Should You Copyright Your Content?

We should all copyright our content….shouldn’t we? For most content producers, this isn’t something that is ever even considered. Of course we copyright our content, we wrote it and we don’t want anyone to steal it. Right?

Not everyone thinks this way. Zen Habits founder Leo Babauta has an interesting policy on content copyright on his blog. He allows anyone to copy or share anything he writes or releases. There are bloggers who don’t chase people who steal their content however I can’t think of any other top blogger who has this view. He explains his reasons in his post ‘Open Source Blogging: Feel Free to Steal My Content‘.

I encourage you to read the whole page. Here are some key excerpts from it:

From now on, there is no need to email me for permission. Use it however you want! Email it, share it, reprint it with or without credit. Change it around, put in a bunch of swear words and attribute them to me. It’s OK.

While you are under no obligation to do so, I would appreciate it if you give me credit for any work of mine that you use, and ideally, link back to the original. If you feel like spreading a copy of my ebook, I’d appreciate payment. I’d prefer people buy my ebook, but if they want to share with friends, they have every right to do so.

Just to clarify, this post is an official notification that my writing here at Zen Habits and in the Zen To Done ebook are now in the public domain. I hereby waive all claim of copyright in this work; it may be used or altered in any manner without attribution or notice to the me. Attribution, of course, is appreciated.

And if someone wants to take my work and improve upon it, as artists have been doing for centuries, I think that’s a wonderful thing. If they can take my favorite posts and make something funny or inspiring or thought-provoking or even sad … I say more power to them. The creative community only benefits from derivations and inspiration

Leo’s View on Copyrighting

Copyrighting is a topic I have a vested interest in, particularly as that is how I make money on the web. My livelihood depends on my ability to produce good content; whether it be for this blog, someone else’s blog or for a book or product I release.

I’m not an expert on copyright, far from it, but a lot of what Leo says does make sense. Firstly, I don’t think copyrights are really effective for the little guys. If multi billion dollar companies in the movie industry can’t stop some people copying their products, what hope do we have? Secondly, people who don’t attribute content you wrote to you are not going to give attribution whether you ask politely or not. Those that do give attribution would probably do so anyway.

On the issue of lost ebook revenues, Leo notes:

If people buy my ebook and then distribute it to 20 people, and each of those distributes it to 20 more, and those to 20 more … I’ve lost $76,000 in ebook revenues. Perhaps. That’s if you agree with the assumption that all those people would have bought the ebook if it hadn’t been freely distributed. I don’t buy that. In this example, thousands of people are reading my work (and learning about Zen Habits) who wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s good for any content creator.

I do agree that many people who will download a premium eBook for free would never have paid for it anyways. I imagine a small percentage of people who illegally download a digital book would have purchased it if there was no other way to do so. Having thousands more people read your book is in itself a good thing, but these people could hardly be called ‘quality readers’. It’s doubtful they would pay for any product you release so it’s doubtful they will benefit you in any way, apart from telling others where to get your products for free.

If your content is being read by more people, your profile will be raised. More people will know who you are and what you do and that is a good thing. Does it outweigh the negative problems that occur when someone does steal your content?

It’s All About the Benjamins

Perhaps I’m completely wrong on the issue of ebook piracy, I’m not so sure. I’m planning on releasing a lot of books this year and I admit it would annoy me if someone uploaded them illegally somewhere. I know this is silly. Piracy is never going to go away and it’s part and parcel of the music, book and movie industry. It’s something we may all just need to accept and move on.

The big issue is money. I need to make money from my work online. I have bills to pay, mouths to feed. If I could adopt a free model whereby all my products were released for free and I still made good money, I would do so. It would be simpler in many respects. I wouldn’t have to provide support, deal with payment issues etc. Leo Babauta can release products for free. He’s a thought leader within his niche and has hundreds of thousands of people on his email list so he can earn money in other ways. Many other leaders within the same niche don’t have the same view on copyrighting so I’m not sure who is right (if anyone).

Selling affordable products is, in my opinion, a better solution. People are less likely to look for illegal versions of a products if it is fairly priced and you can still make money by volume.

Another model that many content producers adopt is to offer their product for free (or nearly free) and sell support at a premium price. It works well for many people but not everyone wants the regular hours that good support demands.

Those Who Are Against Plagiarism

On the opposite spectrum of Leo Babauta is Jonathan Bailey, a great blogger that I use to work with a lot. Jonathan writes frequently about copyrighting issues on his blog Plagiarism Today. He feels passionately about the subject and writes tutorials specifically for people who have suffered from plagiarism.

His blog is a fantastic resource and contains example letters that can be sent to those who steal your content as well as their hosting company etc. I recently had to deal with someone illegally offering my book somewhere so I appreciate the work he does. It wasn’t a huge concern for me but I imagine how someone who sells a product for thousands feels when someone uploads their product somewhere illegally.

Jonathan is not alone in his fight against plagiarism. A quick search on Google will show you that there are hundreds of groups and organisations set up to fight against copyright theft.

Overview

My opinion on copyrighting is not fully formulated. I hope you don’t think this is a cop out; it’s not. I’ve read a lot of articles on the subject but I don’t feel like I know enough about the subject in order to give a yah or nay to either side. I’m sure many of you will sit on the fence with me :)

On the surface the idea of sharing our content and attributing any content we use seems ideal. It doesn’t work like that in practice. I’m not going to lie. My main concern is my income being effected. I’m aware of the benefits of more people seeing my work however I’m also acutely aware about how copyright theft can affect me.

I’d love to hear your opinion on this subject so I encourage you to take the time to leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading,
Kevin