Doing Right By Our Writers: Copyright and Licensing

Law concept: row of Painted blue copyright icons around black copyright icon on Digital Paper background

Here at TLF, I’ve written a great deal about copyright, licensing, and labor. With the start of our forthcoming Seminar series, we will be paying writers for the first time. We wanted to go with Creative Commons licenses, but chose not to — but went in another direction, one that we hope will benefit both our writers and the continued success of TLF.

So why not Creative Commons licenses? I think that CC licenses are great — and can work effectively to allow others to share, use, and remix works. One of the most important aspects is that all licenses require attribution. While this might seem like something small — think about all of the work most people do at their jobs where their names are removed, meaning they don’t receive name recognition for the work they have done. Attribution means the author’s name is attached to the work, like gum on the underside of a desk never to be removed. In non-American copyright cultures, the right of attribution is what is called a moral right, one that usually no one — not even the author can remove.

So TLF at least wants to give our authors the right of attribution. But what else? But a severe downside of a CC license is that all of them apply immediately — meaning that if we used them for TLF content, the content could be shared right away — and we may need to show funders data like pageviews that demonstrate that our content is being viewed here. Diffusing content through CC licenses would make it difficult — if not impossible to track this information. If anyone from Creative Commons has a solution to this tracking issue, TLF would be very interested!

We also want our writers to be able to reuse and build upon their own content. After all, they wrote it! But locking away writing from use by authors is frequently what publishers do — whether academic or journalistic (and very few are transparent about their publication contracts — thanks, the Toast for openly sharing your policies!). Perhaps our writers will want to build a master’s thesis, academic article, or conference proposal based on work they originally shared here at TLF. Just because we pay for our longform writing doesn’t mean we have paid enough to lock it away from additional use by the authors themselves.

It seems so odd for authors to need to ask permission from publishers — including publishers that haven’t paid anything in order to build upon the content that they have created. But that is our present copyright system plus the traditional mode of assignment of copyright.

So how have we decided to work around these complex areas? Our paid authors grant us an exclusive right of first publication for six months (with attribution forever!) — and after that, they can do what they want with their writing. So we will have the benefit of that six months and after then, our authors will be free to republish, resell, and otherwise use their work without having to be concerned about the ownership/copyright for their article.

We consider this to be a win-win for us and our authors.

And what about fair use? We take a very broad view of fair use here at TLF. We know that many still think that fair use follows some sort of word limit (usually forty words, huh?), but we think that transformativeness plays a much more important role. But once again, unlike U.S. copyright law, we think that attribution is essential. So if you share our content — or rely on fair use to build upon it, we expect you (as much reasonably possible) to include both the author and The Learned Fangirl as the publication of origin. Thanks!


Image credit: Bigstockphoto


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