Large Red DamselflyThis is a sort of follow on article from Thoughts On Copyright. The first article goes into how copyright and licensing affects the freedom of use of any material that anyone produces.

This article is about the different types of content I may produce and my thoughts on how I should license my work. If you are thinking of creating any work of your own then the ideas raised in this post may be of benefit to you but make sure that any license you use aligns with your way of thinking before you commit to it.

Once I have defined what I want the license to achieve then I can get into the territory of finding a suitable license for each type of material that I may produce. From my point of view that will include everything from posts on my blog and any of my other websites, websites designed for other people, photos and other graphical images, any books I may write and software applications for both Windows and the Web—possibly even Linux, Mac, iPhone or even something else down the line.

What Should The License Cover

Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you. That is my philosophy. And I plan to stick by this when it comes to licensing.

Some stuff I will give away for free. Take this blog for example the content here is completely free of charge and will always be that way. I also have plans to create stuff that I am going to charge for. Obviously I would prefer for everyone to purchase their own copy but I want to give the consumer the choice rather than forcing them into it.

This seems to be the opposing view of most large corporations. Even after you have legally purchased a piece of work some corporations still treat you like a criminal by putting in copy protection systems. In my opinion this degrades the piece of work and adds an extra layer of complication for no reason.

Take music, for example, before the widespread use of MP3’s when you purchased a song on-line you were restricted where you could play that song, it wouldn’t work on Linux for example because of the DRM protection included. In some cases there was also a restriction on the number of computers you could play the song on, every time you get a new computer, or even reinstall your operating system, then one of those uses would disappear until you would no longer be able to even play the song. In effect you didn’t really own the song you just borrowed it. I considered this unbearable and so I simply refused to purchase any songs until they were available in MP3. I had to wait a few years but now I am back to frequently purchasing music, the majority of which are now in MP3, although I do still get the occasional CD.

DRM is currently still being employed with digital Movies and eBooks. So as with music I am abstaining. I still buy films on Blu-Ray even with the copy-protection but only because there is no better option at the moment. I certainly wouldn’t pay for a digital movie at the moment though.

I don’t want anyone to ever feel like this about anything I produce. If a customer feels like they would not be able to afford the work on their own then why not let them club together with someone else, split the cost, and then they can both have a copy. After purchasing my work the consumer might feel that a close friend or family member would benefit from the piece of work then I want them to be able to give them a copy with a clear conscience.

Copying isn’t always possible with physical media but with digital media people can make copies instantly just by copying a file. This is open to abuse though and my work could be posted anywhere on the internet. I plan to create some sort of link to give people to choice to pay even though they already have a copy of the work but only if they want to. I believe that the vast majority of people do the right then when presented with a choice.

In my small run in with accidental copyright infringement I tried to upload a video to YouTube that had a music track attached to it. I do not want this sort of issue to crop up with any work I produce and so I want to make it clear that derivative works, of any kind, are acceptable. You are free to do what you like with any derivative work, including selling it.

Thinking about it there is an additional issue with the ability to recoup some of the value of the product. With physical goods you can usually resell the product once you have finished with it. If, for example, someone bought a framed photograph from me then they could decide that they no longer need it when they move house and sell it on to someone else. What happens if they purchase a digital copy of the photograph instead? Well if they have printed out a copy and put it in a frame then of course they could sell that on as it is a derivative work. But what about the original digital image?

So these are the basic premises that I want my license(s) to follow:

  • I don’t mind how the work is used, copies made for close family and friends are acceptable.
  • Copies cannot be sold as this would be in direct competition with my original work.
  • My work can be used as part of a new derivative work, as long as it is somewhat different to the original.
  • I would like people to know that I have produced the work.

I don’t really want my original work to have to compete with copies from another source so even though copies can be given to friends and family I would prefer if no charge was involved. After a bit of thought though I do not think it would be right to add this as a restriction as this would restrict the possibility of resale. So I have crossed this off my list of requirements.


One thing that surprised me is that copyright is automatic for all web content, even if your work is not marked as copyrighted. For an explanation of this see the Web design copyright fact sheet from the UK Copyright Service.

There are two aspects for anything that I write as some will be under my control and some will be handed over to someone else. This could be a guest post on someone else’s blog or a website I have designed for a paying customer. When control is handed over to someone else then I think the best thing is give them complete control over the work from then on. In other words hand them the actual copyright as you hand over the work. I’ll need to look into how to do this but for now I’ll focus on the work I create for my own purposes.

Uncopyright as used by Leo Babauta on Zen Family Habits and Zen Habits was a contender but I am not sure if you can just put a piece of work into the Public Domain?

So I think I have decided upon the Creative Commons—Attribution license for my writings, whether they be web based or even hard copies. All I would like is a link back to the original article or the front page of my website.


Photographs are another area that have a personal interest for me. Once again there are some additional complications…

My brother recently took a CD containing the photos of his wedding into the local Jessops to get some prints made. The case stated that the copyright of the images was held by the photographer. While selecting the images someone came over to him and told him that unless he had written confirmation from the photographer he would not be allowed to make any prints. When he tried a different shop there were no such checks and they just allowed him to make his prints without any question?

So there is obviously a bit of a gray area here. The whole point of giving the digital images to the bride and groom was to allow them to be able to produce prints of whichever photos they desire. As I have recently photographed a wedding I want to retain the copyright but I also want to allow for prints to be made freely without my express permission.

The Creative Commons—Attribution license also seems perfect for photographs as well. I can still charge for the images but once the customer has the image they are free to do what they like with it as long as I am attributed for the work. If the image is to be put up on the web for example then all they have to do is mention me, or place a link to my website, somewhere on the same page as the image. They are, of course, free to make as many prints as they like and this is catered for automatically within the license.

Some people might not want to include link back to me and so I will have to think about an option to allow use without my express permission. Flickr has recently given the option for all images to be sold through Getty Images as long as the copyright holder accepts. Here is an example of Getty Images pricing

Software Development

Last, but not least, comes software. I have never actually released anything personally but as this is something that is definitely on the horizon I need to decide what sort of license to use when I do release my first program. The Creative Commons license specifically warn against their use with software so it cannot make a clean sweep and I have to look elsewhere.

I use a lot of Open Source programs so I naturally started looking in that direction. There are a lot of choices though…

I think the idea of copyleft is a bit too restrictive. I do not want to force anyone who decides to make changes to the program to also have to use the same license. If someone spends the time to get to know my code to be able to make changes to fit their way of working then they deserve to do whatever they like with their derivative work. So that rules out the GNU GPL and LGPL licenses.

The other extreme is the Unlicense. There is an explantion of the reasoning behind this license in the article Set Your Code Free.

I think for now I am going to stick with something in the middle ground. A permissive license like the MIT License sounds about right for me. I think in the end though I am going to use the even simpler ISC License as the wording seems to fit better for me. The tipping point is that the copyright and permission information is only required in copies of the original whereas the MIT License also mentions substantial portions.

Image: Pete O’Shea


Michael Ludgate

That’s not a dragonfly, this is a dragonfly (said with crocodile dundee accent)

Hmm, guess it’s currently offered under copyright. Followed the posts, but it’ll require a bit more (re)reading before I’m properly down with the issues.

    Pete O'Shea


    Still not sure I have a full grasp of the issue myself but having been bitten a couple of times now I thought I ought to at least try and get to grips the basics.

    Good call on the pic by the way as after a bit of research I believe mine is actually of a Large Red Damselfly.


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