This will be my final post here at PLOS Blogs. It’s been a great couple of years, but sadly PLOS has decided to change the licensing rules that govern its blogs, and the new arrangement just doesn’t work for me as a freelance journalist.
When I was first invited to blog at PLOS, I had mixed feelings. I was honored to join such an illustrious gaggle of journalists and bloggers, among them Seth Mnookin, Steve Silberman, John Rennie, Emily Anthes, Deb Blum, Misha Angrist, and David Kroll. But I was conflicted about writing for free on a site that turns a profit for someone else.
I rationalized it like this: I was already blogging for free, at a WordPress site I’d just launched. Here was a chance to do the same thing, but with built-in traffic, a great group of colleagues, and free tech support. I climbed on board, and I’m grateful for the support, platform, and readership.
Since then, though, I’ve become even more uncomfortable with this whole economy of undervaluing content. In addition to everything else egregious about the widespread practice of offering writers no compensation but “exposure,” I’m now convinced it creates an overall atmosphere of unprofessionalism–which in turn can blur lines, leading all parties to feel a little clueless about the nature of the relationship. I may be alone here, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this climate contributed to recent episodes of bad behavior. I’m certainly not excusing anyone: “Don’t be a creep,” as Laura Helmuth so eloquently put it, is still a basic and irrevocable rule of behavior. But, I mean, really: How can anyone feel good about themselves, or take themselves seriously as a professional, when they’re being told their work is effectively worth nothing?
All of this has been weighing on me. And then PLOS decided to change its licensing rules. Until now, this blog has operated under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC license.
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.
But as of tomorrow, the blogs will operate under the same license as the rest of PLOS, CC BY. Under these terms, someone could take my words, which no one paid me to write, and use them to make money themselves. I understand PLOS’s desire to streamline its licensing, and I see why this makes sense in the context of the open access mission. If I were an academic, I’d probably be fine with it.
As someone who earns a living solely as a freelance writer, though, I just can’t do it. Even if it’s only a theoretical objection (I mean, really, who’s going to make money off my blog posts?), it’s still a valid one: I’d be saying it’s okay to give away my work for free so someone else can profit from it. Logically, it doesn’t make sense.
I’ll be relaunching Tooth & Claw elsewhere eventually–though for now I’m a little overcommitted, between writing feature stories and taking care of my son, who was born in August. For now, thanks for reading.