Writing Creative Commons Short Stories

September 7, 2010

As a geeky writer of Science Fiction (or Speculative Fiction when in polite company), and as also as a fan of Creative Commons, my eye was caught by a short story released under a Creative Commons license. And this was no half measure – the authors want feedback and alterations! (Kudos to the OMG! Ubuntu! post which plugged the story.)

The other notable feature of the story is the level of geekiness, which is always nice now and again. The story’s called G.E.E.K., the two main protagonists are geeks, the rest of them (mostly) are computer programs – no wait: not only that, they’re open source Unix programs like SSH and pkill! The two geeks use Ubuntu, and there are side-jibes at every geek’s favourite target, Microsoft. And geekiest of all, there’s no holding back on jargon. Although you don’t need to know what pkill does, or SSH (though it certainly helps), all the programs do their thing as part of the adventure, and the problems to overcome are, in a fantasy sort of way, computerly accurate. There’s even a load of footnotes to help the reader (and, apparently, one of the authors) wade through the geekery.

It’s quite a fun story to read, and the fact that the authors’ first language is not English leads to some great dialogue, expressions put in ways I would never have got away with (“his body shook passionately as though he was having a seizure”). And some of the narrative makes me want to put fingertips to keyboard and help the boys out with a touch of grammar here and there . I’d just be a bit nervous that they’d want CVS commits for the different versions…

All in all, if you’re a computer freak like me, or want to know how a Creative Commons collaborative story might work, take a look (and help out if you want).

My own stories under Creative Commons

I myself released my last story under a Creative Commons license, although I have no intention of letting anyone contribute suggestions (it’s done and dusted, and even I’m not going back to it). My purpose with Creative Commons was to put it in the wild, while protecting my own rights with it (and not use unnecessarily restrictive Copyright terms).

But I eventually started to wonder whether, like some of the awful music that crowds out the good stuff on the likes of Magnatune, I was just releasing it as Creative Commons because I no one would pay to take it off my hands. Was I hiding behind the moral high ground of CC only because I new I had nothing to lose?

Yes. I think I was.

The only saving grace (in my own mind) was that the Attribution/No Derivatives license let it be used for commercial purposes. This was to allow it to be used (hypothetically) in print, should anyone wish to pick it up. My permission would still need to be sought first, and at the very least the story would have to be attributed. In this way I think I subconsciously felt I was spurning the often-pointless aversion FOSS advocates have for the commercialisation of their work. Still I was safe on the moral high ground.

My future with Creative Commons

But what I want to do from now on is examine exactly why I use CC licenses (if at all). What I will always do is to release my blog material under CC, as well as the stuff produced under my alter-ego at Historic Liverpool and Liverpool Landscapes. Getting that right ensures the biggest potential for getting my writing out in the world, without losing too much if these licenses go abused unnoticed.

But I also want to release my stories as Creative Commons, because I believe that Copyright is too restrictive and one-size-fits-all. What I want is a way of working which mirrors that of Red Hat and Canonical – give away the product and sell the support.

Of course, this doesn’t translate directly to writing, and I’m giving away the support (the blog) while trying to sell the product (stories). If I can find a CC license which effectively reads: free to redistribute, but costs normal rates to publish in hard copy, then I think I’ll have found my solution. Otherwise maybe I could craft my own. I’ll let you know how I get on.