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The Culture of Sharing: Why Releasing Copyright Will Be the Smartest Thing You Do


Sharing can be difficult, and lovely.

By Leo Babauta

Recently I stirred up a roar of controversy with a post at Zen Habits: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (or, The Privatization of the English Language). I had no idea the post would bring out such strong reactions in people, but I feel very strongly about freedom of speech and allowing ideas to be freely circulated.

And while I was a bit dismayed at some of the anger that was aimed at author Susan Jeffers (a number of people posted angry reviews for her book on Amazon), what did give me hope was that people made it clear that they have strong feelings about the issue.

A large number of us want people to be able to share ideas and communicate freely, without legal restrictions. And I’d go even further: we like it when creative people freely share their work with us, and allow us to use their work (or derivatives of it) in our own work.

This is the Culture of Sharing that is growing on the Internet. It has a long history, even pre-dating the Internet, but in recent years it seems to be blooming nicely. Open-sourced software is a great example: people collaborate to create code that can be used by others — it can be used freely as software, but more importantly others can use the code in their own software projects, or take the code and improve upon it. Everyone wins — the users of the software, the programmers who are able to use open-sourced code, and even the original programmers, who receive recognition for their work and the knowledge that they’ve contributed to something good. Microsoft and the other companies that use their might to protect their code are suddenly made much less powerful by open-sourced projects like Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP and the like.

Now extend this concept to writers and other artists — musicians, photographers, painters, filmmakers, etc. — and see how powerful the Culture of Sharing can be. All of a sudden, copyrights become barriers to creativity, and sharing becomes a way to contribute to the overall creative community, and to the world in general.

Last year I Uncopyrighted my blog, Zen Habits, and my ebook, Zen To Done, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. People have used my articles in blogs, newsletters, magazines, ebooks, books and more. And yes, they’ve made profits off me without me getting any of that money … but at the same time, I’ve benefitted: my ideas have spread, my name and brand have spread, and my readership has grown and grown. Since I Uncopyrighted the blog, it has grown from about 30K subscribers to 113K.

You can Uncopyright your blog, your ebooks, and even your print books. And I can almost guarantee you: it’ll be the best thing you can do as a writer.

The Old Model, and Why It’s Wrong

People who are used to the traditional model of copyrights will be alarmed and perhaps even angered by this article. They’ve been taught that copyrights actually protect the rights of artists, and in doing so actually encourage creativity. After all, if an artist doesn’t have copyright, he can’t make a living, and what would his motivation be to create anything then?

This logic is plain wrong.

First, history proves it wrong. Copyright laws originated in the 1700s, but amazingly, there were a few people who were able to create works of art without the protection of copyright laws. Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Virgil, Dante … to name but a few big names. There are, of course, thousands more. And here we’re only talking about writers — a few other artists also were able to create art: da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi are just a few who created before their works were protected by copyright.

Second, copyright has evolved into protection for corporations more than for artists these days. The people really pushing for copyright protection are not really people at all, but huge media conglomerates. They are protecting a system that is set up to make them money, but that only helps a handful of artists. The vast majority of artists are never read or seen or heard by the public, because the corporations don’t deem them to be profitable enough. So the system doesn’t help artists anymore — it hurts them.

Third, I have proven that it’s possible to make money, even today, without using copyright. And so have many others (Cory Doctorow being a notable example). The release of my copyright didn’t decrease my income — it increased it. It didn’t decrease my exposure — it increased it. We’ll talk more about this below.

Finally, copyright actually hurts artists, instead of protecting them. When you try to protect your copyright, you waste precious time and money pursuing violators — time and money you could be using to create instead of threaten litigation. When you protect your copyright, you are denying someone else the use of your ideas and creativity — which might seem good to you, but it doesn’t seem good to the person on the other end, and the community in general suffers a bit. And it hurts your reputation (if people think you’re selfish and protective) and stops your ideas from being spread as widely as possible.

By protecting your copyright, you are putting up barriers for the spread of your ideas. In this digital age, that is a mistake, plain and simple.

Why Releasing Copyright is the Smartest Thing You Can Do

So let’s put aside the old model of copyrighting works for a minute, and ask ourselves: “What might happen if I release my copyright?”

Seriously, think about it for a second.

Sure, some websites might scrape your content, re-using it and putting ads on it — making money from your hard work. And sure, someone else might throw it into a book and sell it, without paying you. You’re losing money, right?

Not necessarily. These people are making money by selling your work to customers you probably wouldn’t have reached anyway. They’re making money, sure, but how does that hurt you? If you could have reached these readers, you probably will anyway. In fact, if these readers really like your work, they’ll probably come looking for more … and you’ll gain a bunch of new readers.

And many others might use your work without making a profit. They might put your work in a free newsletter, or print it and use it in a classroom, or put it on their blog without making money. They’ll share your ideas with others, and give you credit. Now you’re reaching thousands of people you never would have reached before. These people are doing your marketing for you, for free!

I’ll repeat that in case the italics and exclamation point weren’t emphasis enough: by releasing copyright, you might get people to do your marketing for you, for free.

This digital age is defined not by how much money you can make with an individual post or book, but how widely you can get your ideas to spread. If you get your ideas to spread widely, you’ll make money. Somehow.

But how can you make money if you don’t have copyright? Let me count the ways:

  1. You can sell ads and make money off the increased visitors that come from your increased reputation.
  2. You can sell print versions of your book (after releasing an Uncopyrighted ebook version), and people will buy it anyway, because they like to have print books.
  3. You can become a consultant and people will hire you because you are widely regarded as having authority in the field … because your ideas are spread widely.
  4. You can sell ebooks (as I do) even if the copyright has been released. Most of my website income, in fact, comes from sales of my Uncopyrighted ebooks.
  5. You can gain a print book deal from your increased readership and reputation.
  6. You can become a speaker at conferences and other events.
  7. You can create seminars and other training courses.
  8. You can sell related materials — t-shirts, coffee mugs, learning materials, etc.

And that’s just off the top of my head. You can probably think of a hundred other ways. And it’s not only theoretically possible — as I said, I’m doing it now, and making more money than ever.

But wait, there’s more.

Releasing copyright isn’t just about making money off your creative work — it’s much more powerful than that. It’s about sharing your ideas with others, and allowing them to use it in their work.

Think about this for a second: none of your ideas are completely original. Mine sure aren’t. I take the ideas of others and build upon them. I try to create new ways of looking at old ideas. I combine old ideas in new mixes. Sometimes I just dust off old ideas that people have forgotten about. Sometimes they’re only new to me — I just discovered them and tried them out and found they worked, but they’ve been around in many forms for ages. All creative work is like this in some way. We take the ideas of others and build upon them, remix them, look at them in new ways.

If this is true, aren’t you indebted to so many other creative types? Would you have been able to create your work at all if you hadn’t been exposed to the works of thousands of others? Could you have created anything without using the ideas of others in your work?

And now think about this: by giving your work to others to use, isn’t this a wonderful way to repay the creative types that came before you and made your work possible? Isn’t it a great way to contribute to the creative community, and to make the world better?

I love to see how others take my work and build upon it, remix it, make it better. They have made my work more beautiful. And in doing so, in benefiting and participating in the Culture of Sharing, they have made the world a better place. And so have I. And so can you.

So let’s talk specifics, briefly. By releasing copyright, you will have a few benefits come your way:

  • Others might take your work and use it and spread it in various ways.
  • New readers will hear of you for the first time, and come to your blog or buy your book.
  • You will have increased visibility, a stronger brand, more readers, more traffic over the long haul.
  • You will make more money.
  • You will help others create, and make the world a better place.

None of this is guaranteed, but if your work is good, it will almost surely happen.

The Mechanics of Releasing Copyright

So how should you do it? There are several different ways to share your work with the world. Some of the most popular:

  1. Creative Commons. One of the most widely used licenses, it commonly requires only attribution. There are several versions.
  2. GNU. The inspiration for my Uncopyright. For text, you should probably use the GFDL.
  3. Leo’s Uncopyright. Mine is one of the freest licenses ever, because I don’t believe in any restrictions. Basically, I have released my work into the public domain. That means there is no license — you aren’t required to include the license in the work, or attribute the work (although I love it when you give me credit).
  4. WTFPL. Or, the Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License. Hilarious, but usable. Check it out. Here’s the full text: 0. You just DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO. Very clear wording, imo.

If you liked this article, please share it on del.icio.us or StumbleUpon. I’d appreciate it. :)

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71 thoughts on “The Culture of Sharing: Why Releasing Copyright Will Be the Smartest Thing You Do”

  • I’m very glad to see someone like you looking at the “old copyright” in this light. As a photographer I have had many people advise me to put watermarks on my photos and copyright my photos. I don’t for many of the reasons you just gave here.

    Now, if only THIS idea would spread! Keep up the good work, Leo.

  • I personally prefer the Creative Commons license with attribution. I believe that anyone should be able to benefit from my work, but that it should at least be attributed.

    Most of the potential benefits of allowing your work to be used come from someone, anyone, finding out about your work. But there are some who will unscrupulously use material generated by others, claim it as their own, and leave the original thought behind. This generates nothing for the creator – not interest, added traffic, increased visibility.

    I think it’s completely fair to say “Use anything I create. Just tell folks where ya got it!”. No monetary remuneration, no licenses or contracts, just a simple h/t.

  • Leo Babauta says:

    @Another Leo: I hear you. It is completely fair to ask for attribution.

    My reasoning is that if I am going to give something to someone, it shouldn’t come with restrictions. So if I give a blanket to my sister as a gift, I don’t tell her it has to be used for sleeping — if she wants to use it to cover her couch or to make cutesy clothes for her chihuahua, that’s her prerogative.

    So yes, people will use my work without attribution. But actually this hasn’t hurt me a bit, and usually people are grateful for the gift and give credit where its due anyway, without me requiring it.

    I have nothing against the CC license — it’s good stuff. It’s just not in line with my personal values.

  • I personally agree. I live under the “I don’t care what the fuck you do with my stuff as long as I get credit for the parts that are mine.” rule. I don’t have time to worry, cry, and stress about someone using my work. Long as my name is there somewhere. And if it isn’t, well, that’s the internet for you. :)

    Great post Leo, once again.

  • I think that in this new world order, we are beyond copyright – for good or ill. I think that there is a lot of positives about it, and I fully agree that we, as creators, writers, artists, need to embrace the open-source world with our work.

    I think the major problem with this entire mindset is that there becomes a blur between what is and isn’t open source. If I can use GIMP for free, why shouldn’t I be able to use Photoshop for free?

  • Writer Dad says:

    I do hold my own words dear, but also believe the old model is broken. I applaud what you did and felt it absurd that lawyers would contact you in an attempt to appropriate the common tongue. I love a lot about the Creative Commons license, though I do think I need to do a bit of homework as well.

  • I love your guts and courage. I am sure that it was a bit of a scary step(income wise) to let go. I applaud your effort and certainly your values behind the actions.

    Right now if I am honest, it is something I need to work up too. I can get on board with CC license and I did on my blog because of your original Uncopyright over at ZH.

    I think copyrights provide a level of protection for those that don’t have faith that they can make money without it, or don’t have faith that whatever it is is ‘good enough’ or that someone bigger stronger faster and well financed can crush their life’s work.

    This may be an extreme example, but without stable governments African countries often miss the benefits of property rights and related law enforcement and they suffer greatly for it.

  • Zoe says:

    I really appreciate this in-depth explanation of your perspective. I think the shifts in sharing and copyright are SO strong right now, making it extremely important to consider the implications and possibilities.

    I think the model you’ve described is wonderful. It may not be right for everyone and every medium, but it’s something we should all be aware of, and consider for our own work.

    Thanks for opening the channels of thought!

  • nils says:

    Unfortunately, Leo, the “Feel the fear” thing is about trademark, something fundamentally different from copyright. I can’t take anyone serious who seems to equate the two – they are fundamentally different.

  • Leo Babauta says:

    @Nils: I understand the difference between copyright and trademark. If you read over the article above, I don’t equate the two, nor do I in the article on Zen Habits. A number of commenters confused the two, but I didn’t.

    However, I am saying they’re related, in terms of freedom of ideas and language, and the issues surrounding them are interrelated.

  • Leo, I am totally in agreement with you over the Jeffers issue. This backdoor privatisation of every day and common phrases is just plain wrong. Good luck with that!

    I use CC with my photography and It’s been a good approach. I do ask for attribution, and no commercial use, but I qualify that by asking anyone who wants to use images commercially to contact me, a) because I can provide a bigger image file with an appropriate level of quality and b) because there are uses I would not be comfortable with.

    I think the flexibility of the CC type of approach and generating a culture of sharing has got to be a good way forward. As a school teacher the power of the collaborative, peer reviewed approach to work is huge, in terms of developing skills, knowledge and self-esteem.

    Good Luck..

  • Scott says:

    The http://www.openrightsgroup.org/ are doing a great job in trying to prevent the European “copyright term extension” in relation to the music industry. Support this cause please.

  • Here, here!

    Every artist that ever goes after a rapper for sampling his or her song should read this post and think twice.

    Sampling is part of the art and often gets people interested in the original song as well.

  • janice says:

    I’ve enjoyed your passion over this issue, Leo. It’s produced some amazing information and insights from you and fellow commenters. Sometimes having our butons pushed releases lots of fuel for our writing as we identify what our values are and how they’ve been challenged, threatened or violated by others.

    How do Write to Done readers with smaller blogs feel about using Copyscape, just as a way of tracking where their work shows up?

  • Eric says:

    Very BOLD! It sure is working for you!

    Ghandi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”, you are doing just that.

    I like the way you think and the way you write.
    -Eric

  • Great post! I really enjoyed reading this, especially because I could relate it back to the post on Zen Habits. I’ve never really thought much about copyright before (which I suppose I should since I’m now writing my own blog), but I can really see the reasons to share. After all, isn’t one of the first things we’re taught in life? When do we lose that idea that sharing is bad? A what point does “mine” become more important than the collective “ours”? Again, excellent post.

    http://positivelypresent.typepad.com

  • Summer says:

    If you don’t want to give your work away for free – don’t put it on the Internet.

    I agree that if you are going to try and enforce copyright, you’ll be wasting a lot of time and energy you could be spending doing creative work – or making a living. But I do not agree that you are getting others to do your marketing, because it has been my experience that people do not give credit or attribution, not even a link back to your website where they took the work from. Often as not, they direct link and steal your bandwidth, too. It is nice enough when someone emails to say they love your work (so you won’t mind if I use it for this item I sell, right?) – but that is about all the reward you can expect.

    Our society seems to have a belief that all art should be shared for free, and an artist who desires compensation – you know, pay for their work – is some sort of demon.

    From an artist who put 1000s of cliparts and line arts and articles on the Internet over the last 10 years, asking only for attribution – who is now pushing carts at WalMart for a living.

    YMMV

  • I was always very, very worried about people stealing my work, Leo. But after reading this and really thinking about it, I think you’re right. None of my ideas are completely original. These days, no one’s really are. And why not allow people to gain information and to spread your ideas for you?

    I’m still not convinced on the whole uncopyrighted e-book thing, but I’m going to give more serious consideration to releasing the copyright on my blog posts and articles.

  • Richard says:

    On a totally random note, when you wrote “let me count the ways” it reminded me of this poem

    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
    I love thee to the level of everyday’s
    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
    I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
    I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
    I love thee with a passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death.
    by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

    I seen it on a tv advert here in the UK

  • Aaron says:

    I’m all for spreading ideas freely, but it seems like part of your success came about because you were able to uncopyright your work after building a tribe. In other words, perhaps uncopyrighting was a major PR play that might not have had the same impact if you started publishing in the public domain. (This isn’t a criticism. I’m saying it was brilliant, whether the results were intentional or not.)

    I actually come from a pretty liberal music background, but I’d be interested to hear what others say about the appropriateness of timing changes in intellectual property as part of a marketing strategy.

  • Loved your Uncopyright idea. Did it for all my content.
    Made some icons/logos to be used for blogs releasing their content under uncopyright.
    http://promiseofreason.com/open-source-blogging-feel-free-to-steal-my-content/

  • Dear Leo,
    I am a fan of Zen Habits and have the intention to share some of your concepts (at the same time, feel free to visit my page and use whatever you like. The texts are in portuguese, but there is a translator below on the right side). I was feeling overloaded and seeking for some peace of mind for the last two weeks, due to hard working time. Last tuesday I decided to stop, breathe and organize myself once again. Yesterday I was already feeling better, like getting back to the track, and decided to write something about the process. Today I was putting some ideas on the papper when I received the ‘Mindfulness guide…’. Interesting way to share (mainly when you are looking for it), that´s what people should do despite of copyrights, contratcs, whatever. But these are still instruments of protection in this predator enviroment that we live. Keep it up with your wonderful lines!!

  • Sheila says:

    What worked for you will not work for everybody.

    I think open source models can be an excellent supplement to the existing framework, but I don’t think they’re going to replace it completely. I think you’re also a little too generous in your assessment of the people who swipe stuff for their own use–there are an appalling number of cases of people who take someone else’s work and attempt to take credit for it.

    What about copyrights for fiction? Do you think ‘unauthorized’ sequels to popular works should be freely published? (Google “Russet Noon” if you want an idea of what one person has been trying to do to ‘continue’ Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.)

  • I read this whole article with ease… Excellently written and very interesting.

  • I once read that the average person will see an ad FOUR times before reading/clicking it. I think this applies to hearing people’s names too.. on average, if a person runs into another person’s name FOUR times, they’ll likely investigate that person some more.

    In fact, this article was the fourth time I saw Cory Doctorow’s name, and now I’m subscribed to his blog :)

    Releasing your copyright on your stuff will expose it to a larger audience (assuming it’s great of course!), and just increase your chances of people seeing your name 4 times :)

    Great article, Leo! I especially enjoyed how you emphasized the need to have a sharing attitude. I think that’s really the core concept.

  • Leo, as the art manager to my husband, Drew, and other artists, I’ve been a staunch supporter of protecting copyrights for visual artists. You have me re-thinking this stance. I haven’t decided yet, but really, you’ve got me thinking!

    The challenge I see for visual artists is this: Their art & style is their brand. So if we freely give away the copyrights, and someone takes their art, say a painting of a surfer on a wave, and then adds something offensive or just bad art to the painting and uses it for advertising, then the artists’ fans will say “Wow, I’m offended, and I can’t believe Drew would do that to his art – I no longer am a fan.” That’s just one example of what could go wrong with visual art.

    If we could freely let anyone use the art, with the restriction that they can’t change it any way or use it for offensive means (which of course is subjective – what’s offensive to me isn’t to you), then I could buy into this thinking.

    Since Drew’s art is already licensed to many companies, some that market to kids, we have to keep it clean. So if someone took one of his images and used it in a porno or a liquor campaign, we’d have a problem!

    Not sure what the answer is to this – what do you think?

    Thank you for always making me think. Your blog is the one blog I go to almost daily. (Both your blogs….)

  • Absolutely superb article – I share the material online from my books in my blogs. People will buy the books anyway – it’s too hard to search through all the blog posts over the years. I’ll have to check out the Uncopyright and similar sites. The culture of sharing might just lead to some amazing synergy among artists/writers.

  • Leo says:

    @Richard: Yep, I was definitely referencing Elizabeth Barrett Browning. :)

    @Aaron: I hear you, but even if you don’t have a large following and don’t get the PR from releasing copyright (as I did, a little), I still see lots of benefits from releasing copyright. It will help much more than hurt, imo. But I’m sure it would work differently for different cases. Btw, my success hasn’t been driven by my uncopyright — it was aided by it, but it was only one of many factors. I’m not attributing everything to the uncopyright, but I do think it has helped since I did it.

    @Sheila: A few responses:

    1. I agree … what worked for me won’t work for everybody. But I think it’ll work for most people, and the determining factor will be whether they have good work. If your content isn’t good, people won’t want to re-use it, or if they do and make it better, you’ll only gain a small amount of credit for it, because your contribution was small.

    2. Sure, there are *lots* of scrapers out there, re-using content and not giving credit or links back. But how much do those scrapers actually hurt us? Very, very little. And this is more than offset — much more than offset, actually — by the benefits of those who would give credit if you release copyright. I’d say scrapers outnumber those who give credit, in my case, about 2-to-1 or 3-to-1, but the scrapers don’t hurt me at all and those who give credit help me tremendously, spreading my brand and ideas.

    3. I don’t see how releasing copyright for fiction would hurt. How does the unauthorized Twilight sequel hurt Stephanie Meyer? She is a millionaire because of her success … a book by someone else that capitalizes on her success will not slow her sales by one bit. It’ll help someone else, but if that guy’s writing is crap, it won’t sell much, no matter how much he rides the tailcoats of Meyers. If I wrote fiction (and I have, and hope to publish some in the future), I would be honored that someone else wanted to write a sequel to my book. There’s no higher compliment as a writer.

    @Maria “Spunk”: Think of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa … it has been re-used in many different ways, but his original art hasn’t been hurt one bit in the eyes of others. In fact, you might say that his image has been helped by being re-used. Same with other works of art — while there might be some confusion if people re-use and re-work art, in the end, the reputation of either artist depends on how good the art is, not on whether someone added an image to his art in another piece of work.

  • I wrote a blog post on this topic recently, as it’s one I’ve grappled with since I first started uploading free tutorials and natterings and papers to the web in 1994.

    Tangent: Posting undergraduate papers online is a guaranteed way to get yourself well-known for a piece of amateurish work that you wish you could take back a decade later. The trouble with releasing something in copyright and letting it be reposted elsewhere (or, rather, being too naive to realize people will repost it all over the place without your permission) is that you will never be able to “Undo” — it is now a matter of public record, as part of your online fingerprint and resumé.

    But that’s a side issue. The main point of my nattering blog post was that links are a form of currency, and that a modified version of the Creative Commons route in which we are required to link back to the author’s site (and/or where the original item is sold, for, say, YouTube videos using clips or music) — would be a revamped form of copyright for the 21st century where we give up usage rights but retain *right to be credited for original work* and that those who remix/adapt/reprint our work must “pay” us by marketing it for us.

    Not quite how i put it in the blog post, but anyway, I think that links may solve the copyright issue, provided they are treated as the commodity they are.

  • Brett says:

    Leo – while I agree with your overall point, it’s a little disingenuous to compare Shakespeare not copyrighting his work to people today. Shakespeare didn’t write in an era of copy and paste and the Internet so protecting works like his wasn’t really a vital necessity.

  • David Cain says:

    I think you have me convinced, Leo. I just have to pick which one of the four. WTFPL sounds good..

  • Leo says:

    @Brett: Didn’t mean to be disingenuous. But the point of mentioning Shakespeare is that his work has been copied and published by many, many people and companies. And because of this (and because his work is so good), his reputation has increased exponentially. If he were alive today, and able to benefit from his reputation, he’d still be a millionaire even though anyone can publish his work, and anyone can copy and paste.

  • Nif Alden says:

    I love this idea of cutting loose from restriction, and I completely agree that we are each always creatively resonating with what we experience in our daily lives. The resources from which we create are everywhere. I notice that when an idea or concept becomes integrated, I usually forget where it came from. There is no way I can honestly promise to give credit to all of the sources from which my work has grown! I love the idea that spontaneously, naturally, those sources benefit from my engagement with and appreciation of their work.

    It might be useful to look at the underlying beliefs in our culture about the availability of resources and the necessity of ‘hard work’ as a precursor for success. If one has the feeling that there is never enough to go around, one will need to protect what has been earned. And if it seems that ‘hard work’ is the only legitimate way to succeed, then it will seem really unfair if someone just grabs your stuff and scampers off with it, laughing.

    For myself, I know that my best work is done lovingly, cheerfully, easily, for the sheer joy of it. Getting paid for it is just icing on the cake. The process of creation is the fun part, the part on which I focus. If I get bogged down somehow and focus on the result, in particular the getting paid part, the work suffers. FTS, as we say in my business. Some artist guy, I can’t remember who, said: “When I am done creating, the work is no longer my business.”

    Admittedly, it has taken me several decades to arrive at this state of ease. You kids growing up now will be getting this so much more easily. Thanks Leo for helping loosen our grip on the scarcity of resources beliefs…

  • Such a sense of release and euphoria now that I’ve uncopyrighted my Sciencetext.com tech blog! Thanks for the inspiration. I can’t believe how easy it was to unshackle the site and to now be free to forget about the scraper caper.

  • I’ve written at length about the issues of copyright on the Internet, and I have one article in particular that I think you’d find interesting. Sorry to say, my central point is that you are missing the forest for the trees, Leo. On the other hand, so are the pro-copyright guys, so there you go.

    The reason this is such a hot button topic for people is that it’s a paradigm clash. There is a fundamental difference in worldview between the two sides of the debate, so that both sides believe that the other to be irrational.

    I’d be interested in your response to my essay on the subject: “Communism, Copyright, and the Internet”.

  • Even if you don’t go so far as to formally release all copyright, I whole-heartedly agree with your point that it is pure folly to dwell on it for even a nano-second:

    In this new information age, where attention is becoming the only scarce resource, the only thing that matters is the velocity of the spread of your ideas. Which will determine whether or not they will have “escape velocity” or not. Whether they will sink or swim..

    Information of any kind (and yes, that includes most art as well as non-fiction writing), is so fungible now, because things are moving so fast. News are the most fungible, they expire within hours or at most days.

    Next are news-related opinion item, such as most BLOG POSTS, which have about a 1 week half-life. Some posts or articles, if written as a learning/advice/how-to piece MAY last 3-6 months, but in most cases they will have quickly outlived their usefulness as well.

    What’s the 1-year residual value of even a $100+ Million budget Hollywood movie? In most cases, after a year, it’s about $2-3 for the (used) DVD plus shipping (check on Amazon). Information is more and more FUNGIBLE (in essence this term implies something will disappear in a sea of sameness or extremely close similarity).

    So, in principle I agree with Leo, focusing on copyright is only a hindrance and will slow you down. Now it may not have to mean avowing all ownership (some copyright notices posted plus description of proper attribution techniques can lead to a reasonable balance point), but it does mean at a minimum that you should be aware that whatever you think you own is likely rapidly decaying as we speak.

    And only the attention of people can be the fuel that would ultimately have it be worth much of anything 15 minutes from now…

  • Robert says:

    Say I wrote plays. Comedies. I uncopyright them and someone steals all of the jokes and ideas out of it, puts them in their own script, never tells a soul where they got their “ideas,” sells the script to a film studio who wants to make it into a movie. A movie is made and its a hit. Then one day I’m at the moves and I start to get a feeling that it all seems too familiar. Then I realize it is my material. Not only do I have no recourse because it was “uncopyrighted” material, but my work is now useless because the ideas and jokes are out there now, and nobody will pay for my script because it’s all been seen already. Long story short, this all sounds like BS to me. It just sounds like a blogger scam so they can have more free “content,” do less creative work themselves, and make advertising dollars off of other people’s work. I think all of this sharing and “getting your work out there” stuff sounds nice, but it isn’t going to pay the bills and I have to eat in order to produce more work.

    You used the Mona Lisa as an example in one of your responses. Say Da Vinci didn’t have any patronage. He paints this painting and then one of his competitors sees it, copies it, and rushes his own Mona Lisa out (I realize the original took like 14 years), and then sells his before De Vinci gets a chance. Now Da Vinci goes to start trying to sell his and nobody wants it cuz it’s old hat and suddenly he’s accused of ripping his idea off from this other artist.

    I’m sorry, but this sounds to me like the idea of somone who has never really created anything in their lives but would love to get their hands on all of that “free” content.

  • Julie M says:

    This is a really different perspective Leo and one you don’t often hear from writers or artists of any sort. Litigation for some silly phrase seems like a large waste of time IMHO.

    Attribution is nice and I always give that (even when I mentioned you and Mary in my blog). Some things may need copyright, but the idea of sharing is also attractive. I guess, I don’t mind if people use my words, but it is nice to get that recognition for it.

    I use a lot of inspirational quotes in my Tweets, but also attribute the originator of the quote. Except when something is so popular, it is not be necessary (i.e. Have a Nice Day or It’s the journey, not the destination). Great post and good perspective.

  • Leo says:

    @Robert: I’m sorry you feel that way. But I am someone who has created content, for almost 20 years. The content I’ve created the last few years has been Uncopyrighted, and it hasn’t stopped me from making a living.

    In your example of your jokes being stolen — I’ll admit, it could definitely happen. But that’s one case. You will probably write much more than that. And if you’re consistently brilliant, people will recognize it. Best yet, if you make a name for your brilliant jokes, people will eventually find out that the film stole your jokes, because you have proof you put it out there first — then the film will be embarrassed.

    If you just create that one work and then fade off into obscurity, sure, your example could happen. But if you’re really great, you’ll do more than just that one thing, and I can guarantee you’ll make a name for yourself. You have to be good, though.

    I have no need to scam people out of their content. I’ve proven that consistently. My goal for writing this was to help others get their content out there, and to help break through the old notion of protecting your work, and get to the idea of sharing it instead.

  • Leo says:

    @Robert: Oh, I forgot to address your Mona Lisa example. Just two points to address what you wrote:

    1. da Vinci lived in a time when his works couldn’t be copyrighted. So his competitors had every opportunity to copy his works. They didn’t, because they couldn’t — no one was as good as him, or at least those who were (Michaelangelo for example) didn’t have a need to copy him.

    2. Even if someone copied his works, that person would soon be proven to have no real talent. This is something that becomes apparent — either you’re good, or you’re not. da Vinci would have eventually been proven to be brilliant, and his copycat would have shown himself to be a fraud.

  • Point of pedantry: the name of the Italian polymath who painted the Mona Lisa and didn’t invent the helicopter was Leonardo he just happened to be from the town of Vinci; him and hundreds of others. The “Da Vinci Code” should strictly have speaking been called the “Leonardo Code”…

  • Robert says:

    Sorry Leo. I’m still not buying it. It’s a blogger scam. Things do not work the way you describe (except maybe in blogging circles). But if the idea sounds nice, and will draw more people looking for answers to your blog (99.999% of whom have no real talent at all whether they realize it or not) then that’s more ad dollars for you. And hey, if you can make them think they should make all of their content freely available so you can mine it for content to post on your own blog, so you can get even more ad dollars (for less actual work), then why not right? What you are selling here is a scam, a racket, that is really just designed to beneift you and folks like you. The real goal is to generate more “hits” to your blog while doing less work.

    And if things work the way you claim they do, how come nobody has heard of you outside of a few blogging circles? As is the case with most “bloggers,” this seems to me to be nothing but self-serving narcissism. This business model will eat itself and all that you’ll be left with is a whole lot of average, bland, “content” (just that fact that the work is reduced to a blanket, Orwellian marketing term such as “content” speaks of enormous disrespect to authors of the original work in my opinion) that nobody would want to pay for anyway. Why would someone want to spend months or years writing a novel, when some dude who spends 20 minutes a day writing blurbs then cuts and pastes, or links to other people’s work, is just gonna come along and take parts out of it and post them on his blog where people can read it without paying a dime? You say it will benefit him down the road and doesn’t hurt him at all. That the word of mouth will help his sales. And this can be true in the case of critical reviews and such. But what you suggest, to me, seems like a movie or book reviewer supplying a link in his review so that readers can see the movie, or read the book, for free. Generating ad revenue for the reviewer all the while due to increased traffic to his blog created by people showing up for a free lunch.

    Too many holes in this theory for me comfortable with it. Personally, I think better advice to writers would be to get to know a good lawyer.

  • Linux? Human Genome Project? PubMedCentral? Aren’t they all uncopyright?

  • Sometimes releasing free digital versions (even if copyright is retained) leads to more print sales. {http://www.johnhiltoniii.org/hard-numbers-on-free-random-house-books/}

  • Nathan Lively says:

    People are going to pass around my music whether I copyright it or not. Music fans don’t pay attention to that. The copyright is what I need to license my tracks for film and TV. It’s hard to argue the value of free distribution over the possible payoff of years of mechanical royalties. It would be interesting to know where Moby would be if all of those those tracks from Play had been used for free.

  • @Robert: Wow. You came into the comments with your mind already made up, regardless of the truth of the matter.

    You accused Leo of not creating anything himself, of just wanting others’ stuff for free… yet, it seems to be like Leo is a guy who’s really putting his money where his mouth is and releasing all of his writing freely. And, notice the “his writing” part. You comment on a blog post that he wrote. How can you claim he creates nothing?

    … isn’t it obvious that you’re just using “cut and paste” argument here?

    Second, “it’s a blogger scam” is not the best of arguments. It seems to me like you’re just carving out exceptions (it only works in “blogging circles”) to try and show that it doesn’t work in general, when you really just don’t like the idea (I’d suspect because you don’t like the idea of people being able to use your works without acquiring permission). Leo isn’t talking about some blogger scam, he’s talking about strong economic theory — leveraging abundant goods to add value to scarcities, and monetizing those scarcities.

    I mean, what does it matter who’s heard of Leo if he’s able to make a living? He didn’t claim that he’d be famous.

    I don’t think you’re getting to the heart of your disagreement by trying to discredit him, when (1) the fact that he’s making a living undermines any attempt to argue that it’s not possible, and (2) it seems like you really just don’t want it to be possible, maybe because you want the comfort of copyright for your own works, so you’re searching for reasons why Leo or “blogging circles” must be an exception to the rules.

    Maybe I’m wrong, as I hardly know anything about you, but that’s the impression I’ve got.

  • d hayner says:

    No matter what I do I can’t get my comment to post?

  • Sheila says:

    Leo–

    The “well, she’s making enough money already” argument doesn’t quite hold water, because for every Stephenie Meyer, there are thousands of lesser authors who are doing the best they can with the stories they write. The idea that they could be robbed from being adequately compensated for their creations because, gee whiz, bestselling authors are doing well enough already does not sit well with me at all. Did you even stop to think about what the implications of that notion would be? It would mean, for example, that writers would see films made of their books and not be able to expect a dime in direct recompense from it. Oh, yeah, they might sell more books, but normally they’d sell more books AND get paid for the movie rights AND have some measure of control over who gets the rights. I’d rather go with the latter option, thanks.

  • There’s another un-license you might like, Leo. It’s called the Mu License — http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?MuLicense — and it reads like this:

    If you are asking what license this software is released under, you are asking the wrong question.

    (Replace “software” with “work” and it should work for anything.)

    Sorry I’m late to the party.

  • jorel314 says:

    You guys might also be interested in this list of notable works whose copyrights were waived by its creator.

    http://setfree.dyndns.info

  • I’ve been thinking of doing this ever since your original article about releasing copyright, Leo. And now you’ve finally pushed me over the edge!

    From today, my writing on my blog is officially under the WTF Public License:

    http://vladdolezal.com/blog/2009/freedom-i-declare-uncopyright/

  • blogthailand says:

    Bob Baker in no modus operandi fails to absorb me with his podcasts, books, blogs and Facebook posts. by This for the moment he points us to another pencil-pusher, Leo Babauta, who writes a blog called Zen Habits and another one-liner called Write to Done.
    This outstanding promulgate lays into notable notice Leo’s thoughts on abandoning the unwritten copyright in favor of a more uncommitted methodology, and there are distinct options. I had no mentation the promulgate would spread b bruit about into notable notice such irrefutable reactions in people, but I acumen unquestionably strongly with compliments to self-determination of language and allowing ideas to be unconstrainedly circulated.
    Here’s his article in greatly:
    The Culture of Sharing: Why Releasing Copyright Will Be the Smartest Thing You Do
    By Leo Babauta
    Recently I stirred up a growl of difference with a promulgate at Zen Habits: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (or, The Privatization of the English Language).

    And while I was a whit dismayed at some of the bug that was aimed at littВrateur Susan Jeffers (a numbers of people posted feverish reviews suited for her apply for on Amazon), what did beat a hasty depart notable me conviction was that people made it certain that they soupЗon irrefutable feelings with compliments to the debouchment. And I’d accompany cool coax forward: we like it when firsthand people unconstrainedly part their in the planning stages unemployed with us, and move to us to avail oneself of their in the planning stages unemployed (or derivatives of it) in our own in the planning stages unemployed.
    A tremendous numbers of us crave people to be equipped to part ideas and sympathize unconstrainedly, without polite restrictions.
    This is the Culture of Sharing that is growing on the Internet. Open-sourced software is a gargantuan exemplification: people in the planning stages unemployed together up to enlighten methodology that can be against aside others – it can be against unconstrainedly as software, but more importantly others can avail oneself of the methodology in their own software projects, or kill the methodology and uplift upon it.

    It has a lengthy dirt, cool pre-dating the Internet, but in modern years it seems to be blooming nicely. Everyone wins – the users of the software, the programmers who are equipped to avail oneself of open-sourced methodology, and cool the firsthand programmers, who admit attention suited for their in the planning stages unemployed and the awareness that they’ve contributed to something usefulness.
    Now commemorate continue up this concept to writers and other artists – musicians, photographers, painters, filmmakers, etc. Microsoft and the other companies that avail oneself of their capability to care for their methodology are instantly made much less brisk aside open-sourced projects like Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP and the like. – and appreciate how brisk the Culture of Sharing can be.
    Last year I Uncopyrighted my blog, Zen Habits, and my ebook, Zen To Done, and it was one-liner of the most superbly things I’ve everlastingly done.

    All of a rash, copyrights buttress barriers to creativity, and sharing becomes a modus operandi to afford to the complete firsthand community, and to the smashing in worldwide. People soupЗon against my articles in blogs, newsletters, magazines, ebooks, books and more. but at the unquestionably for the moment, I’ve benefitted: my ideas soupЗon spread, my notability and category soupЗon spread, and my readership has grown and grown. And yes, they’ve made profits nutty me without me getting any of that bread. Since I Uncopyrighted the blog, it has grown from with compliments to 30K subscribers to 113K.

    And I can all but assert to you: it’ll be the most superbly activity you can do as a pencil-pusher.
    You can Uncopyright your blog, your ebooks, and cool your language books.
    The Old Model, and Why It’s Wrong
    People who are against to the unwritten miniature of copyrights settle upon be alarmed and maybe cool angered aside this article. After all, if an artist doesn’t soupЗon copyright, he can’t beat a hasty depart a living, and what would his motivation be to enlighten anything then?
    This sane judgement is unreserved off target. They’ve been taught that copyrights in the end care for the rights of artists, and in doing so in the end advance creativity.

    First, dirt proves it off target. Shakespeare, Milton, Cervantes, Virgil, Dante. Copyright laws originated in the 1700s, but amazingly, there were a by no means people who were equipped to enlighten works of mastery without the bulwark of copyright laws. to notability but a by no means different names. And here we’re solely talking with compliments to writers – a by no means other artists also were equipped to enlighten mastery: da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Mozart, Beethoven and Vivaldi are justified a by no means who created in the for the moment to come their works were protected aside copyright.

    There are, of cut, thousands more.
    Second, copyright has evolved into bulwark suited for corporations more than suited for artists these days. They are protecting a methodology that is define up to beat a hasty depart them bread, but that solely helps a uncharitable numbers of artists. The people in the end pushing suited for copyright bulwark are not in the end people at all, but gigantic media conglomerates. The gigantic bulk of artists are in no modus operandi know or seen or heard aside the notable, because the corporations don’t deem them to be helpful ample.

    Third, I soupЗon proven that it’s practical to beat a hasty depart bread, cool today, without using copyright. So the methodology doesn’t facilitate artists anymore – it hurts them. And so soupЗon numerous others (Cory Doctorow being a VIP example). It didn’t cut down my unmasking – it increased it. The loosing of my copyright didn’t cut down my takings – it increased it. We’ll talk more with compliments to this subsumed under.

    When you hear to care for your copyright, you barrens euphuistic for the moment and bread pursuing violators – for the moment and bread you could be using to enlighten as opposed to of on guard case.
    Finally, copyright in the end hurts artists, as opposed to of protecting them. When you care for your copyright, you are denying someone else the avail oneself of of your ideas and creativity – which capability appear usefulness to you, but it doesn’t appear usefulness to the child on the other even-handed, and the community in worldwide suffers a whit.
    By protecting your copyright, you are putting up barriers suited for the spread of your ideas. And it hurts your prominence (if people fantasize you’re acquisitive and protective) and stops your ideas from being spread as extensively as practical. In this digital bulk, that is a kill the off target modus operandi, unreserved and dense.

    Sure, some websites capability kiss the feet your encumber, re-using it and putting ads on it – making bread from your tyrannically in the planning stages unemployed.
    Why Releasing Copyright is the Smartest Thing You Can Do
    So let’s permission into b assume aside the gone it miniature of copyrighting works suited for a document, and upon ourselves: “What capability encounter if I loosing my copyright?”
    Seriously, fantasize with compliments to it suited for a another. And undeviating, someone else capability spit up it into a apply for and sell down the river it, without paying you.

    These people are making bread aside selling your in the planning stages unemployed to customers you indubitably wouldn’t soupЗon reached anyway. You’re losing bread, to be fair?
    Not like it. They’re making bread, undeviating, but how does that jar you? If you could soupЗon reached these readers, you indubitably settle upon anyway. and you’ll admit better a accumulation of fresh readers. In experience, if these readers in the end like your in the planning stages unemployed, they’ll indubitably check in looking suited for more.
    And numerous others capability avail oneself of your in the planning stages unemployed without making a profit.

    They’ll part your ideas with others, and beat a hasty depart notable you faithfulness. They capability permission into b assume your in the planning stages unemployed in a cool newsletter, or language it and avail oneself of it in a classroom, or permission into b assume it on their blog without making bread. Now you’re reaching thousands of people you in no modus operandi would soupЗon reached in the for the moment to come.
    This digital bulk is defined not aside how much bread you can beat a hasty depart with an child promulgate or apply for, but how extensively you can admit your ideas to spread. These people are doing your marketing suited for you, suited for cool!
    I’ll rerun that in the actuality the italics and oust value weren’t lead ample: aside releasing copyright, you capability admit people to do your marketing suited for you, suited for cool. If you admit your ideas to spread extensively, you’ll beat a hasty depart bread.

    But how can you beat a hasty depart bread if you don’t soupЗon copyright? Let me depend on the ways:
    1. Somehow. You can sell down the river ads and beat a hasty depart bread nutty the increased visitors that check in from your increased prominence. You can sell down the river language versions of your apply for (after releasing an Uncopyrighted ebook version), and people settle upon acquire it anyway, because they like to soupЗon language books.

    2.
    3. because your ideas are spread extensively. You can buttress a barrister and people settle upon gash you because you are extensively regarded as having corroboration in the sod.
    4.

    Most of my website takings, in experience, comes from sales of my Uncopyrighted ebooks. You can sell down the river ebooks (as I do) cool if the copyright has been released.
    5.

    6. You can admit better a language apply for reckon with from your increased readership and prominence. You can buttress a rabble-rouser at conferences and other events. You can enlighten seminars and other training courses.

    7.
    8.
    And that’s justified nutty the high point of my administer. You can sell down the river associated materials – t-shirts, coffee mugs, knowledge materials, etc. You can indubitably fantasize of a hundred other ways.

    But bide one’s time, there’s more. And it’s not solely theoretically practical – as I said, I’m doing it these days, and making more bread than everlastingly.
    Releasing copyright isn’t justified with compliments to making bread nutty your firsthand in the planning stages unemployed – it’s much more brisk than that.
    Think with compliments to this suited for a another: nobody of your ideas are up one side firsthand. It’s with compliments to sharing your ideas with others, and allowing them to avail oneself of it in their in the planning stages unemployed. Mine undeviating aren’t. I hear to enlighten fresh ways of looking at gone it ideas.

    I kill the ideas of others and dominate upon them. I consolidate gone it ideas in fresh mixes. Sometimes they’re solely fresh to me – I justified discovered them and tried them into notable notice and present they worked, but they’ve been all in numerous forms suited for ages. Sometimes I justified dust nutty gone it ideas that people soupЗon forgotten with compliments to. All firsthand in the planning stages unemployed is like this in some modus operandi.

    If this is verified, aren’t you accountable to so numerous other firsthand types? Would you soupЗon been equipped to enlighten your in the planning stages unemployed at all if you hadn’t been exposed to the works of thousands of others? Could you soupЗon created anything without using the ideas of others in your in the planning stages unemployed?
    And these days fantasize with compliments to this: aside giving your in the planning stages unemployed to others to avail oneself of, isn’t this a wonderful modus operandi to fix with the firsthand types that came in the for the moment to come you and made your in the planning stages unemployed practical? Isn’t it a gargantuan modus operandi to afford to the firsthand community, and to beat a hasty depart the smashing wagerer?
    I ebullience to appreciate how others kill my in the planning stages unemployed and dominate upon it, remix it, beat a hasty depart it wagerer. We kill the ideas of others and dominate upon them, remix them, look at them in fresh ways. They soupЗon made my in the planning stages unemployed more good-looking. And so soupЗon I. And in doing so, in benefiting and participating in the Culture of Sharing, they soupЗon made the smashing a wagerer job. And so can you.

    By releasing copyright, you settle upon soupЗon a by no means benefits check in your modus operandi:
    * Others capability kill your in the planning stages unemployed and avail oneself of it and spread it in divers ways.
    So let’s talk specifics, hastily.
    * New readers settle upon brains of you suited for the prestigious for the moment, and check in to your blog or acquire your apply for.
    * You settle upon beat a hasty depart more bread.
    * You settle upon soupЗon increased visibility, a stronger category, more readers, more above once again the lengthy carriage.
    * You settle upon facilitate others enlighten, and beat a hasty depart the smashing a wagerer job.

    The Mechanics of Releasing Copyright
    So how should you do it? There are distinct numerous ways to part your in the planning stages unemployed with the smashing.
    None of this is guaranteed, but if your in the planning stages unemployed is usefulness, it settle upon all but sure encounter. Some of the most normal:
    1. One of the most extensively against licenses, it commonly requires solely ascription. Creative Commons. There are distinct versions. GNU.

    2. The dynamism suited for my Uncopyright.
    3. For manual, you should indubitably avail oneself of the GFDL.

    Leo’s Uncopyright. Basically, I soupЗon released my in the planning stages unemployed into the notable discipline. Mine is one-liner of the freest licenses everlastingly, because I don’t conclusion in any restrictions. That means there is no certify – you aren’t required to amalgamate the certify in the in the planning stages unemployed, or ascribe the in the planning stages unemployed (although I ebullience it when you beat a hasty depart notable me credit). WTFPL.
    4. Or, the Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License.

    Check it into notable notice. Hilarious, but usable. Here’s the greatly manual: 0.

    Very certain word choice, imo. You justified DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO.

  • Robert Davis says:

    It is painfully obvious you have no clue as to what a copyright is, how it is created or when it was adopted by the US Government. It is also obvious you have no respect for an artists right to control his or her creation. Shame on you.

  • wrong can true because majority

  • BenPanced says:

    Sorry, but if I’m going to go through all the trouble and work of producing a novel, I’m getting paid, dammit. You can go on and on about “my ideas are being shared WITH THE WORLD!” and being an artist and reaching people you might not have otherwise and getting free marketing etc., etc., but nobody deserves to make a dime off my work except me.

  • Natasha says:

    Sorry, but I really don’t trust other people with any material from my book. Knowing how the internet world is, most of my characters will suddenly become gay/lesbian porn stars.

  • @benpanced:

    “Sorry, but if I’m going to go through all the trouble and work of producing a novel, I’m getting paid, dammit.”

    Um… who said otherwise?

    “nobody deserves to make a dime off my work except me.”

    Really? What if I parody your work? How are you going to stop me with copyright?

    Also, I’m making money off Lenovo’s work right now, and off the work of my teacher’s who educated me by putting that knowledge to use. Am I ripping them off?

  • @Natasha:

    “Sorry, but I really don’t trust other people with any material from my book. Knowing how the internet world is, most of my characters will suddenly become gay/lesbian porn stars.”

    And… how would copyright law stop people from parodying your work?

  • Calistoy says:

    I think that a lot of the arguments here are pretty stupid. Every single one of you are doing what you want to do with your own material.

    Some of you are “Uncopyrighting” it. Good for you to do what you want with your material, but you have no right to insist that others that disagree with that do that as well.

    Some of you think that copyrighting it is the best way to go to protect your material. Good for you on that, but you also have no right to insist that others that disagree with that do that as well.

    In conclusion, it’s alright to disagree, but not dictate what someone should or shouldn’t do with their creative works. It’s a great revolution to share ideas in new and different ways. Just don’t let either way come back to bite you for any reason. Laws are established for a reason, and until they are modified or whatever, they are going to hold up in court no matter how much you agree or disagree with them.

Comments are closed.