Sarah Davies: Share and Share Alike

BlogHer Original Post

Sarah Davies, FreedomforIP

I'm very interested in the whole notion of open content and creative commons licensing in the nonprofit space.   Recently, I discovered Sarah Davies of FreedomforIP and after listening to her elevator pitch online from the IgniteSeattle event, I asked her for an interview.

She told me, "I probably don't have to mention this to you,  but you are of course free to put this under a public domain, BY or BY-sa license."    Of course, I couldn't imagine doing otherwise!

1.  What is your background?  Are you trained as lawyer?

I'm mostly a geek.  I like to build things and take things apart to see how they work.  My undergraduate degree is in physics.  I've found that my generation has a habit of teaching ourselves new technologies, and I am no exception.  That's how I found my way into advocating for nonprofit technology and encouraging others to activism over technological legislation.  I've studied intellectual property law extensively, but only in an academic context; I am not a practicing lawyer.

2.  How did you get interested in copyright laws and their impact on human rights?

About five years ago, Brazil violated American intellectual property agreements by producing an AIDS drug for a fraction of the cost of the American company who developed it.  The Brazilian government distributed this drug to each of their 203,000 AIDS patients free of charge.  I was so inspired by this story that I started looking into the rational for our intellectual property system, and found that it is centuries out of date, and heavily crafted by drug companies and Hollywood.  Virtually no one was advocating for consumers at that point, so their rights were being significantly compromised.

3.  Why should nonprofit organizations pay attention to copyright or your organization's goals?

Nonprofits work furiously to disseminate the scarce resources that business and government will grant them to provide for the basic needs of the people whom business and government have left behind.  Intellectual property is a resource that can be distributed infinitely if we allow it to be.  By letting other nonprofits use your words, pictures, music, innovations, and processes, you are creating resources to help those most in need!  You are donating assets into that scarce pool that is available to nonprofits, and it doesn't cost you anything to do so!

4.  Many nonprofit want to "protect" their content.   What are the pros/cons of doing so?

A lot of organizations I have talked to are afraid of being plagiarized or misquoted, and feel that it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to legal protections.  They are afraid that their marketing materials and communications will be used in a way that is not congruent with their mission statement.  They see copyright law as a way to control the way their message is distributed.  In fact, copyright is not necessary to accomplish that end.

There is "false designation of origin" provision in US law that allows you to sue someone for making false claims that they created your work, even if you have placed your work in the public domain.  There are also provisions against libel and slander, which allow you to recover damages from anyone who misrepresents you or makes false claims about your organization.  So, even if you give up all copyright claims to your organization's intellectual resources, you still retain the right to sue anyone who abuses them.

5.  I believe in setting my own content free, but on the other hand I have to make a living. What is your advice for people who sell their knowledge/content?

Get tech saavy.  In the days of newspapers, the best business model was to sell content to consumers.  The higher your price, the higher your profit.  Today, the best business model is to sell eyeballs to advertisers.  Google, Flickr, Second Life and literally thousands of new companies depend on engaging users to make money, and the more people who engage with their content, the more money they make.  Giving away your content and allowing others to distribute it is the best way to make money in today's culture.

The tools I've found that work best to make money off of free content are Google AdWords and Revver.  Revver places an ad at the end of a video, allows people to distribute the video freely, and then splits the proceeds from the ad with the creator of the video.  I think we are going to see a lot more tools in the coming years that depend on free distribution of content in order to make profit.

Also, the more recognition you get for your content, the more likely you are to get jobs, speaking engagements and conference invites.  People are switching employers much more often than they used to, and often a good reputation can be more valuable than a good resume.

6.  The Seattle Ignite was amazing!  Were your nervous?  How did you prepare?

Seattle has a really great community of innovative technology, and this is one of the first events that allowed all of us to get together and talk about ideas.  I was nervous, and I think that showed in the video!  There were a lot of people in the audience who hold opposite opinions on intellectual property to mine.  It's tough to decide what belongs in the "top five minutes" of everything you want to say, and I feel like I left out a lot of important things like fair use and orphaned works, but that's what the blog is for...

7.  What are the 3-5 best blogs nonprofits should read to get educated about copyright issue?

1. Lawrence Lessig ( ) - Lessig is the CEO of creative commons.  He is also a professor at Stanford Law School.  His posts and videos are always compelling and easy to understand.

2. EFF Deep Links ( - EFF is essentially the ACLU of the internet.  They work on copyright reform, bloggers rights, and all sorts of things that keep the internet free and transparent.

3. A Copyfighter's Musings ( ) - This is Derek Slater's blog.  He is an activist for EFF.  Very knowledgeable and a good writer.

Thanks for interviewing me, Beth!  These answers took a lot of thought about my philosophies and feelings, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my passions!

Beth Kanter, Contributing Editor for NGOS and Social Change, also blogs at Beth's Blog.


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