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How should EAs manage their copyrights?

by evelynciara1 min read9th Mar 20215 comments

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EA BooksEA EducationLess-discussed causesLong-Term FutureLawCommunity
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EA is partly an intellectual movement, and a lot of what we do is disseminating our ideas through media such as this Forum, blogs, and podcasts, that are generally subject to copyright laws. It seems like a good idea for EAs to manage the rights to their EA-related content so as to maximize the benefit that society will get from it. But how?

There are two parts to this question: short-term and long-term. In the short term, it may be valuable to allow copying and remixing of our work, with conditions such as attribution, releasing derivative works under similar terms, and refraining from commercial use. The Creative Commons system is an excellent tool for this, and I've been considering releasing my original EA content under a CC license. On the other hand, verbatim copying may not be as valuable as it used to be, because one can simply link to your work instead of copying it to another URL, but this runs into the problem of link rot. At the same time, some EA-related works have been published commercially and likely benefit from aspects of traditional copyright, at least in the short term. Finally, openly licensing one's work is a personal decision that would likely be influenced by personal factors as well as social benefits, similar to career choice or how much money one donates.

In the long term, most copyrighted works run into the orphan work problem, which is when it becomes hard to identify or contact the current copyright owner for a work in order to get the rights to use it. One common way in which copyrighted works become orphaned is when the author dies and it's unclear who inherited the copyright. But another possibility is that the author could simply become unreachable, even if they're still alive—for example, if they disappear from the Internet. Matt Yglesias gives us a sense of the scale of the problem:

We most often think about old copyrights in the context of famous works or famous authors. But the vast, vast, vast majority of books that get published (or songs recorded, etc.) are obscure and likely to end up orphaned. The monetary costs of orphaning are relatively low (because, by definition, we’re talking about works that are not economically valuable), but the social and cultural costs are pretty high.

I think orphan works will become a big problem for the EA community once the first generation of EA community members start dying. In the shorter term, EA works can also get orphaned if their authors drop off the Internet, leave the EA community, or otherwise become unreachable. How can we fix this?

This also points to a broader question: How should EAs archive our work for future generations?

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It's good to think about this, though most of the value probably comes from the small number of most valuable works, of course. For most people and works, it's probably a trivial problem.

I'm not sure that I agree that

On the other hand, verbatim copying may not be as valuable as it used to be, because one can simply link to your work instead of copying it to another URL, but this runs into the problem of link rot. At the same time, some EA-related works have been published commercially and likely benefit from aspects of traditional copyright, at least in the short term.

A number of valuable things, like compiling copyrighted works into an anthology or preparing other derivative works, can be prevented by copyright.

EAs with influential writings should definitely pay attention to their copyrights during estate planning, to avoid the Orphan Works problem. It may also behoove Forum admins to think about having the site TOU to have some explicit licensing language to make preservation of EA Forum posts easier.

I generally use perma.cc in my own academic writings to prevent linkrot. I assume some people also archive various EA sites; if not, somebody should!

Thanks for your response! Btw, the perma.cc link is broken - you need to add the "https://" prefix or else browsers will interpret it as a relative path.

3Cullen_OKeefe1moFixed, thanks!

By "explicit licensing language to make preservation of EA Forum posts easier," do you mean some kind of limited license to copy content for archival purposes, or a more general license that applies automatically to forum content?

If the latter, a good alternative to compelling EA Forum users to license their posts (which many users might not be comfortable with) is to add a feature allowing users to voluntarily tag their posts with a Creative Commons license of their choice, like Medium has.