About My Licensing Choices

Why MIT and Creative Commons Attribution? Why so much consideration of this at all?

Assumed audience: Originally: someone who emailed me. Now: people thinking about how to license content and open to hearing about how and why I license mine the way I do. Not lawyers inclined to nitpick details (I am simplifying here!).

Epistemic status: Not legal advice. Really.

A reader asked:

You have a fairly extensive notice compared to other bloggers I read (Sean McPherson has a copyright logo in the bottom left corner, Tom MacWright has a bare notice on his About” page), and I was wondering what went into your decisions to copyright and license when and how you did. I don’t plan to use my blog for more than occasional posts, but definitely would appreciate your perspective, given you’re on site version five!

Copyright is an interesting thing, and my background in music composition (of all things!) actually informed it. We ended up covering all of that in some of my undergraduate courses in music, because — as you can imagine — a bunch of college students were trying to figure out the implications of those things for any commercial music they might end up creating! It turns out you don’t have to do anything to have copyright on your own works; you get it automatically. If it ever becomes a point of legal dispute, having some evidence that you did in fact create it at a given point is useful, so there are things you can do to establish that (one thing we talked about all those years ago mailing yourself a copy so that the post date indicates your ownership). I wish everyone got this info, because it’s super helpful to know.

With that as background, if you look at my site content (and design!), then, you’ll notice that what I’m actually doing is broadening what people can do with it. By default, given copyright as I described it above (accurately, if eliding some important details), no one can legally do anything with my stuff. My licensing more or less inverts that. By using an MIT license for the source and Creative Commons Attribution for the content, I am basically letting anyone do anything with it without worrying about it — as long as they credit me.

In terms of how I got there: I think it largely comes down to the fact that I came up tech-wise in the relatively early web days. My formative years online were late Web 1.0 and early Web 2.0, and out of that I came to a default to open and reusable/remixable” stance for anything non-commercial I do. I learned HTML and CSS in no small part by reading other people’s websites, and adapting ideas from them, so it’s a small bit of giving back. And since I am not trying to monetize my writing on my website, but rather to broadly inform and educate, the best outcome is for someone to syndicate” it elsewhere (and just credit me). More people learn from the material, and secondarily more people might get introduced to my work.

Obviously the tradeoffs look different if you are trying to make money from your writing etc. directly, but those are the ones I’ve chosen!