Why Copyleft

I’ve decided to issue my various artworks under a copyleft licence. Why? The principles of copyleft are long established in the computer software world; to understand why copyleft exists visit The Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org).

But why copyleft poetry?

I considered the cultural arguments in my poem poetry :: Copyleft; I won’t repeat them here. But I will express the prosaic arguments.

Poetry does not make much money; even the greatest poets need additional income. William Wordsworth was a tax collector, Ted Hughes, a farmer, and most modern poets, such as Oxford’s Benjamin Zephaniah, teach or lecture. Poetry does not make money.

I do have ambition; I do like people knowing about and commenting on my poetry. It’s a reward for all that creative investment, if you like. I want people to hear, read and enjoy my work. That won’t happen if they don’t know about it.

So I need good distribution. I can’t afford good distribution myself, so I have to depend on publishers. Most poetry publishing houses are small, with some foreign sales; so even professional distribution is disappointingly parochial. Worse, though eminently sensible from their perspective, is that I’m an unknown uncollected poet, and would be a seriously risky investment, espcially since there’s such small return. So even if I’m lucky enough to be of interest to existing publishing houses, I’m most unlikely to get more than cursory marketing to go with the distribution. My poetry is not, I suspect, instantly sellable; I’m not at the fluffy pop end of the poetry world.

Copyleft is guerrilla marketing and distribution; anyone can copy and distribute a copyleft work as they see fit, subject to the licence. If the poetry is copied, I neither pay nor receive a penny. If a critical mass is achieved, copyleft material can reach the world, as the operating system Linux has shown. The disadvantage for the poet is the lack of royalties, but there’s hardly any of them anyway.

As I said, I’m interested in the long game. I’d like to get my name and poetry known. I hope easily available modern English poetry, which can be legally copied, distributed, and modified, will be of interest in education. If I’m right, then advanced students of English may get to see my work, and hopefully a few of them will get to like it.

Finally, my poetry is up on my website. Even if I killed my website today, the Internet Archive will have copies of it, and would continue to make these copies available without successful and seriously expensive legal action. Anyone with net access can see my poetry without paying me for it. Putting it out in copyleft volumes isn’t really a change to the current situation. It so happens I’d always intended to copyleft my work, so I never had a problem with publishing it online.

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