On Tuesday I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Austin and I felt inspired to record my podcast. I grabbed my fancy microphone out of my bag and started to set it up to record when I noticed something: Tom’s had the Beatles playing. I packed up my mic and put it back in my bag, dismayed. The way copyright law works, it would have been illegal for me publish that podcast and I may have faced legal action in the future if I did — inspiration be damned.
That, my friends, is nothing short of broken.
That’s not the only example I have. My friend and I launched a comedy tour called The Campus Rejects and were sued by someone who owned that name. I asked a musician I loved if I could use one of their tracks for a cause-based video I was working on; they loved the cause and said yes, but their label (who owns the copyright) said no, so the answer was no. The list goes on.
Let’s just say I am not a fan of copyright law.
But everything I’ve ever created I’ve held the copyright to. Not that I’ve ever enforced this (like when people take my graphics, rebrand them, and sell them or use them to sell their stuff, which happens quite a bit), nor had I ever planned on it, I just did it because that’s what you do. I’ve followed Leo Babauta’s work at Zen Habits and Mnmlist for quite some time, and really appreciate the words that come out of his brain. It wasn’t until just this week, while I was still grumbling about not being able to record my podcast, that I noticed something at the bottom of his site: “Uncopyright” in plain text, a simple hyperlink. I clicked it. It took me to this page, where everything I read I related to entirely, and seemed completely obvious, but were things I had never thought (that’s generally my standard set of reactions to most of what Leo writes).
Then I thought, “I’m absolutely doing this.” And then I did. Earlier today, I released my copyright on all the work I’ve produced at It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.
The way I feel as a result of this decision, my friends, is anything but broken. Overall, I feel really great. Part of me is terrified — a small part — because I’ve put thousands of hours into all the stuff I’ve written and created, and I’ve been trained to think that I should have ownership over those words, those things, that they are mine.
But they’ve never been mine. As Obama might say, “I didn’t build that.” My mom wrote those words, all the countless nights she would sit on our back porch with me, under the stars, and talk me through the regular existential crises I had when I was in elementary school (some of the hits include “why do so many people in the world suffer?” and “why are some people rich while others are poor?”). My high school English teacher, Ms Clayton, wrote those words when she decided to let me work independently on self-directed projects in the library instead of going to class because she recognized I wasn’t thriving. My grad school mentor and supervisor, Andy, wrote those words when he showed me how to rethink service and compassion. Most importantly, all the thousands of people who read my site, comment, send me emails, and have conversations with me wrote those words when they taught me how to rethink social justice, identity, gender, sexuality, and myself. Every person I’ve ever spoken with (and every person they’ve spoken with), every author I’ve ever read, every Scrubs episode I’ve ever watched, and so on — they wrote those words, when they shaped me into the person I am today.
Copyright law, like so much else in this crazy mixed up world, is nonsense. If you want to own your words, or your ideas, I won’t be upset with you. And maybe in a couple years I’ll be eating cabbage in a dumpster and you can say, “See, Sam? This is why we have copyright law.” But I’m happy to have released myself of the burden of copyright.
As is so often the case, it’s not until I released my work of its copyright that I realized how much of a hold copyright had on me.