Why This Blog Is CC BY

Does anyone else get delusional and overly dramatic when writing blog posts? The most common delusion I experience is that people are actually going to read what I’m writing. Obviously I know this is the point but it’s also terrifying because I don’t want to embarrass myself or waste people’s time.

Curiously, this fear is almost as paralyzing as the second most common delusion I experience which is that no one will ever read anything I post here. If that’s the case, then I’m wasting my own time AND I’m suffering from an unhealthy sense of self-importance every time I hit the publish button.

Reality is usually somewhere in the middle. Ignoring extreme events (which I’ll get to shortly) my posts usually get a modest amount of attention and have never actually resulted in anything close to a real public shaming. I suspect I’ve probably wasted people’s time but they’ve been too polite to say anything so far. I don’t think that maintaining the blog has been crucial to my career but it hasn’t hurt either. People have occasionally asked me to write and speak based on what they’ve read here and it’s given me a way to quickly and easily go on record when I’ve felt the need. That being said, my life would probably not be remarkably different if I had spent my time going on bike rides instead.

So, a few years ago in a moment when I was feeling particularly level-headed about the blog, I added a CC BY creative commons licence allowing anyone to reuse what I’ve written here for any purposes without asking my permission. I had previously used CC BY-NC which allowed reuse of my work without my permission but only for non-commercial purposes. My decision to change to the more permissive licence was inspired by Bethany Nowviskie’s excellent post, Why, Oh Why, CC-By? What won me over was the idea that I should be so lucky to write something that someone else found useful and that it was better to remove barriers to access than to add them. When I thought about it objectively, my concerns just seemed a little silly.

In some ways, CC-BY is still a little too restrictive for me. This might be needlessly philosophical but I don’t really believe that I can claim ownership over ideas even when I write them down. When I write, I am remixing everything I’ve read and heard. What’s more, all of those things are remixes too. We aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants; they just look like giants because they contain multitudes. I can’t pay everyone who came before me so I can at least give freely to those who will write after me.

(See what I mean about blogs making me overly dramatic?)

If I were brave, I’d just put a public domain notification on everything and be done with it but I’m just not ready to totally let go like that. I want to take responsibility for what write even if I can’t, intellectually, take credit. Unfortunately, it is exactly this desire to take responsibility for things with my name on them that has led me to question my CC BY licence lately. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post that got a bit more attention than usual. That piece was about a disappointing experience my friend Patricia Hswe and I had writing for a magazine. The problem was that the editor we’d been working with added some quotes from a commercial vendor to our piece after we thought we had finished revisions. The quotes made the piece feel like an advertisement for the vendor and we simply were not comfortable with that.

This experience made me re-think my CC BY licence because I wondered if someone might try to do something similar with something I post here. When I initially chose that licence, I really only considered situations like plagiarism or, at worst, someone copying a blog post and adding it as a chapter in a commercially available book. Both would be weird but neither would actually bother me nearly as much as what happened with the magazine. In fact, I would have preferred that piece not be attributed to me at all than to have it appear as it did with my name on it.

I went back and re-read the CC BY licence and I’m still OK with it. It doesn’t seem to allow anyone to modify my work without indicating where those modifications are. The attribution requirement states that re-users “must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. ” It goes on to say that they can “do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.”

Of course, no matter what kind of licence I put on my site, sketchy people will do sketchy things. The CC-BY licence gives me something to point to if I catch someone doing something wrong but one thing I’ve learned over the past few weeks is that dealing with sketchy people is work and it takes time. That’s fine though; while I now know that it isn’t totally delusional to think that some unscrupulous person would try to get by with a fast one, I still don’t think it is a huge threat to me. Furthermore, the whole episode with that magazine illustrated that the folks out there who might actually read anything I write – librarians, professors, students – do not take kindly to such shenanigans.

This seems to work for me but it might not be right for everyone. I’d be really interested in hearing other perspectives and experiences. Also, if you want to repost something you see here, you don’t need my permission but I’d still like to hear about it. I might even be willing to revise something for you … assuming you aren’t up to any shenanigans.



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