Prague Film School and My Creative Commons License

Legal gavel and leather binder on a deskEarlier this week I received an email from my new friend in Prague, Roma Raju. I mentioned her a few months ago. She attends a film school in Prague and wanted to know if she could adapt my short story, Private Showing, into a film for her final project.

My response was something along the lines of, “F*&! YES YOU CAN THAT’S SO F&*&#$G COOL OHMYGOD!”

She wrote me to let me know that progress was being made, she was looking into casting and that, “There is a whole lotta talk going on in school about a certain american writer who wrote a short story called ‘Private Showing.’ This year, the students from our school are making films based on short stories by Franz Kafka,George Orwell, Karel Capek and Joseph Devon.”

I’ll just die of happiness while you reread that.

Anyway, she also said she was writing because her school required express written permission from me to allow her to base her film on my work. Which…I’m not sure is right.

See, all my short stories are licensed under a Creative Commons license. Some of my books used to be under CC licenses too but I’ve since backed off of those. Though I don’t entirely know why. They get tricky.

Praga by Dorli Photography from FlickrNot because Creative Commons is tricky. They are a straightforward, non-profit organization with pretty interesting goals. Essentially they’re trying to make copyright law take a few steps forward so it catches up with the internet. They are not insistent that everything be free and nobody owns anything or other various extreme notions I’ve heard attributed to them.

The simplest example is an educator who uploads something to the internet with the desire of allowing anyone to use it, be it a list of math questions or a video about frogs mating. Whatever. The thing is, under traditional copyright law, in order for anyone to actually take that video and replay it, they need express written permission from the creator. That feels a bit old-fashioned when sharing at the speed of light is involved.

So Creative Commons set out to build a new set of licences, well within current copyright standards, that the previously mentioned educator could apply to their work so that others could quickly and easily disseminate it and show eighth-graders how frogs mate.

Creative Commons has a number of different licenses available. The most common allow one’s work to be shared based on three decisions:

1. Whether the sharing party must credit the original source

2. Whether the sharing party may profit from their sharing

3. Whether adaptations can be made, like turning a short story into a film.

And then you can mix and match among these things. Some people just share entirely and enter work directly into the public domain, some share but don’t want adaptations, etc. And of course you are free to contact the original creator directly and work out a whole new deal. You aren’t locked into the CC licence exclusively.

For me it gets tricky. My books, as I said, were open for sharing provided no profit was made and I was sourced. I get a lot of referrals from Free Online Novels where some of my books are available, which is nice. The overall concept in this day and age is that more dissemination means more readers means more fans means more people coming back here and spreading the word.

Except, Free Online Novels also sells ad space on their site. So…are they making a profit by sharing my work? They’re not selling it directly for profit, but my content is driving clicks to their ads which they’re profiting from.


Old Books by michaelatacker from FlickrSo I’ve backed off of CC licences for my larger works.

For my short stories, though? Well those are always kind of loss leaders in my mind. I love short stories and I love writing them but there’s like, two, authors in the world who can actually turn a profit off of a short story. For me they’re more valuable as tools to give new readers a taste of my voice and draw them in to reading my larger works. I’m happy to have short stories out there under the CC licence. And if someone does want to publish one for profit, well, again, I hold those rights still and they can contact me.

Which brings me back to Roma in Prague.

The story she wants to use is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Or it was…to be honest this might all be my fault because the CC badges get lost sometimes during the many shufflings I’ve done to my site’s organization.

Not that anyone is at fault, it’s just strange that despite my giving permission to use my work under a CC licence and giving permission to Roma in an email to use my work, her school is still requiring her to get express written permission from me. Like I’m going to be mailing a sheet of paper in an envelope to Prague.

Laws are funny things.

Some people think they get written down and then they are iron-clad, as if the ink that is pressed onto the paper during their writing is imbued with magic, and once set down everything falls under its sway.

But that’s not how it works. Once written down, they’re just written down, that’s all. They’re malleable, open to interpretation, arguable, up to the whim of whoever is chosen to judge the words if they are actually dragged into a courtroom for clarification. And they’re fallible, which is why I think maybe Roma’s school wants a firmer agreement from me.

I have no idea how well known Creative Commons is in Prague, but my hunch tells me that they’re not very. And if they seem like just some nobodies without much knowledge of the law, then Roma’s school is probably not going to pay them, or their licences, much mind and prefer to outline things their own way.

What does all this mean?

I have no idea. CC licences, as I said, are non-exclusive, so anyone else is free to approach me, the copyright holder, to work out another, seperate, non-exclusive deal. Which is what Roma’s school is doing.

Salt by Judy ** from Flickr

It’s just interesting to me that openly sharing my work can prove so difficult and that laws are only strong if they are generally understood and accepted.

At some point in French history, so it goes, the current king decided to fill his coffers by imposing an absurd tax on salt. This king is widely credited with, overnight, creating the largest black market in history and turning his entire population into salt smugglers.

The people simply didn’t go along with it.

What’s more powerful, the will of the people or court of law?

Don’t answer that.