On Owning It (Or Not, As The Case May Be)

I actually came across this in a different way recently — a startup, Hyperink, wanted to publish an eBook that was a collection of my previous posts. No brainer, until I realized that technically AOL now owns a majority of the things I’ve written online (after their purchase of TechCrunch in 2010). They were totally cool with me repurposing the content — kudos to them — but it’s interesting that I did have to ask. And it makes sense — they paid me to write those words.

I guess my point is that while I do actually value owning my own words, I’ve also spent the majority of my career not actually owning my own words.

– MG Siegler, from here. This is something I’ve been thinking about since my Feb-May rush of looking for work and wondering where my career was going. Almost everything I’ve written since… what, Fanboy Rampage!!! (which was a linkblog, and as such not original-content-heavy), has been the property of someone else. Certainly, the work I’m most proud of doesn’t belong to me in any legal sense. That’s depressing and worrying, but I can’t necessarily see a way past that right now; I can’t afford (financially) to take the time to write something that I do own, and I don’t have the clout to build in a rights-reversal clause into contracts with outlets that I’m working for these days. But it’s something I think about, often. Here’s Gina Trapani, from the same conversation thread:

Similar to what MG said about TechCrunch, it’s been difficult for me watching 4 years of my daily work on Lifehacker suffer from linkrot and broken images over the years. Gawker owns that content and I got paid for it, but it’s something I think about when I’m *not* getting paid to produce content.

Sometimes, I get depressed when I think about some of the things I created for io9. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot – a lot – of content I wrote for that site that was so of-the-moment or of-the-quality that I wouldn’t be too upset if it disappeared in the memory hole and was never seen again (It helps/hurts that, the more I look back on that time, the more I feel like it was bad for my development as a writer, but that’s another complaint for another day), but there were also plenty of stories/posts/essays/justplainideas that I wish that I had some ownership over. At the time, I didn’t think too much about it because (a) I had to come up with new ideas on a regular basis to hit deadlines and quotas, and (b) I had a sense of equity in the site, stupidly, because I’d been there since Day One (Since before Day One, even; I was part of the team writing for the beta version of the site before it had a name or went live), but now…? Yeah. There’s a bunch of things I wrote for io9 that I feel sad about not being able to use/recycle elsewhere.

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