Cut Off From My Own Creations

In 2005 and 2006, I wrote a fortnightly series of online-only columns for The Times newspaper. I attempted to get them to agree to a free content license for the text, but I was unsuccessful. At that time, there were far fewer precedents for that sort of thing, and I didn’t have nearly enough clout to persuade them to make an exception for me.

Still, I decided that the experience was probably worth it, and the money was useful. (Although my cousin, who is in the publishing industry, told me later that they paid me significantly under the going rate; and they also paid on 45-day terms, which I think is pretty shoddy behaviour.) I wrote a couple of pieces with which I was really quite pleased. And I was happy that, even if I didn’t have full rights, everyone could read them. I eventually stopped submitting work when my editor stopped replying to my emails.

Recently, revising my website, I came across the page where I linked to them all – but they are no longer available to read on the public web. They are behind the Times’ paywall. And, although I do have copies of the text I submitted, because I don’t own the rights, I can’t put up mirrors. So, I can no longer share my creative work with people who might want to read it.

Lesson learned: only release your creative work under free content licenses.

6 thoughts on “Cut Off From My Own Creations

  1. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to release creative work only under free content licences. There are other options e.g. an arrangement where the author retains the copyright but gives the publication an exclusive licence to the work for a limited period of time (such as a year). After the exclusivity period is over, the author can then do whatever they like with their work (such as license it under a free content licence). I believe some prominent columnists have such an arrangement with their publishers.

    As for your links page: I note that the columns (well, every one I tried) are available via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine (see http://web.archive.org/web/20080705230810/http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9075-1852569,00.html for ‘Breaching the ’Dam’ and http://web.archive.org/web/20080517212812/http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9075-2051196,00.html for ‘Free software? You can’t just give it away’).

  2. Most of us aren’t in the quite privileged position getting paid for writing open source software. So this “only release your creative work under free content licenses” seems a bit spoiled.

  3. Not sure I really see the lesson here. Sure, you can only licence your creative work under such licences if you please. But it’ll reduce their market value. In your case, it apparently reduced their market value to zero – the Times was not willing to accept such licensed content at all. Looks more like a choice that you can weigh up depending on your aims and economic situation, rather than a lesson.

  4. I would have said the lesson was “Don’t sign away your ownership of what you write just to get published.” It’s one thing to grant a publisher an exclusive license for a limited time; it’s quite another thing to transfer your copyright to them permanently. That damages your continued ability to write in ways that can’t necessarily be fully predicted ahead of time (because you don’t know ahead of time whether that short story or essay you wrote will turn out to be the seed that, after you think it through a while longer, will eventually germinate into a book).