Archives for the month of: January, 2013

One thing I’ve hoped to accomplish on this blog is to highlight the work of artists who reject copyright, distributing their work in a way that is guided by Free Culture ideals. While I may sometimes write about artists using Creative Commons licenses, I have a very special fondness for those artists who take the Free Culture philosophy to its logical conclusion and use the Creative Commons Zero waiver, also known as CC0.

CC0, as I wrote about previously, is a legal statement an artist attaches to his or her work declaring that he or she renounces all copyrights to the work and effectively places it into the public domain to the fullest extent allowed by law. Doing so, by the way, was more or less unprecedented (at least in a legally clear way) prior to Creative Commons’ release of the CC0 waiver just a few years ago. Very few artists have embraced CC0 yet, though I feel, optimistically, that the increasing use of it may very well be an indication of a copyright-free world coming in the future.

My works, those (few) previously released and those (many) yet to be (at least when I work solo and don’t have another artist’s views/intentions to take into consideration), are/will be CC0, and I’ve felt pretty lonely taking this stance. If things like the Creative Commons By Attribution license makes most people uncomfortable or confused, then CC0 cranks that discomfort and confusion up to eleven. I’ve been hoping, ever since finally settling my mind on using CC0 as the rule rather than the exception, to find others following the same path, and those who’ve blazed the trail.

As I write this, a very, very talented artist making use of CC0 is crowd-funding a book, and I feel that this is the best time to start my planned series of posts highlighting artists who use CC0. Hopefully, a few people will read this and give him some support.

His name is Piti Yindee, and he’s a freelance illustrator/comic artist based in Bangkok, Thailand. For the past year or so, he’s been drawing a very cute comic strip series called Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf. The comic strips bring back a lot of lovely, nostalgic memories for me; the format, of course, is reminiscent of reading the “funnies” in the newspaper, and the lighthearted, feel-good tone of the comic very much fits in with that style.

The art shows an obvious influence from classic cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s (and thereabouts). One special issue even features a traditional title card that looks like it came straight out of the opening of a Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse cartoon from the Golden Age of Animation. As I read through the archive of the last year of Wuffle comics, I was also struck by a distinct similarity that popped up now and again to the work of one of my own personal inspirations, the “God of Manga,” Osamu Tezuka (or Tezuka Osamu, if you want to be proper). My perpetually in-progress Snowy series owes a lot to his influence. Then, late in 2012, I was delighted to find an outright parody of Tezuka’s work, Astro-Wuf. Tezuka fans, or fans of old-school anime in general, will find quite a few hilarious references in that one. I’m very happy to see young artists like Yindee keeping awareness of Tezuka’s work alive; I find him far too underappreciated among younger manga and anime fans.

The humor is mostly straightforward, traditional comic-strip style; it’s very cutesy, which maybe some people feel too “grown up” for, but I happen to love cutesy things. On occasion, the humor does get a bit surreal; these are fairly rare moments, but they’re my favorites (especially the “puking rainbows” moments). Once in a while the dialogue is a bit rough, owing to a rough use of English, I suspect. I imagine English is not Yindee’s first language, but the rough spots here and there aren’t numerous or too overwhelming, and as someone who has struggled to learn to speak even a little bit of a second language for the past few years, I’m not about to be very critical of anyone else who can speak one so fluently as Yindee.

Of course, anyone is free to read, enjoy, and copy the series thanks to the author’s use of CC0, and Yindee even makes it possible to download Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf at no cost in one large archive zip file. His website even includes a “Free License” page (declaring “Wuffle Has No Copyright”) in which he explains, in his own words, his reasoning for using CC0. It’s definitely worth reading, as it is a very succinct and direct explanation of why an artist chooses Free Culture. In particular, I love this statement:

“For arts to become a culture, you have to let it go free.
Let it be shared and copied. A language dies if nobody speaks it.
Same goes with art.

It dies if nobody share or talk about it.”

“But wait,” you might be saying, “I love this comic, and I love that it’s free, but I have an overwhelming desire to give Mr. Yindee some money!”

You’re in luck, as there are several ways to show your support monetarily (in addition to showing your support by spreading the word about Wuffle). Buying something from the Wuffle Cafepress and Zazzle stores, or buying a commissioned piece of art from the Wuffle site would certainly help. Still, there are more options!

On his website, you’ll find Mr. Yindee has both a Flattr (as I now do as well, assuming I posted it correctly) and a Paypal donate button.

But that’s not all!

I mentioned earlier that Mr. Yindee is crowd-funding a book. This link will take you to the IndieGoGo page for Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf – Year 1.” This will be a nice, printed, physical book that you can actually hold in your hands and read even if your power goes out (assuming you still have a light source).

The book crowd-funding campaign already met and exceeded its goal within the first few days of funding, I’m happy to report. However, the campaign, as I write this, still has 35 days left to go. The goal has nearly been exceeded by one thousand dollars so far! If you donate, you can feel satisfied with more than just helping out a talented, hardworking Free Culture artist; you can also pick up some excellent rewards. At the lowest reward levels you can get your name in a thank-you section of the book; for $35 dollars you can have your own, autographed copy of the book. For the higher-up rewards, you can even get some custom Wuffle art and comics from Piti Yindee himself.

Even if you can’t contribute financially, and even if you’ve already spread the word to everyone you know, there are even more ways to support Piti Yindee and Wuffle. Take advantage of the CC0 waiver and make some perfectly legal (even for you to sell for yourself!) fan art. I’m sure Mr. Yindee would love to feature it on his website’s “Fan Works” page. If you do happen to make and sell some Wuffle fan art, fan fiction, fan films, or whatever else, consider showing Piti Yindee some love and sharing some of the profits with him (you can contact him to arrange profit-sharing via his “Free License” page). If you do happen to follow that advice and arrange some profit-sharing with Mr. Yindee, you might consider using whatever “Creator Endorsed” mark is appropriate for whatever arrangement you come up with, courtesy of QuestionCopyright.org (and the marks were designed by another CC0 artist, Nina Paley).

That’s all for the first edition of “CC0 Heroes.” Go show some support for Piti Yindee, get yourself some cool Wuffle swag on IndieGoGo, and then get back to being creative. When you create something amazing, consider using CC0; you’ll be very good company if you do!

Recently, something happened that, for quite some time now, I’d secretly been hoping for: Nina Paley dedicated her animated film Sita Sings the Blues to the public domain using the Creative Commons Zero Waiver. I only wish the circumstances that inspired her decision weren’t so tragic and offensive.

For those who don’t know, Nina created quite a stir when the film was first released in 2008, as she chose to release it with a Creative Commons license. Specifically, she chose the “Creative Commons By Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported” license, which, for those not familiar with CC licenses, gave anyone the right to copy, share, screen, remix, sell, or otherwise distribute or reuse the film any way they chose as long as Nina Paley was given credit and as long as the license was maintained on copies and applied to any derivative works.

I’ve shared Nina’s internal debate over what Creative Commons license (or waiver, as the case may be) to use for quite some time. By Attribution is appealing as it essentially makes the work almost-public domain while guaranteeing that any copying/reuse is attributed to the original author, preventing plagiarism. By Attribution Share-Alike is appealing for the same reason, and also promotes Free Culture ideals by forcing derivative works to also carry the same open license. Creative Commons Zero, or CC0 for short, is appealing because it really cuts right to the heart of the whole issue of permission culture vs. Free Culture: it allows the work to truly run free within the public domain as much as legally possible.

So what are the downsides? The downside to By Attribution, as I see it, is that it isn’t always applicable in any reasonable way. For example, if I wrote a story that was turned into a film, sure, that’d be a reasonable place for attribution. After all, films have credits at the end. Likewise, books have plenty of space at the end for acknowledgements. But say someone were to take a 5-second clip of a line of dialogue from my story, as it was used in a film adaptation, and use it in a song, along with about a thousand other clips of similar length, all from different stories adapted into different films? Does the track have to include an addendum, in which the artist reads a list of all his sources? Many people don’t read the credits in movies, I imagine fewer still would listen to a 5 minute “Sources Cited” reading at the end of a song. It’d be even worse to have to cite attribution for works that, for example, used a remix of a line from a movie adapted from a novel which itself used lines from other stories, films and music. The attribution list could end up longer than the work itself, probably even longer than War and Peace.

The downside to By Attribution Share-Alike is that while it promotes Free Culture ideals, it does so by force. Like all CC licenses, brilliant as they are, it relies on current copyright law as a means of controlling another person’s access to and use of a copy of something. This, in a sense, goes against the very ideals so many Free Culture activists support, even as the aim remains in line with Free Culture ideals.

Lastly, there is CC0. The only downside to using CC0 that I’ve been able to think of is that without requirement of attribution, someone could plagiarize your work very easily. Yet this happens under the current copyright system anyway, and thanks to the wonders of the internet, there are many opportunities for us to get our work out there and identified with us as authors. I’ve seen quite a few stories of artists’ whose work was plagiarized, and fans called out the plagiarists and saw to it that there was no mistake as to who the original artist was.

In the end, I just came to the conclusion that if nothing else, copyright was not a morally legitimate concept. It infringes on the rights of others in the name of “protecting” a single artist’s work. As an author, I certainly want to get paid, but I don’t want to force people to pay. I’ve bought too many DVDs I didn’t enjoy watching, bought too many novels I didn’t enjoy reading to want others to go through the same thing. On the other hand, thanks to public libraries and being lent books and movies from friends, I’ve come to find many things for free that I became so fond of that I purchased for myself. I would rather someone pay me for my work because they genuinely enjoy it, rather than be forced to buy it up-front only to hate it.

Yet there is one other problem with CC0, and, in fact, likely with all or most Creative Commons licenses: it paradoxically seems to make a work untouchable for distributors. This, in fact, is why Nina Paley chose to change over the By Attribution Share-Alike license to the CC0 waiver: distributors didn’t want to broadcast (not to mention create derivative works of) something under the BY-SA license. By switching to CC0, Nina hopes to leave distributors “no excuse” for not showing the film.

Yet I doubt that will happen. The ironic thing is, every distributor is so locked-in to the world and mindset of copyright, apparently radical notions like Creative Commons licenses and public domain dedications seem scary, like liabilities, like hidden lawsuits waiting to happen. In other words, it’s the kiss of death for a work’s promotion in traditional distribution channels; it makes the work untouchable.

Despite that problem, I am delighted that, though she still believes in the Free Culture ideals reflected in the BY-SA license (as I do), Nina has chosen to release Sita Sings the Blues as a CC0 public domain film. Her commitment to “legal nonviolence,” of not threatening anyone legally for use of her art whether their use agrees with her ideals or not, sets a wonderful example and hopefully will lead others to follow in her footsteps.

That brings me to the real reason I’m writing this post. I’d like to ask for help, if anyone out there happens to read this.

I recently finished the final draft of my short story, Roadkill. I have not yet released it, but when I do, I intend to release it into the public domain via CC0, as I intend to do with all of my works. Yet I’ve discovered a problem: I’m not sure if any distributor will carry it.

I’m entirely new to the world of eBooks and eBook publishing and distribution; at least, I’m new to participating in it. I’ve researched formatting and all of that. Yet my commitment to CC0 is something I can’t find much precedent for.

In the terms of service on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, it is said that one may sell a “public domain work” if one makes an original edition of it that differs significantly from other editions they offer, but only a 30 percent royalty will be given. This is different than the 70 percent royalty given to authors of “original works.” The problem there is, naturally, that CC0, or likely Creative Commons licenses in general, were not on the minds of Amazon’s lawyers when writing their terms of service. My work is both an original work and, when released, a public domain one, by my own choice. It isn’t “Treasure Island” or some other work that lapsed into the public domain by virtue of age or some nuance of the old copyright laws.

I emailed customer service about this some time ago; the initial reply more or less restated the very terms of service I was asking for clarification about. I told them that they had misunderstood my question and asked again. After being told to wait for several days while they presumably consulted their legal team, I was told that they couldn’t tell me (!) and to consult a lawyer (!). It’s rather unsettling that they were unable to explain their own terms of service! It brings to mind Cory Doctorow’s comments when writing about one of the more infamous Kindle DRM cases,They are a sort of Kafkaesque dumbshow of bureaucratic non-answering, culminating in the customer service version of “Die in a fire,” which is more or less in line with the unhelpful responses I got regarding CC0.

Then I checked Smashwords, a popular, DRM-free (unlike Kindle) platform for independent authors, only to discover in their terms of service that public domain works weren’t allowed at all, and that only original works by authors with “exclusive digital publishing rights” were permitted. As much as I admire Smashwords for taking a stand against DRM, I’m disappointed that their TOS doesn’t accommodate authors with a Free Culture stance such as myself. Perhaps it is still too new, too  radical, too much of a fringe stance to take, even for the more open-minded and welcoming of distributors.

I’m not the first author to deal with this; Aelius Blythe, judging by her Twitter photos, has had similar problems trying to make her CC0 works available on Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing. She took a rather cavalier approach to it, and I admire that, but I’m hoping to go into this thing knowing exactly what I’ll have to deal with beforehand, without having to engage in any little battles with a distributor. Perhaps that’s asking too much, though.

So where does that leave me, or any other authors who wish to dedicate their work to the public domain?

I don’t know. I’ve considered several options, none too satisfactory.

I’ve looked for other, lesser-known distributors who are more Free Culture-friendly. That, of course, carries its own huge disadvantage: by being lesser-known, it is less likely that anyone will discover my work on such a service. I discovered one that looked promising, Anjuno, which distributed both eBooks AND music using the name-your-own-price model (which is something else I wanted). However, before I could figure out if they were okay with works willingly dedicated to the public domain, they shut down after apparently being mostly abandoned in 2010. It figures that they closed up shop just after I discovered them a few months ago.

Another option is to simply post the eBook online myself, including a download link from my blog and hoping that somehow people stumble onto it. The problem there is that, while I want my work to be released under a “name your own price” model anyway, there wouldn’t be a very easy method for anyone to pay me if they wanted to. I know of sites that use PayPal donate buttons, but I’ve heard one or two horror stories about that, and PayPal’s site specifically says that the donate button is for “fundraising,” so I’m not sure using it to support the author of free eBooks qualifies. There’s also Flattr, which seems like a cool service, so that at least could be a viable option, though I’m totally inexperienced with it so far.

So this is where you come in, gentle reader. Do you have any ideas?

I must say, the irony is not lost on me: I have to ask for help to make it easy for others to voluntarily pay me for written works offered freely, while it would be easy to force people to pay in order to access my work. Such is the world we live in, I suppose; hopefully it does not stay this way forever. If you know of an eBook distributor site that allows original, public domain and Creative Commons-licensed works, or if you know of any other way to make voluntary payments/donations from readers easy (or at least possible), please let me know. Heck, if some small, independent publisher might like to carry a CC0 title as some sort of experiment (in a situation in which profits are shared with me; any publisher could do it anyway after I release the thing), I’d be interested in talking to someone.

If I don’t hear any ideas within a couple of weeks, nor any fresh ideas from a couple of people I plan to contact about various options, I’ll likely just wind up posting the story here and trying to arrange a Flattr account. That seems the easiest thing to do if all else fails, and I’m more concerned than anything, really, with just getting my work out there.

If you have your own tales of trying to spread Free Culture works, feel free to comment or contact me; such things are generally always of interest to me.

Lastly: thank you to all the recent followers and those who supported my previous post. It was a much-needed self-esteem boost. I hope this blog continues to be to your liking.

All the best,

Leo

Why do I write?

Better yet, why do I say I want to write?

I’ve been asking myself these questions for the last few months.

I’ve had some difficulty coming up with answers.

I know why I have said for many years that I am a writer, or that I want to be a writer.

I’ve said it because everybody is expected to be something. Usually, what they’re expected to be is defined exactly by what they do for money. You’re either a plumber, or an electrician, or a lawyer, or a banker, or…the list goes on.

“What do you do?”

“What are you going to do when you finish college?”

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I hear questions like that again and again. I’ve heard them for years, maybe my entire life. If you’re anything like me, then you probably have too.

So “I’m a writer,” that was my answer. It might not be a very prestigious answer. Nobody is ever sure how to classify it. It doesn’t exactly make anyone’s face light up with enthusiasm or interest. But it’s something; it’s an answer. It’s a nice segue into changing the subject. Usually something related, like gee, aren’t textbook prices high, isn’t tuition expensive, etc. etc.

The truth is, I always thought I wanted to be a writer. Scratch that; I always thought I wanted to write. I read something in high school that Kierkegaard once wrote, “When you label me, you negate me.” How could I have taken that phrase to heart and still let myself feel so pushed into accepting a label?

The stories I (theoretically) want to write have been brewing in my head for years. That’s what I’ve really loved doing all these years: dreaming up stories. Listening to music and creating music videos in my head, then creating a back-story for the mental-visuals. Spending boring moments alone waiting in line, or sitting in a restaurant alone between classes, or sitting in my car in the parking lot, spending all this time imagining plot structures, figuring out how things intersect. I’d imagine how different characters would get along, I’d imagine grand moments and, perhaps most often, climactic, emotional endings. Movies would form and play repeatedly in my mind. I dreamed of writing them and, perhaps just as much, making actual movies of them. Writing, of course, was the base goal; the cost is negligible to sit down and write a story, filmmaking is expensive.

So why don’t I write? And when I do write, why do I write?

Maybe I should look to the past. Why did I write?

I remember as a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, I drew crude comic strips. First it was things like “Batman Meets the Shadow meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Then it was single-panel things, inspired by Gary Larsen’s The Far Side.  I still have some of these. Looking back on them, there wasn’t much in the way of nuance; I managed to cut down the serious, brooding, emotionally intense plotlines of Batman: The Animated Series into scenarios in which Batman beats someone up and then makes fun of them for having a big butt.

It didn’t exactly seem like the makings of a master storyteller, did it? Then again, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

I don’t know if I even wrote anymore after that through grade school. School itself was a source of frequent stress and misery. Up through college, I found it difficult to spend all day with a pen or keyboard, writing things that were meaningless to me, and then come home and pick those tools up again and craft a story. At the end of the day, I wanted an escape, and that escape usually took the form of television or videogames. I can’t really blame myself, then or now.

There were some exceptions, though. I remember in 7th grade having this idea for a bizarre story set in a surreal universe. It seemed so funny to me I could barely keep from giggling in class; it was a story about a middle-aged woman who, it was implied, was married to a chair that she believed to be sentient, and a group of boys in her neighborhood who shoved strawberry cake down their pants. My sense of humor has always been unusual.

I wrote three of those stories by hand during stolen moments in class, or study hall. I remember the first one flowed, naturally, and I loved it. I loved writing it and I loved reading it. In retrospect, it may be one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever created. The second one was pretty funny too, but not as easy to write. The last one was forced, neither fun to write nor particularly fun/funny to read.

Perhaps that’s the lesson my past has to teach me. Writing should be fun, and I can’t force it. The expectation of a certain result stifles the creative flow, either recreating a past success or attempting to emulate something else or just worrying about any particular aspect of finishing it. I don’t think I ever wrote anymore stories in that series, after that initial streak of writing the three in 7th grade.

I wrote other things in high school. I wrote other things that were surreal, abstract, strange, stories that defied interpretation or explanation. They weren’t all ultimately very fun to read, but I think they were fun to write, and those elements made them fun for me. I like to write things that defy logic, things that are unexplainable, that simply “are what they are.”

If it’s fun to write a story, then that story is a success. If it’s fun to read that story afterwards, then it’s a big success. If other people like to read that story, then that’s a bonus. If the people who like your work provide you with great conversations, or even become great friends, then that’s a gift.

That’s what I’ve come to realize.

So where do I go from here? Why don’t I write more often? Am I just lazy? Did college burn me out? Or is it something else?

Perhaps it’s the way, when I tell a relative I just finished writing a story, their first response is: “So what are you gonna do with it?” That just kills it. It kills the fun. It kills the magic. It’s saying that just writing isn’t enough. You have to make money, you have to sell you work, you have to sell yourself. Writing isn’t enough; no, you have to be a writer. As one relative recently put it, “but is [writing] even a real job?

Expectation kills it. It takes you out of the moment. You can’t focus on writing when you’re focused on eBook distribution and marketing and the approval of your family and friends and of deflecting those “so what do you do?” questions and looking busy and looking like what you do is legitimate and a real job and whether or not there’s an audience for the things you write, the things you like but maybe nobody else does.

I write because I enjoy writing, because it’s fun. When it isn’t, I don’t write.

The restlessness, the misery I’ve felt is, I think, a result of this sense of expectation. It’s the worry of “will I write that big novel by the time I die?” It’s the worry of “can I make this series just perfect, and avoid plot holes and contradictions and etc.?” It’s the worry of looking busy so I don’t look like a bum to everyone else.

The only answer I can find is to just be a bum. Embrace it. Own it. Simplify. Be creative bum. If I don’t really feel like writing, I won’t. I have to find the fun of it. That’s the only way. Everything else would just be the same as school and college, the world of obligations without any meaning, purpose, or life in it. But I think I can find the fun of it again. I wrote this same blog post months ago and didn’t finish it. I didn’t like how it turned out, and I didn’t feel like editing it. So I quit. And then inspiration hit again, and I feel it again, and though it’s a little uncertain, I feel good about it. So here we are.

I don’t know where this will lead. It may be the beginning of a wonderful burst of productivity on my blog. It may be the beginning of writing a massive novel, or a short story. It may be the last thing I ever write.

None of that really matters. What matters is that I lived this moment thoroughly, and I enjoyed it. That is success, and I am satisfied. I still don’t know why I write, or why sometimes I “want to” but don’t feel like it. But it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the moment is filled with life, life in the moment, not thoughts in the past or future. This moment has been lived, I enjoyed writing in this moment, and I am satisfied. It was a success. If I read it again later and enjoy it, then it’ll be a big success.

If you read and enjoyed it, that’s a huge bonus.

If you want to share your own stories of creativity, struggling with expectations (your own or those of others) feel free to comment or contact me. I’d love to hear from you. I’d consider that a gift.

Special thanks to Leo Babuta, author of Zen Habits, for all the inspiration he’s given me. Go read “Just for Fun” right now. Another special thanks to my friend Dane, for sending me an email just now that inexplicably created the desire within me to write this post without delay. He’s currently taking commissions on his DeviantArt account, and he does fantastic work, so consider throwing a few dollars his way if you feel like having some original artwork done.

All the best to you,

Leo

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