Who Owns Your Creativity?

I’ve had the chance to speak with various folks over the past few weeks about their creativity. Some of them are developers or testers, worried about the IP agreements their companies want them to sign. Others are writers, worried about book contracts.

In each case, the company or publisher wanted to “own” all the creative work the employee or writer created. Not just the work for the company’s products, but anything “after hours,” too. For writers, this expresses as the publisher wanting your copyright. In addition, the publisher wants the writer to create a few videos that explain the book. The writer is prohibited from using any of the content in those videos for further work, especially in video.

The company or publisher wants total control over a person’s creativity.

This seems unwise (at best) to me.

I’m not discussing a structure that might help you express your creativity. Each of us uses structure differently. I’m talking about owning your expression of your thoughts.

Let me clarify: If I’m an employee, all of my work on behalf of my employer is work for hire. They pay me to do a job. I do that job. I get paid to do that job to the best of my ability. I don’t make money directly from sales. I make money as an employee.

Writers might use work for hire contracts, especially for articles. If you get paid to ghost-write a book, that’s also a case of work for hire.  When I sign work for hire contracts, I don’t make future royalties. I can’t use the material in its current expression in a later book. I have signed work-for-hire contracts. Writers sign a variety of contracts for marketing and publishing.

However, there’s no limit to our creativity. In fact, I find that my various writing and speaking feeds more writing and speaking. When I write about product development issues on my blog or in articles, I often discover I have new ideas for this blog (the personal essay), or for my fiction.

The more I think about how to frame a talk or a workshop, the more ideas I have for writing. The more I speak, the more ideas for workshops I have.

Creativity is not a zero-sum game. I worry about organizations that want to “own” all of a person’s thoughts or intellectual property.

Now, that’s not because we run out of ideas. I have a gazillion ideas except in two conditions: when I’m tired, or when I don’t refill my creative well.

Being tired makes sense, right? What about the creative well?

I read, watch, discuss ideas with others to refill my creative well. I read books, watch talks/videos, listen to podcasts, and yes, talk. (I mostly talk with other people, but I’m an extrovert. I might just ask Mark to listen. Knowing a person is listening might be enough for me.

If the person buying your time is willing to invest in you refilling your creative well, it might be okay if they own your creativity. My experience is that they don’t want to pay you for the work you invest in yourself. They only want the expression of all the work you do.

That doesn’t fit for me.

You will make your own choices, as I do. I encourage you to consider the effect of your choices, as you create.

That is the question this week: Who owns your creativity?

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