On copyright, copyfleft and Creative Commons

I was contacted by Occupied Times (the newspaper of the Occupy Movement) for a piece about my book, Scapegoat: why we are failing disabled people, and the campaigning I have done with disability organisations to raise our concerns about the way in which both the Government and the media discuss disability benefit cuts. All well and good – I was happy to write them a free article, as this is a subject close to my heart. I sent it off, with the usual sign-off that it was under copyright to me – particularly important if I wasn’t getting paid and might want to re-use in the future.

The editorial team loved the article, but there was a catch – they wanted it published under a Creative Commons licence. They said that to publish copyrighted work was against their principles – they only accept work that is ‘copyleft’. They added that the OT did not offer payment, but nor did it seek to acquire copyright, and it would respect the author’s moral rights of ‘integrity’ and ‘paternity’.

There’s a historical irony here. Occupy’s most famous London camp was near St Paul’s Churchyard, the birthplace of what we would probably call campaigning journalism today. In the late 18th Century, publishers, authors and booksellers clustered around the very area where the camp was. Ironically, then, radical publishers paid their pamphleteers and authors. Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, was funded almost exclusively by her radical publisher, Joseph Johnson. He believed in paying radical writers so they could keep writing. We have gone backwards since then.

Having seen so many of my friends, musicians and photographers, struggle as their work has been pirated and stolen over the internet and having read about the widespread fight amongst authors to protect copyright, I said I wasn’t happy with this. I read about the six different ‘licences’ for Creative Commons on the internet, and this emerging ‘copyleft principle’, and decided to pull the article from publication. As far as I am concerned, copyright protects journalists, authors and so on from people stealing hard-won ideas and work. I don’t see anything unprincipled in being paid for my work, or protecting it so I can be paid for it in the future. After all, I’ve written and campaigned on disability hate crime for five years on a low wage. Am I over-reacting, or is Creative Commons a licence, really, to publish other people’s work in a form where it can then be, and often is, stolen by unscrupulous plaigirists? I prefer copyright – it’s straightforward and assigns ownership to the right person – the author. Creative Commons is complex, murky and open to abuse, in my view.

Comments please – really interested in hearing both sides of this argument!

NOTE: Creative Commons licences vary but broadly speaking they permit any reader to re-use the work as the reader pleases, generally only for uncommercial purposes, and as long as its author’s moral rights are respected.