Team Open

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SL "Lisa" Huang

She didn’t fight filesharing of her novel; she decriminalized it.

SL “Lisa” Huang, the self-published author of Zero Sum Game, loves fandom. But without legal protection for her fans, she can’t champion it like she wants to. By releasing her novel under a Creative Commons license, Lisa removed any element of criminality from her readers who love her books enough to share them.

As an author, Lisa sees more risk in not making her work freely available under CC: “It’s easy to get caught up in the fear that allowing sharing will mean no one will ever pay for your work… but what about the fear that your work will stay mired in revenue-less obscurity because not enough people will pay for it sight-unseen?”

Standing together on the Great Wall of China in 2006, MIT Professor Hal Abelson said to author SL “Lisa” Huang, “Well, there’s this thing some of us have started. It’s called Creative Commons.”

Since that poignant moment, Lisa set her sights on using Creative Commons licenses. As an MIT graduate with a degree in math, she now uses her degree to write “eccentric mathematical superhero fiction,” and in March of 2014, Lisa self-published her first novel, Zero Sum Game, under the moniker SL Huang. The book is available at digital retailers and free to download on under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA) license.

“Zero Sum Game is the fourth novel I’ve written and the first I’ve deemed good enough to inflict on the world, and I always wanted to license under CC when I did. I’m delighted that self-publishing has allowed me that freedom,” says Lisa. “It’s very exciting that authors have so many choices these days!”

Philosophically, Lisa stands behind copyright and protection for creators. But as a creator, she doesn’t want to sue her fans for sharing or remixing her work either, as long as it’s not impinging on her ability to make a profit.

“The most important thing to me was that I could remove any element of criminality from my readers who love my books enough to share them. I don’t want to sue my fans, and I don’t want to maintain my option to sue them, either, because I love fandom, and I love its enthusiasm, and I think fannish activities only help creators. So licensing under CC is my way of saying, ‘All these things that aren’t legal but I think they should be? I’m making them legal.’”

By making them legal under CC’s license conditions, Lisa is guaranteeing her fans the right to use and remix her work, without permission and without fear of retribution. She’s ensuring a seamless exchange of creativity. “Choosing to allow derivative works was a no-brainer,” says Lisa. “I’ve always been wholeheartedly behind the creativity in fandom, and I can’t imagine telling my readers they couldn’t delight in my work that way.” Sharing under CC also benefits Lisa as an author by enabling the work to spread far and wide.

“Using CC might have some risk, but NOT using it does as well. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the fear that allowing sharing will mean no one will ever pay for your work… but on the flip side, what about the fear that your work will stay mired in revenue-less obscurity because not enough people will pay for it sight-unseen? Allowing your work to be shared is nowhere near as scary once you see people happily trundling along and making money with it without the sky falling in on them.”

Lisa firmly believes that legally allowing filesharing will help, rather than harm, her success. The CC license leaves open the potential for larger adaptations of Lisa’s work by studio television shows, movies, and other monetary licensing avenues.

“The answer to filesharing has never been more crackdowns; it’s adapting business models,” Lisa comments. “Introducing people to media content through piracy, and those people loving it enough to go on to buy it, is a thriving phenomenon. I can’t count the number of people I know who have bought the DVD sets after they loved a show they saw a pirated version of. And what about the people who download everything for free and would never pay? Well, they’d never pay for my book anyway, would they?”

Lisa is continuing to earn monthly revenue from the digital version of her book, and is working on releasing the print version of Zero Sum Game. She’s also editing the second and third books in her series, with planned release dates in 2015. Her long-term business plan is to complete the series, in which every new release will add to her sales traction and build upon her existing audience. The CC factor on her novel is quickly drawing curiosity from readers.

“What I have noticed is that people are very interested in Creative Commons when I talk about my book. I’m getting asked to talk about my Creative Commons decision a lot, and that’s been great for me as an author. I’ve also already been contacted by several Creative Commons–oriented sales channels who want to feature my book.”

Lisa is creating the world she wants to live in, and she hopes more authors and creators will consider Creative Commons licensing for themselves. Yet, the fear of the unknown often holds creators back.

“Making the choice is still scary, but it’s scary either way. It’s easy to figure that keeping the strictest possible level of control over your rights is also somehow safest, that it’s Pascal’s wager,” says Lisa. Lisa urges that creators must not only “weigh the pros and cons of CC as a choice, but also weigh the pros and cons of traditional copyright as a choice, rather than considering it to be the default.”

“Consider the vast tapestry of literary and creative conversation that you, as a creator, are a part of. And take joy in allowing your work to take on a life of its own within that conversation, buoyed on by the people you’ve touched. I love that we have all that,” says Lisa. “I think our world would be much worse off without it.”

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Creative Commons License

SL "Lisa" Huang (Team Open) was written by Meryl Mohan for Creative Commons. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The illustration of SL "Lisa" Huang was created by Luke Surl. To the extent possible under the law, Luke Surl has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights under the CC0 Public Domain Declaration.