Jorge Toledo

Why You Should Stop Sticking (Only One) © on Your Work

From copyright to copyleft.

It’s come to be almost a reflex action. We create a text or an image, we post it online and we immediately stick a little © next to it. It feels kind of good to do that. It’s our final seal. The icing on the cake. We’re safe. Nobody can steal our work now.

But in many cases, we haven’t even thought about why we do it. What do we suppose is at risk of being stolen? Were we thinking of selling that photomontage to another customer? Were we going to charge for posting that project description on another site? Were we hoping to live off the reproduction rights for that foundations plan? Was our video going to be released in all the leading cinemas?

In architecture, the plans, photomontages, texts, renders, photographs and videos we produce are simply graphic representations of what we think or do. These elements, which for artists, writers and photographers constitute their work per se, are rarely more than mere vehicles of expression for architects. They’re important, yes, but their importance shouldn’t be exaggerated.

And copyrighting them quite literally means killing the messenger, or at least tying him hand and foot. Actually, the best thing that can happen to your work is precisely for something to happen to it: for example, for someone to post it on their web page (more difficult if it’s copyrighted), for someone to display it in an exhibition (more difficult if it’s copyrighted), or for someone to include it in an academic work or a lecture as a reference (more difficult if it’s copyrighted).

Stopping people from sharing or copying such material is therefore just as ridiculous as preventing people from taking photos of your built works (something which, ahem, some people have been considering for years). It’s shooting yourself in the foot and, above all, in this age of shared information, it goes against human nature. It’s like trying to hold back the tide. Even those who make their living directly from what they share (artists, musicians, authors, etc.) are beginning to realise that.

The question is not so much whether or not you should copyright your material, but why you’d ever want to do that. Why lock our creations away behind a legal barrier (of questionable efficacy) which offers hardly any benefits and is difficult to monitor? Do we really have anything to gain by doing that? Are we aware of the lost chances it would mean in terms of our own projection and reputation and of usability value for others? Or is it just something we’ve got used to doing?

If you really love your creations, let them go. Let them go places you could never take them, make them – (insert whatever self-help cliché you want). But let them always be easy to download and share. Don’t shackle them with artificial obstacles. Give them a download link. And make them open source. That will allow you to retain all the rights you want while at the same time making it easier for others to share your work.


Turn things round – literally. The next time you post something, flip that © horizontally to turn it into a _mirror _copy, or _copy to make it a CC.

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Jorge Toledo García es Arquitecto, actualmente trabajando en Ecosistema Urbano, donde lleva principalmente temas de comunicación así como la investigación y desarrollo de herramientas aplicadas a lo social. Interesado en las aplicaciones de la innovación abierta y la cultura libre a las formas de trabajo, al entorno urbano y a la arquitectura.

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