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Commoner Letter #2 – Cory Doctorow

Melissa Reeder, October 29th, 2007

To the Commoners community, from Cory Doctorow:

My writing career and Creative Commons are inextricably bound together. My first novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, was published by Tor, the largest science fiction publisher in the world, on January 9, 2003, just a few days after CC launched its first licenses. I was the first author to use the licenses, applying them to my book and releasing it for free online on the same day it appeared in stores. Today, the book has been through more printings than I can keep track of, been translated into more languages than I know, and has been downloaded more than 750,000 times from my site alone (I don’t know the total number of downloads, because, of course, anyone is free to redistribute it).

I’ve applied Creative Commons licenses to all my books since, including the comics that IDW just adapted from six of my short stories. I use CC for my speeches, for my articles and op-eds, and for articles and stories that I write for “straight” magazines from Forbes to Radar. My co-editors and I use CC licenses for our popular blog, Boing Boing, one of the most widely read blogs in the world. These licenses have allowed my work to spread far and wide, into corners of the world I never could have reached. I hear from sailors on battleships, volunteers working in the developing world, kids in underfunded school-districts, and people who “don’t usually read this sort of thing” but found my work because a friend was able to introduce them to it. My readers have made innumerable technical remixes, fan-fic installments, fan-art drawings, songs, translations and other fun and inspiring creative works from mine, each time humbling and inspiring me (and enriching me!).

CC turns my books from nouns into verbs. My books *do stuff*, get passed around and recut and remade to suit the needs of each reader, turned to their hand the way that humans always have adapted their tools and stories to fit their circumstances. As Tim O’Reilly says, my problem is not piracy, it’s obscurity, and CC licenses turn my books into dandelion seeds, able to blow in the wind and find every crack in every sidewalk, sprouting up in unexpected places. Each seed is a possibility, an opportunity for someone out there to buy a physical copy of the book, to commission work from me, to bring me in for a speech. I once sold a reprint of an article of mine to an editor who saw it in a spam message — the spammer had pasted it into the “word salad” at the bottom of his boner-pill pitch to get past the filters. The editor read the piece, liked it, googled me, and sent me a check.

CC lets me be financially successful, but it also lets me attain artistic and ethical success. Ethical in the sense that CC licenses give my readers a legal framework to do what readers have always done in meatspace: pass the works they love back and forth, telling each other stories the way humans do. Artistic because we live in the era of copying, the era when restricting copying is a fool’s errand, and by CC gives me an artistic framework to embrace copying rather than damning it.

Writers all over the world are adopting CC licenses, creating an artistic movement that treats copying as a feature, not a bug. As a science fiction writer, this is enormously satisfying: here we have artists who are acting as though they live in the future, not the past. CC is changing the world, making it safe for copying, and just in time, too.

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