Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Request for comments: a mutiny on the bounty.

We're still tinkering with how we want to approach original works publication. (For benefit works, initial publication will be in Creative Commons BY-NC-ND or less restrictive at the author's request.) First, again, we'll never, ever sue or threaten to sue anyone for copyright infringement, etc. (Several reasons for this, let us know if you really want the speech on it.) What we're trying to do is both find a way to (1) give us a chance at being the 'authoritative' source for the files for a short period, to try to scratch back to even on the budget and (2) communicate what we would like to have happen with the productions once they're available, if we had our wishes, in a clear way, while also (3) communicating the author's wishes as well for the story text itself, in a clear way.

One idea we're throwing around is a hybrid timed/bounty system: for the first 30 days, or until incoming donations have met the author's advance payment, whichever is sooner, to use an "all rights reserved" (update: or something not CC-derived which is nonetheless suitable) designation. After this time/bounty has been reached, (retroactively) re-release as BY-NC-ND or more lenient (yes, even commercial, share-alike, public domain, whatever) at the author's option, and updating the production files to credit the story's sponsors/donors/patrons/bounty-payers.

Please, authors, readers, community, let us know what you think of this idea. We're not seeking to "enforce" copyright or licenses, or any of that verbage, just trying to communicate clearly both what we'd like to have happen and what the author would like to have happen with their stories and our productions. If it's a terrible, confusing idea, we'd by default just go BY-NC-ND from day zero and "ask nicely" for productions not to be hosted or e-mailed elsewhere for that 30 day window where we'd like to be "the authoritative source" for the productions. After that: seed torrents, clog the intertubes with 30-meg e-mail attachments, host it on your server, etc. We'd just ask nicely (by default; some productions will be more lenient at the author's discretion) that you not try to make money from it, not make derivative works from it, and to link back to us as the source.

We're trying to be as commons-friendly as we can, while not forcing our authors to communicate intentions and desires other than their own. Thanks very much for any and all response to this RFC.


  1. As an author it doesn't make a lot of difference either way. If I had a story published I would share a link directly to Bull Spec with lots of people.

    I do think a two stage release would be a little difficult from a logistics point of view--if there's no enforcement, how do you stop people from sharing it? And if someone shares it it's hard to see it as a bad thing since it's spreading word of both the author and the mag.

    Because of the logistics reasons I think it may be simplest just to release it Creative Commons immediately. Pseudopod does this, for instance, and then after the end of the story there's always a request for donations that tells the website of the magazine. That way if anybody got hold of the file from somewhere else and wants to go check it out, they can do so at will.

  2. Logistics-wise, we're hoping to update the productions (nearly automatically, thanks SMASHWORDS for the magic you do) with the sponsor list in any case at the 30-day/bounty window, so we'll already be re-visiting the production. Hopefully we can get some more feedback on this and make a good, balanced decision on where to go with it. I think you're right, though, simply CC BY-NC-ND from day zero with the "please don't re-host" moniker for 30 days--and updating to a more permissive CC license at that point if applicable. "All rights reserved" doesn't sit well with us, anyway.

  3. Years back I created a time-limited CC license ( www.copyrightaccess.com/license ), where the creator can specify that the work is licensed per a CC BY-NC-ND license until a specified date. (At which point they can renew it, etc.) I discussed it with Lawrence Lessig of the CC, and he said he was personally in favor of the concept, but the CC board chose not to offer it. Nonetheless others can of course offer it; it doesn't have to come from the CC web site. Hence, the above site.

    I'd be most comfortable with that, myself, since we don't know whether ebooks will continue on their S-curve and replace paper (in which case we may not want all our work being free) or continue to be a niche market (e.g. that largely drives print sales).

    A time limit won't actually stop people from copying it (just as ordinary copyright doesn't stop works from popping up as torrents; and I should clarify that it allows people to keep owning their copy forever once they got a free copy; it just says "please stop distributing it to others after mm/dd/yyyy" -- the idea being most people will honor the author's request). But it does specify the author's intent that free distribution should possibly stop at a certain point in the future, under the author's control, and gives the author the legal rights needed to, for example, sell the piece elsewhere at that point without encumberances.

    An alternative that would be easy to create would be a "Please support the author" time-limited license: "If you read this work through to the end, please compensate the author by clicking here." (Which is more or less one of the models people use on the iFiction site, www.aburt.com/ifiction . Again, the author has control to change the terms later as conditions change.)

  4. Thanks very much for that food for thought there, aburt! We have time to get this right before January, but that's something to really take a look at to be sure.

  5. Question: Would the creative commons license apply to text versions or audio only?

    With audio I don't have much problem with creative commons because the recording itself is a unique thing, peculiar to the reader and that actual instance of reading. So there's not really any problem with losing the value--the writer can always resell as text, or have a completely different reading done.

    Creative commons for text, I"m not sure what I think about. If I publish a text story, I'd prefer the official rights stay put where I put it. So if I published one here (for instance), I'd prefer that people had to come here to read it.

  6. David, I'm glad for the opportunity to try (only an attempt, mind you) to clarify as I can what I mean.

    We are a commons-friendly market, period. My understanding (and I'd love to hear a correction ASAP if I'm wrong) is that I can produce a PDF which is CC licensed in its entirety (the EXACT file) with the text of the story being all rights reserved. This would mean, yes, that a couple of years from now, somebody could be hosting that exact PDF on their website, for free (no ads, no donation button, no modification, no nothing, and linking back) but nobody could (legally, though that is something BULL SPEC will NEVER, EVER pursue; the right to do that remains with the author at their own wishes) cut and paste the text into a plain HTML file, take snippets of it for a derivative work, etc.

    The suggestion by aburt of an "expiring" license is intriguing and we might consider offering something like that to our authors; but again, we will NEVER, EVER, EVER enter into any threat of or actual litigation on the basis of copyright claims, nor pursue such claims on behalf of an author--infringement claims would remain the option of the author, of course, and the SFWA has a legal fund for this sort of purpose:


    We understand any hesitancy and questions about this kind of thing; it's an old-new idea in the electronic age, and to be honest: we don't 100% understand it yet, either. But we think we have it at least 95% right, and will do our best, our very VERY best, to ONLY legally grant the rights authors wish us to grant to the commons, with some minimum bar. We will not likely ever publish a fully "all rights reserved" story. That minimum bar might end up being BY-NC-ND, it might be the time-limited CC-ish license which aburt recommended, we'll try to gather feedback and think about this as deeply and honestly as we can, maybe put a "FAQ as we understand it" post together on licensing issues.

    We neither want to be a market which good authors don't consider for fear of our license plans, or a market which doesn't conform in at least some way with our commons-loving ideals. If we weren't idealists in at least some ways, we wouldn't be doing this in the first place.

  7. Further: we're a commons-friendly market both out of principles and, for a lesser reason, out of practicality. An MP3 file or HTML file or PDF out there is just "out there" and people will do whatever people do: SHARE STORIES! We (BULL SPEC) can ask nicely that they do it in a way we'd like, and authors can ask nicely (or as nastily as they'd like, though we're prefer the nice variety) that they do it in a way they'd like.

    We're not trying to bash on copyright, I'm not sure we're 100% on the Pirate Party platform, though on another of my blogs, a Pirate Party official (Rick Falkvinge) really rocked my world with his comments on the subject:


    We want authors to prosper, their stories to prosper, and nobody to spend the precious seconds of their lives fretting. So thus, this RFC, trying to make sure we do things RIGHT by EVERYONE involved.

  8. The more I think about it, aburt, something like "BULL SPEC has only been granted permission to license this file under these terms until 1 January 2012" might work both ethically for us and sanity-wise for concerned authors. Still have to think deeply about it for a while. Where's my peace pipe...

  9. The tiered release seems fair for me, as an author. For example, I just sold a short which has a limited-duration electronic exclusivity followed by a period of non-exclusivity (which is really the only realistic option in a world with the Internet Archive).

    What you're proposing is in many ways, the same thing. The CC license might, in theory, make it harder for me to resell the work later as a repub... but individual repubs are a very hard sell anyway.

    And if I ever get to the point where I warrant my own "official" anthology of my short fiction, that'll be a separate dedicated market, making the CC license moot as a selling point. (See Cory's works for excellent examples of this.)

    Or in other words: I like the original plan. Go for it.

  10. Thanks Steve. Cory (Doctorow) has been great with responding to some of my questions about licensing issues.

  11. Putting a Creative Commons license on a PDF is subtly different to me than making the text available to copy, as again that the PDF exactly as-is is what is available.

    But in any case. :)

  12. Great, if the time-limited CC works out, happy to oblige.

    I am curious what your business model is. If the work is out there floating around the world, that's good visibility for the author, lots of people have a chance to read the author's story, etc. But as a market, how will you bring in revenue to continue operations? Notably, revenue to pay authors in the future. Selling ads in the PDF? Relying on donations 100%? (Just to be clear, I'm not judging -- I've tried out a lot of business models myself for various projects, including unwittingly founding the world's first ISP as a donation funded operation. I didn't realize until recently there actually were no ISPs per se before then! There were some soon after, of course. [And I feel just a leeetle silly for not becoming a freakin' billionaire out of that, oh well. :) ] So I'm not saying any one business model is good or bad, just curious what you're thinking.) I wish you all the best with it as the more markets the more good stuff we all have to read!

  13. Well, first, we're not planning to make revenue, so that helps! At the worst case, it's a labor of love that we hope to enjoy for at least a few good years, be out a few thousand dollars in advances which we never recoup and a few hundred hours of near-volunteer work. Anything more than that? Bonus. We're hopeful ("bullish" you might say...) that we can do a little better, if we pick great stories and produce them well.