks, free for download around the world, for those brave freedom protesters.

Possibly the most important is the short work by Bastiat, quoted above, The Law. I don’t know of a Chinese-language edition, but this English translation is very clear and easy to follow. You can get it from the Mises Institute or, if that’s blocked, from Project Gutenberg.

The next work, also in English but not Chinese (unfortunately) is economist Ludwig von Mises’s brilliant Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth, which you can also get from the Mises Institute, or from the Internet Archive.

Why is it brilliant? Mises demonstrated, barely three years after the founding of the Soviet Union, when the entire world seemed to believe that socialism was the way of reason, and the destination for the entire world in the future, that socialism is, in fact, impossible. A world without the mechanism of prices is one in which no individual can determine where to best spend his time, or to what ends to put his resources.

And as the Soviet Union was falling apart in the late 1980s, members of the Politburo admitted, among each other and behind closed doors, that they should put up a statue to Mises, because they came to realize that he had been exactly right. Don’t Just take my word for it, listen to what Gorbachev’s ex-economic adviser Yuri Maltsev says. (Warning, thick Russian accent and slight echo in the recording.)

The Mises Institute has also had a number of works translated into Chinese for free download. They are:

(Of course, there are also English-language versions of all of these to download, if you prefer.)

All the books are in the open ePub format.

Murray Rothbard was an anarchist, and I am not, but he was also very smart, and his thought is worth exploring even if you end up disagreeing with him on some things. Ludwig von Mises, despite the institute named after him, was not an anarchist.

The #UmbrellaRevolution in #HongKong is not Occupy, it’s the Tea Party

UmbrellaRevolution

The protests in Hong Kong have affected me deeply. Students and youths have taken to the streets, blocking traffic, to protest the Mainland’s reneging on the handover agreement. In essence, Beijing is saying “you can vote for anybody, but the only choices you get are those we pre-select”. The students, youths, and thousands of others are not standing for that. They demand free elections.

The Umbrella Revolution name came after the first clashes with HK police, when students used umbrellas to shield themselves from unprovoked tear gas attacks. The first name chosen for the movement was “Occupy Central” (“Central” is the district where Hong Kong’s government is housed).

The name is wrong, but an understandable mistake.

Since 2009, there have been two basic protest movements in the west that have garnered international attention. “Occupy Wall Street” and its innumerable siblings garnered fawning adulation from the media, in large part because it was hypocritically anti-capitalist, and the western media hates very few things more than free enterprise.

YellowRibbon

The spontaneous, decentralized Tea Party movement, on the other hand, scared the ever-loving hell out of the media, bringing endless comparisons to the Nazi Party and the Nuremberg Rallies, as seen in Triumph of the Will. The media lied and lied and lied in order to besmirch the Tea Party protests and invalidate them in the popular imagination.

So why would I say that Occupy Central is a misnaming?

Occupy was a movement against free speech. While claiming to be pro-free speech, they railed non-stop to prevent the “wrong” people from having any rights at all. (Just breathe the words “Koch brothers” near an Occupier, and you’ll see what I mean.) They were anti-private property, anti-business, and destructive and disrespectful of the businesses that they dealt with.

queensway

The Tea Party was the first movement in modern history that left its protest venues cleaner than it found them. Tea Party rallies were invariably respectful of all private property and even idiotic local licensing requirements. And you know this is true, because if there were even one instance of a murder at a Tea Party rally, or the destruction of a business storefront, or a rape, it would have been trumpeted from every media outlet 24/7/365 as “proof” that the Tea Party was illegitimate, dangerous, and fascist.

Every single one of those things that never happened at a Tea Party rally, not even once, happened at multiple Occupy encampments. Well, okay, there might have been only the one murder. But it did not get reported, because it didn’t fit the media’s narrative.

And the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong?

Money

They spontaneously organized trash and recycling disposal methods. They have been deeply respectful of business owners and their property. They have posted earnest apologies for the inconvenience they are causing to locals. Students stay up through the AM hours to obsessively clean up. When someone dropped HK$400 on the ground, an Umbrella Revolutionary taped a note over the bills saying “Don’t take, no idea who dropped it“.

The police who tear gassed them? They hold umbrellas over the policemen’s heads when it rains.

Student

These kids are not unwashed, petulant hippies demanding the world on a platter. They are quiet, respectful, polite individuals demanding one thing — a voice in their government. And they are considerate of others’ concerns and lives in doing so.

In short, they are acting like the Tea Party (and getting treated by the Mainland government-controlled media much the same as the Tea Party was snidely dismissed by the mainstream media here in the US), and not at all like the orgiastic, out of control Occupy movement.

Given the disparity in media coverage, it’s no surprise that they went with that label. But it remains wrong. These kids want freedom and individual choice and capitalism. And they damned well deserve all of it.

postits

IP, copyright, and the real issue

We’re coming up on another copyright war in the next three or four years, and it’s time I start posting on the subject.

Copyright as it presently exists is broken. It is used as a tool of coercion, a weapon,a nd I will be posting regular examples of how it is abused — most egregiously, how it is used to abuse creators.

But it’s not just copyright, but the broader category of Intellectual Property. IP is in no better shape than copyright.

I travel in or follow three intellectual circles that concern themselves with this issue — Objectivists, Austrians, and indie writers (with a few traditionally published ringers in the mix).

Objectivists are generally pro-IP, in the sense of being pro-status quo or wanting the status quo to be the weak starting point for strengthening IP laws even further. I’ve known at least two who hold that IP should be eternal, the public domain eliminated. One even smugly accused me of “theft” for downloading public domain movies. (Yes, really.) This stupidity is in direct contracition with Ayn Rand’s actual position on IP, which is very good — I only take issue with some of the specific applications she suggested; the principles from which she argued were, in my opinion, pretty much spot on.

The Austrians (really Rothbardians, but let us not get into that just now) at the Ludwig von Mises Institute currently hold that IP is a “myth”. It is easy — too easy — to hear this conclusion and dismiss it and everything that lead to it as pure silliness, unworthy of any consideration. (It also does not help that one of the primary advocates of their position is a sneering, prancing jackass, at least in his online interactions.) Without going into detail at this time, I will say that the problems that this position means to address are very real, quite bad, and should be considered a source of shame by IP advocates. And while I (I hope obviously) don’t consider IP a fantasy, I think I see where the idea comes from — it follows logically from Rothbardian anarchism. I’ll explore it in more depth at a later time. But even if you dismiss the anti-IP position as silly, you do not get to dismiss the very real abuses and injustices it means to rectify. You must either own them, and try to rationalize them as moral goods, like Buddy Holly having to beg for the right to record his own music and being refused, or you must offer another way of addressing and correcting them, which I intend to do in time.

Indie writers don’t have any one particular position on the issue, but a few ideas are held by nearly everybody. What we write is ours. DRM (digital rights management) is evil. Traditional publishers are basically a cartel, and evil, or at best morally compromised and indifferent to authors. (Baen is an exception to this, and possibly so is Tor. They’re the only ones, though.)

I think framing the issue as IP is part of the problem. It allows for sociopathic rule manipulation, to the detriment of creators.

And there, I believe, is the real issue, the thing that most needs to be considered and addressed — creators’ rights. When you frame it as copyright or IP, as I shall document in coming weeks, the first thing most creators are required to surrender are the copyright and any and all claims to their ownership in the IP they have created.

The regular public doesn’t care much about IP. But they care very, very much when they learn that creators rights have been violated.

I think I like this Murray Leinster fellow

“What are you going to do about it? I’m outlawed! I’ve defied the planetary government! I’m disreputable by descent, and worst of all I’ve tried to use my brains!”

“Deplorable!” said the ambassador mildly. “I don’t mean outlawry is deplorable, you understand, or defiance of the government, or being disreputable. But trying to use one’s brains is bad business! A serious offense! Are your legs all right now? Then come on down with me and I’ll have you given some dinner and some fresh clothing. Offhand,” he added amiably, “it would seem that using one’s brains would be classed as a political offense rather than a criminal one on Walden. We’ll see.”

Hoddan gaped up at him.

“You mean there’s a possibility that—”

“Of course!” said the ambassador in surprise. “You haven’t phrased it that way, but you’re actually a rebel. A revolutionist. You defy authority and tradition and governments and such things. Naturally the Interstellar Diplomatic Service is inclined to be on your side. What do you think it’s for?”

— Murray Leinster, The Pirates of Zan, available in the (quite wonderful) collection A Logic Named Joe from Baen, or in its original magazine-serialized form The Pirates of Ersatz from Gutenberg or Munseys.