Combining trad publishing, shared world, CC

As time goes on, I’m more and more of a fan of creative commons.  I especially like the creative commons share-alike, which (as I understand it) says: Feel free to use this as you will.  Feel free to write something based on it, and get paid for doing so–provided whatever you write is also released under the same arrangement.

I think that’s nifty.  It encourages cooperation among writers, which I think has the potential to create Lots Of Cool Stuff.

Obviously, this fits in beautifully with the shared world idea.  Some of us had started a project doing exactly that a few years ago, but it fell apart because of personal problems among some of the creators.

Now, here is where it gets tricky: Is there any way to combine CC share-alike, shared world, AND traditional publishing with the usual copyright?  At first glance, it would seem impossible.  But I know so little about any of this that I’m not yet prepared to give up on the idea.

You see, there’s this book, due out from Tor in September of 2013.  To me, it cries out to be the setting of a shared world.  But for various reasons, the book itself needs to be published by the traditional model.  Does that kill the idea?

Do you any of you know enough about copyright and such to have an opinion on the matter?  I’d love to hear from you.

ETA:   The license in question can be found here. Thanks to Peter Hentges.

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0 thoughts on “Combining trad publishing, shared world, CC”

  1. Absolutely! I suggest catching up with the folks over at Posthuman Studios – specifically Adam Jury and Rob Boyle.

    Their RPG Eclipse Phase is released under CC. They choose to do it that way because they support what CC stands for on a personal level, and because it doesn’t treat customers like presumed criminals. It just let’s them focus on making a product so good people want to tip them on top of the purchase price.

  2. IANAL, and certainly not a copyright lawyer, but my reading of the CC BY-SA 3.0 license (which seems to be what you’re talking about: says nothing about the copyright of the work, so my take is that the copyright would remain as-is for traditionally published works. You would, however, be giving specific permission for people to copy and distribute the work, even selling it for profit if they choose. That last part might get a traditional publisher’s knickers in a twist as it would mean anyone could try to make a buck by simply copying what they’ve done with the work. In practical terms, however, I think the only impact would be on reprints of the work. The traditional publisher would be investing some time, money, and effort into producing the first printing of the book betting that its sales would recoup that investment. For future reprints, they could rely on the CC license for permission to simply crank out another printing without compensating you. They would, however, be in the same boat as anyone else who could conceivably do the same thing. The thing that would be limited by copyright is that no one could reproduce the work and claim it as their own.

    An interesting concept, sir. I hope it works out for you!

  3. Cory Doctorow’s books are published (by Tor!) and also available under a CC license, albeit a more restrictive one than you have in mind. Have you considered shooting him an email with your questions? This is right up his alley, and I know he’s a fan of yours.

  4. Seth: We talked about this in very general terms a couple of months ago; but I hesitate to bug him again. The man is insanely busy.

  5. The easy/lazy way to think of copyright is as a collection of rights that you can sell off one by one – No. Amer. publishing, first serial, foreign language, whatever. If you’ve sold all the rights, or a block of all the wrong rights as it were, to a publishing house, then yes, that can kill your shared world idea. The legal problem, it seems to me, would be getting a publisher to buy the only the particular rights you want to sell for a book that you basically want to throw open for public use. If they don’t expect to make money, they’re not going to publish.

    The only way I see around that would be to make a list of all salable rights an author owns in a work and sit down with a publisher to determine which ones are non-negotiable. Whatever is left over is for the author’s use in whatever project she has in mind. Such a list is probably constantly evolving, but surely PNH/TNH could provide you with a complete set to work with.

    But the problem I’ve always seen with large shared projects has nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with personality, as I gather happened with your earlier project. Too many cooks and all that. If a project world is thrown open to all comers, it’ll eventually devolve into the same mind-numbing tedium that infects most people’s imagination. Trying to control access to only a select group of people always seems to end up poorly as people insist their ideas are the right way for the story to grow.

  6. If Tor is already bring this out, it is too late for this idea, but did you consider self-publishing as a Kickstarter project?

    I have seen some very successful projects lately, including Monte Cook’s new RPG. It would certainly mean more work on your side, but it would leave you with complete control of rights and development.

  7. I don’t know much about the interaction of CC and conventional publishing, but I don’t see why it should be impossible. But CC is instead of conventional copyright, or rather it determines that major rights are granted on top of and instead of the creator’s original copyright, and so if copyright itself is valued, then CC damages that value.

    I gather most conventional publishers hate to give up any kind of rights whatsoever, but that’s just attitude and ossified policy, not an immutable.

    I should however like to take this opportunity to inveigh against CC-no-commercial-use, which is almost always a bad idea. The whole goddamn point to any kind of open sharing license is to allow commercial use. Attribution, sure. Sharealike, sure. License virality, sure.

    But no-commercial-use just means you hate skilled creators and don’t want them to thrive. It’s more like ressentiment than anything else. No doubt there are people who honestly consider any form of money-making through art to be crass and unworthy, but this has to be the result of not thinking seriously about it.

  8. If you already have the book contract with Tor, and the Tor contract contains much of the ‘boilerplate’ clauses in it about sales of development rights in other media, then this may have already been determined.

    Isn’t it true, that for many publishing companies, the contract for a novel includes the right for first dibsies on controlling development & licensing in other media? (audio books, games, comics, TV, movies?) Not that every novel becomes a hit movie, but all the suits are supposed to be able to control a big slice of the pie if that happens.

    Not that Tor would mind, but game companies & movie studios (for example) might flip out on thinking on the conventional legalities of doing commercial development on a setting that had an unlimited number of ‘authentic’ contributors.

  9. Check out the various shared story worlds I’m curating at Many use Creative Commons, and each uses a different copyright/IP structure.

    Also, check out what Angry Robot Books did with the Worldbuilder project (“Empire State” was the first traditionally published novel to be put through the Worldbuilder model).

    Plenty of ways to slice and dice the IP. Would love to email some ideas about how to combine these three (pretty much been my focus for the past couple of years).

  10. SKZB,

    I’m not sure if this is helpful or pertinent to what you’re trying to find out, however I recall in the late seventies/early eighties a series of books called Thieves’ World published (I think) by Ace Books.

    It was basically a shared world with multiple authors telling stories in an anthological vein- some even cross-referenced the characters from one author to help tell a story of a character by another author.

    I believe the authors all retained rights to their own characters yet shared in the storytelling that progressed through 12 or so books.

    So, considering the topic at hand, I believe this series had at least two of the elements- shared world and traditional pub- though I’m not sure how far it is removed (if at all) from CC.

  11. CC licenses are simply pre-designed licenses to facilitate many forms of sharing. If no CC license serves your needs you are perfectly free to design your own. Now of course you need TOR’s consent for any such custom license. But they are also unusually open in the publishing world to this sort of thing. Decide exactly what rights TOR should retain and which rights should be shared. Make a business case for how TOR will profit from adapting this. Thieves World is indeed a good example to cite, as is the ACES series, though I suspect you are proposing a different legal structure from either. Find some sympathetic ears within TOR to act as your advocates. With the help of your advocates and your agent present the proposal to TOR. The worse case is they say “no”. If they say yes, you have the added benefit that they have their own lawyers and can translate your proposal into proper legal copyright language.

  12. There’s another dimension to the discussion that’s very important. There’s a big difference between rights to a particular work and rights to the setting, characters, etc. I’ve never read a publishing contract, but I suspect that they typically only cover a specific work. If it covered an entire world concept, that’d be a major lock-in issue.

    So, consult with your agent to check the contract, but I bet you’re free to do whatever you want in the same world.

    Taking collaborative work from a website and attempting to get it publish later might be tricky, but not due to the license on the material but more likely due to the belief that making any money off already freely available material would be difficult (though obviously not impossible).

    An interesting example would be Shadow Unit. The work there is wonderful, but started strictly CC-BY-NC before being made available as ebooks and even later as an on paper book. And, hey, you know the people involved.. go talk with ’em.

  13. There tend to be problems with shared worlds without specific language though. Even if copyright is not involved, (and I’m not sure characters can’t be copyrighted) trademark may be.

    At any rate, what SKB needs to do is decide exactly what rights he wants to give away? Does this just amount to protection for fan fiction? Allowing use of the world and characters? (Which may be legal in any case. I’m not lawyer).
    Do you want two way protection – so that you can take characters and changes to the world, and incorporate them in future conventionally copyrighted works? At any rate the first step is deciding more specifically what you want to do. Then use some of your many resources to take guesses as to how to implement it. The final steps are to sell TOR on it, and have them draft the legal language. No reason for you to play lawyer when your publisher has real lawyers they already pay.

    I’m not sure the Shadow Unit example is a good one. No conventional commercial publisher was involved in the creation of the site. In this case rights have been sold to a conventional publisher. They have to be persuaded to relinquish some of those rights. But if the book lends itself to shared worlds stuff, there is a good business case to make to them. The key is to decide specifically what rights the publisher should grant to people working within the shared universe and upon what conditions. Then get allies and make the case to the publisher to do this.

  14. Many works of published material can cover both world and character protection under copyright laws (which include intellectual property including musical, literary works and artistic works) that can help to protect the original creator.

    I think Gar has a good point in asking if the protection is a two-way (or even multiple way if there’s more than two writers) protection. I would think that the wording in a CC can help to cover it.

    My questions for this would be:

    Do the additional authors involved (after the fact of original creation of world and characters) need to be added to the original copyright or would a CC agreement cover the works of the new authors?

    Does a CC supercede a copyright or is it an addendum to a copyright?

    Does a CC normally have specifics within the agreement as to requiring agreement (by whomever) to any major changes in a world setting such as a change in major political power within the world?

  15. Again, I don’t think the standard CC licences will do that is wanted. But I don’t think it would be difficult to write a license that would. The only hard part (and it might not be that hard) is getting agreement from TOR. On the one hand they are much more open to this sort of thing than most traditional publishers. On the other hand they probably will have an understandable caution about surrendering some of the rights they normally have unless they see a very clear upside. Again, if they buy in, they have their own lawyers who can draft the license for you.

  16. Talk to a lawyer. Always. Never trust someone on the Internet. And, hey, sometimes you can get the consult for free for easy stuff like this.

    While there, also get a rundown on Trademarks. A lot of people understand far less about Trademarks than they do about Copyright. The two have completely different laws.

    Oh, and hey, also get a quick bit about Patents. A lot of BS runs in the Left Wing world about Patents. I see people calling for an end to Patents because they say they stifle invention, and it always makes me laugh. Patents are all in the public domain, so anyone can read and develop from any successful Patent application, and anyone can make something from a successful Patent for personal use: you just cannot make it for someone else to profit from it. Both of their arguments (that Patents are hidden or cannot be made legally) are completely false. But, hey, like I said, don’t believe someone on the Internet like me: go talk to a Patent lawyer.

  17. And if Tor likes the idea they have lawyers who specialize in copyright, and trademark to the extent it applies in publishing (which it does in many cases). So the hard part is selling Tor. If Tor goes for it, the rest is about as much trouble as eating Irish whiskey pie.

    P.S. Kreistor, you are 90% wrong about patents, but will discuss that another time.

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