Copyright terms, public domain, and me

Forgive me for not being as eloquent or popular about it as, say, MCM, who beat me to the punch by a couple of months, but like him (and I’m sure he wasn’t the first and I won’t be the last), I decided long ago to intentionally limit the term of Copyright on my books. He chose seven years, I chose ten, either is infinitely more reasonable than “author’s life plus seventy years”, and both are still significantly longer than the average book’s commercial lifetime in the modern age.

To clarify: I have put the first of my books into the public domain, and will continue to do so as they pass a decade beyond their initial publication. I don’t have good, hard “street dates” for when Lost and Not Found was “officially” published, but I know I definitely published & sold at least one copy before my 25th birthday—it was a big deal to me, at the time, to be a published novelist by age 25. An arbitrary goal, met. Today is my 35th birthday, so I figure Lost and Not Found is around 10 years old, and I uploaded updated versions of the eBooks all around this morning, with an updated Copyright page showing that I’ve put them in the public domain, using the CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication, CC0. The updated files will trickle out through the servers of the various eBook retailers over the coming days and weeks, and are immediately available from and Smashwords.

Additionally, I’ve decided to put the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut in the public domain now, too. By some accounts, I ought to have put it into the public domain last December, since I actually had a copy printed up (and I shared that copy (and electronic ones) around with many people) immediately after finishing NaNoWriMo in 2002. (I still have that copy of the book, here on my shelf, still titled Forlorn. It’s right next to my copy of the version of Lost and Not Found which I sold a copy of ten years ago this month.) By other accounts, there are a meaningful number of differences between Forlorn and the Lost and Not Found – Director’s Cut, and LaNF-DC wasn’t published until 11/30/2009, so I could reasonably retain Copyright on it until 11/30/2019 under my ten-year-term scheme. Instead, I decided to compromise and release it now. I could probably write a couple thousand words exploring my thoughts on the subject without ever providing a clear “explanation”, so I’ll just leave it at that.

What about future earnings, you may ask, or about my descendants? Aren’t I stealing money from my future self?

Nah. All my books are already available for free on my site and are published under pretty easy-going Creative Commons licenses; my latest, Virtual Danger, being available under a simple CC BY license, meaning you can do anything at all with it as long as you say I was the original author. The people who weren’t going to pay for my books already don’t have to. The people who are willing and able to pay for my books still will. Additionally, I’m not currently planning on having any descendants, and I figure if I want future earnings from writing, it means a future of more writing and more editing and more publishing and more marketing; money doesn’t just come out of nowhere if you leave an eBook available for a few decades—you have to actually do the work, and the part where I’m actually writing new stories/books is the part which typically takes the least amount of work.

What about other people profiting from my work? What if someone actually hires an editor, cleans up Lost and Not Found, makes it a really commercial book, and puts it out under their own name? (All lawful for public domain works, btw.)

Whatever. If they do enough work that it in no way connects back to me and my works, I’m not sure I would have had any meaningful claims under full Copyright. Plus, that’s clearly not the book I was trying to write, or the story I was trying to tell. Or, if they just repackage it (think most PD books, where they leave the author’s name & just want the $$), and it takes off and finds a lot more readers than I’ve been able to with ten years of work at it, it’ll still just send them my way, as the other 3 books in the universe are still mine and still under Copyright for a while, and readers who like my writing tend to like almost all my writing. Plus, I say they deserve whatever money they can get from the books; I haven’t been able to figure out how to break even on them, after ten years trying—good luck!

Additionally, the way Copyright has been interpreted for a while now, when you take a public domain work and create a new version of it (say, a movie based on a play or book or fairy tale), the new version gets its own new Copyright term. So if someone creates an updated or derivative work based on Lost and Not Found (or the Director’s Cut), they actually get Copyright over the new work (specifically the parts which they add/change).

What about your podcasts/audiobooks? Will you make them public domain, too?

Uhhh, sure. Yeah. I mean, that was my plan all along. And then I got to procrastinating, and I almost didn’t get Lost and Not Found updated by today and … well, see… I’ll have to re-record the outros and remix all the episodes (three times) and for the ones on Podiobooks/iTunes, that means running them through quality control again (taking up Evo’s time), and it’s a long process and a fair amount of work and, listen, I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point, but … I really don’t feel like recording anything right now, so … (I mean, heck, I’m supposed to upload Virtual Danger to Podiobooks this week, for release sometime after the final episode hits the Modern Evil Podcast on Friday, but I realized recently that Evo usually wants an audio “promo” to go along with it (even though I’m not sure they’re actually used, any more) and I haven’t recorded one yet, and if he insists on it I’m thinking of just putting off getting the book on Podiobooks for a few months, or until I feel like recording a couple of minutes of audio, whichever comes first—the rest of it, in three distinct versions, has been done since May) … uhh, for now let’s pretend I’m waiting until the ten-year anniversaries of the audio publications, which won’t start popping up until 2018, okay?

(and as a further aside, now that the text of the books is public domain, anyone is free to record a new audio version and put it out there in whatever way and under whatever license they please)

What comes next?

Dragons’ Truth, of course. It was initially published in … looks like May 2004. Then, technically, the first three books of the Untrue Tales… series; the first one was published 11/30/2004, the second on 2/26/2005, and the third 11/2/2006. I guess I have a year to decide how to put those out, since they aren’t really available individually, right now.

Additionally, I’ve been working, off-and-on (mostly off, of late), on a new omnibus edition of all the books in the Lost and Not Found Universe. I think I mentioned it here. It involves a complete revision of the text, applying everything I’ve learned (and quite a few things I’m trying to get myself to learn, about re-writing) in the last decade about writing fiction. If/when that project ever makes any headway, perhaps I’ll put out a new edition of Lost and Not Found, based on the re-written text created for the omnibus edition of the series. That version I might have to take the new Copyright term on, rather than going directly into the public domain, considering how much work it’s requiring. We’ll see how I feel, if and when I get there.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.