Anita Sarkeesian on Amplifying Your Mission With Storytelling

Anita Sarkeesian, founder of Feminist Frequency, talks about how she amplified her mission through storytelling and engaging with different platforms.

At a point in your career, you’ll engage with new platforms to amplify your mission. How do you decide when to start a podcast, a blog, or a video series? How will you know it’s working?

We spoke to Anita Sarkeesian, media critic, blogger, and founder of Feminist Frequency—a not-for-profit educational organization that analyzes modern media’s relationship to societal issues such as gender, race, and sexuality.

She shares her insights and experiences on how she amplified her work to beget new opportunities to talk about her mission and create a greater impact.

You started Feminist Frequency in 2009 while you were a student at York University to create accessible media criticism from a feminist point of view. Throughout a decade, this platform has created opportunities for you to teach, speak, and broaden your mission. Was this a dream when you first started the platform or was this unfolding more serendipitous?

Anita: To be honest, back when I first started Feminist Frequency I wasn’t really thinking that far ahead. While I was in grad school I just used video blogging as a platform for activist work and my hope was to get social justice messages in front of audiences who might not be exposed to them otherwise.

At what point during FemFreq did you start feeling momentum? What did you do to keep feeding it?

Anita: My short answer is that it started when the Kickstarter for Tropes vs Women in Video Games took off and was wildly successful, but in actuality there were small waves even before then.

Particular videos of mine got some attention and notoriety, such as one I made about the Bechdel Test. But from this vantage point in the future, that early success seems quaint.

I think we just keep making media that is educational and fun, trying to keep an eye on how technology is changing and asking ourselves if we need to change with it. Some of our projects are more successful than others, but ultimately they all come from our passions as a team. I had several ideas for the new season of The FREQ Show and I presented them to the group.

When I suggested we go back to the roots and do entertaining and effective feminist explainers on fundamental concepts like privilege, intersectionality, and misogyny, their faces lit up, and I knew that with everyone excited and invested, we would be creating work that was valuable and that we believed in.

One of your biggest projects was the Kickstarter video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, inspired by a talk you gave on the female representation in games and the toxic behaviors that women faced. There was an earlier version of this focused on characters in science fiction. How do you think about your projects when you start them and how do you scale, remix, or amplify the mission?

Anita: The earlier project was just called Tropes vs Women which I produced for Bitch Media. It was focused primarily on film and television but called out some games and comics too. My processes pre- and post- Kickstarter are very different.

Before, Feminist Frequency was just a side project I did when I had time or had an idea; sometimes it would just be one-off episodes and other times I would work a series around a specific topic, but outside of “pop culture” there wasn’t any particular process other than me asking myself, “Is there a compelling story here that I can tap into to illuminate feminism in some way?”

The Kickstarter changed everything, as the scale and scope of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games expanded tremendously in response to the Kickstarter’s success. After the crowdfunding campaign, I basically spent five years just trying to produce and finish that series. Between producing episodes that were far more in-depth and far more difficult than anything I had ever done before, I was also contending with ongoing, relentless harassment and trying to become an educator around that issue as well.

Since Feminist Frequency became a non-profit and hired staff, and with the lessons I learned from the experience of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, I’ve become able to scale and scope more effectively than I would have before. We created a series called Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History which tells the stories of five brave women who time had sadly forgotten (which was turned into a book History vs. Women which will be available Oct 2nd, 2018). This was an idea I had long before Tropes and it was exciting to see it come to life. Now we’re running The FREQ Show, which is a constantly evolving work-in-progress that was originally birthed out of our frustration with the increased normalization of fascism and white supremacy in mainstream American and global politics. We wanted to create a video format where, in any given episode, we could talk about pop culture, or politics, or how these things are all interwoven together.

I think the biggest change for FemFreq, though, is that we are much more than just video projects; we have several podcasts, we livestream video games on Twitch every week, we post articles and reviews on our website among other things. The YouTube/video landscape has changed dramatically since I started FemFreq and I think it’s important that we have several avenues to help spread our mission.

Do you have a framework for how you decide on what platform to use next? How do you determine if a podcast or a livestream is the next step in amplifying your work? And ultimately, how do you know if it’s working?

Anita: Nothing is set in stone, and given the way the media landscape is evolving so rapidly these days, I think that’s key. We just look at how technology and platforms change, and try to adapt as best we can.

For example, Facebook decided it wanted to be the dominant player in the realm of online videos, and so everyone started uploading videos to both Facebook and YouTube. I used to be adamant about not splitting views across platforms, but at this point I just want to get our work out there and in front of people wherever it can make the most impact. Similarly, we initially only made scripted videos, but as the ways in which organizations engaged and interacted with their fans expanded, we expanded with them. It took me a while to feel comfortable with platforms like livestreaming and podcasting that encouraged more off-the-cuff conversations, because all the toxicity and harassment I’d experienced had taught me that every word I might say would be scrutinized, manipulated and regurgitated as part of some defaming strawman argument which, despite being transparently false and misleading, nonetheless would fan the flames and result in even more harassment.

Eventually I stopped caring, and I’m really enjoying the opportunity to be a little more human and available with our audience. It also gives us an opportunity to show people that Feminist Frequency is not just me, but a wonderful team full of smart and funny people.

Given how rapidly the online world is changing, I feel like assessing whether or not things are working is a perennial process. I’m constantly reassessing what it means to be successful or to have impact. Is it just raw numbers of views? Is it how many people reply on Twitter telling us they love what we’re doing, or write in to say that our work had a positive effect on their lives? I think it becomes a combination of all those things.

What’s your personal framework for deciding who to partner with or where to share your work? Are there any principles or criteria that you follow that helps you make smart decisions for working with the right organizations or people?

Anita: I enter into every partnership with other people and organizations on a case-by-case basis. I look at the work they’ve done and try to determine if we have similar goals, a similar mission, a shared worldview. We don’t have to agree on everything or have the exact same strategies and tactics in our activism, but we should be fighting for the same ultimate goal.

In particular, I like partnering with people and groups whose work I think is really valuable and that I want us to amplify, so that it can reach people it otherwise might not. And often this sort of thing can go both ways; those groups may have access to an audience that we don’t, and by sharing each other’s work, we can do something mutually beneficial and help make more people aware of the work that we’re all doing.

Depending on the type of relationship, it’s also important to be able to communicate well, and figuring out that dynamic early on is key. If we’re collaborating with a producer or director, or some other creative partner, being able to give and receive criticism in ways that are healthy, empowering, and ultimately good for the project and the mission is really essential.

Nothing is set in stone, and given the way the media landscape is evolving so rapidly these days, I think that’s key. We just look at how technology and platforms change, and try to adapt as best we can.

Your mission in your work is profound and clear. How do you stay focused on the change you seek to create? Have you ever felt tempted to start a whole new endeavor completely outside of what you’ve created thus far?

Anita: I always dodge the questions about what you would tell your younger self because, let’s be real, none of us would listen so what’s the point? I think we’ve all gotten plenty of advice in our lives that we wish we would have listened to but didn’t because we were stubborn, or prideful, or just didn’t have enough information to really understand the advice.

I think the piece of advice I’m still trying to learn is to trust your gut. It sounds like such hippie-dippie woo-woo nonsense but every time I have made choices when my gut told me otherwise, it’s always been the wrong choice. So I guess, learning to trust yourself, and have faith in yourself…which just feels like the kind of maturity that comes with time and experience.

When I was first politicized, in my early twenties, I decided I was going to do work that would be meaningful to the world, that would promote and fight for social justice. I didn’t know what that work would look like, I didn’t know if it would be paid or volunteer, but there was definitely a moment of clarity when I realized I wasn’t going to go down the “American Dream” path. That drive has never left me and I think that’s what keeps me focused. The means and tools can change but the goal of social justice never does.

I love Feminist Frequency and I love the team I work with but of course I’ve thought about what I would do if Feminist Frequency couldn’t sustain itself–but nothing else has seemed as captivating so I am still here. As hard as this job is, I am tremendously lucky to do this particular kind of work and get paid for it. While we are constantly working on new projects at FemFreq, I do sometimes get antsy to do different things, which is what side projects are for!

I’m working on something that I’m really excited about right now that has literally nothing to do with anything related to Feminist Frequency. It’s called Mixed Flour and we believe that emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) can be used in real life settings to build memorable, collaborative experiences. Our first project is a pop up in Copenhagen that will integrate technology, interactions & high end cuisine. I’m a bit of a foodie so it’s exciting that I can work on projects that bring together my interests in technology and food in meaningful ways.

Depending on the type of relationship, it’s also important to be able to communicate well, and figuring out that dynamic early on is key. If we’re collaborating with a producer or director, or some other creative partner, being able to give and receive criticism in ways that are healthy, empowering, and ultimately good for the project and the mission is really essential.

What’s your definition of owning your content?

Anita: Well first, I actually hate the word content. It feels like our creative, artistic, and intellectual work is just filler for ads without merit of its own.

Early on, when I first started doing online video, I was very open about my work, and used creative commons licenses. I love the idea of sharing, remixing, reusing and repurposing work. Or even just having access to creative works. All of which is discouraged with restrictive frameworks like copyright.

Unfortunately, because of all the harassment and attempts of people to co-opt, distort and erase my work, I tend to lean towards traditional models of copyright with Feminist Frequency. But I don’t make creative works so that I can own them; I make them to share with others, to hopefully change the world.

What does the future of content look like to you?

Anita: This is a really good question that I have no answer for but I have been thinking more and more about interaction and immersion. I am increasingly interested in how we bring interactive technologies such as those in video games, virtual reality, augmented reality etc. into other facets of our lives whether for pleasure or work or disseminating information or stories.

When I was first politicized, in my early twenties, I decided I was going to do work that would be meaningful to the world, that would promote and fight for social justice. I didn’t know what that work would look like, I didn’t know if it would be paid or volunteer, but there was definitely a moment of clarity when I realized I wasn’t going to go down the “American Dream” path. That drive has never left me and I think that’s what keeps me focused. The means and tools can change but the goal of social justice never does.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.comCreativeMornings.

Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg.

Recommended tools:

  • Feminist Frequency is both in person and a remote workplace so the essentials like Slack, GDrive, Google Hangouts, Asana are critical to day to day operations
  • For media production (YouTube videos and Podcasts) we have a combination of our own studio equipment as well as renting cameras when needed.

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Luvvie Ajayi on Being Generous With Your Work

Luvvie Ajayi shares her thoughts on why for many years she gave her work away for free and how that built her voice and platform.

As your expertise grows, so does your responsibility to give back. But how do you decide when to work for free or accept lower rates? What does it mean to be generous with your work? And how does any of that impact your career and your art?

We spoke to Luvvie Ajayi, an award-winning author, speaker, and digital strategist who thrives at the intersection of comedy, technology, and activism. Luvvie’s work as a culture critic and activist has brought her much acclaim. She was selected as a part of Oprah Winfrey’s inaugural Supersoul100 list in 2016, as someone who “elevates humanity.” She also started a podcast called Rants and Randomness

Luvvie shares her thoughts on why for many years she gave her work away for free, staying true to your voice, and how to decide what opportunities to take next.


Luvvie, you’ve been owning your platform and work for over 15 years, creating an expansive and generous body of work. If you could estimate, how much of your work was (and continues to be) free, i.e., blog posts, speaking, educational resources, etc.?

Luvvie: When I started blogging in 2003, it was just a hobby so it wasn’t something that I came out the gate thinking this is something that I’m gonna monetize. It was a while before I was like, “Oh, this is actually something that somebody would be willing to pay for,” or “My work is more than just a hobby. Not just this cute thing that I’m doing.”

It took me seven years to realize this wasn’t a hobby—a lot longer than it should take most people.

As a content creator, I think it’s important to not necessarily forward all my content behind the paywall. When I started blogging, I was able to create the site that I wanted to guide my expectation.

I think a lot of the work that you do for free, it’s okay for it. I’m not saying that art isn’t worth value. For me, it took time to finally charge for work because I was used to giving away so much.

I think it’s part of the nature of the beast in that as an artist, unfortunately, it’s one of those things that people want to see before they pay for it. I can’t imagine being a brand new blogger who is then all of a sudden charging people to read my blog. That wouldn’t work. People wanna feel like you’ve invested in them in some way and then they’ll in turn invest in you.

I am a fan of people monetizing their art and their work. Part of what I speak about when I talk now is how long it took me to understand the value of my art because it took me that long to actually realize this is beyond a hobby. This is a passion. This is legit and absolutely it’s worth being paid for.

People wanna feel like you’ve invested in them in some way and then they’ll in turn invest in you.

Was there a project that you did or any recognition that gave you validation and confidence take things to the next level?

Luvvie: The Gap reached out to me ’cause they were launching a new line of jeans. I think this was back in 2011. That’s the first time I ever worked with a brand, and it’s because they came to me, I was like, “Oh wow! If they were willing to do that then I guess other people would be willing to do the same thing.”

It was a more internal thing. People might be willing to actually pay for this work that I’m doing and maybe if I get in the attention of people who have money. I didn’t all of a sudden jump into starting to advertise, branding work, etc. No, I think for me it was just a moment of recognition of what could be.

You started The Red Pump Project in 2009—a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate women and girls of color about HIV. What inspired you to create this and how has it impacted your life and career?

Luvvie: I was inspired to create it after learning about HIV and AIDS in college, and realizing it was still such a huge problem. You just haven’t heard too much about it in recent memories. The problem was being masked and because a lot of people are suffering in silence it would help if we actually just create space to talk about it. Then I also found out somebody I know who had 20 cousins who were living in Malawi with her grandmother because their parents had died of AIDS-related complications.

So for me it was kind of a moment to be, “Alright, what can I do to essentially move this issue forward?” That’s how Red Pump started. I co-founded it with my friend Karyn Lee.

Looking back nine years when you first started this, what’s one thing that continuously inspires you and the work you do?

Luvvie: It’s hearing personal stories about how our work has affected them. For example, a woman who said that she went and got tested. She’d been married for 10 years. She had kids, and she went for a regular check up, and ended up finding out that she’s HIV positive, which opened up a whole lot of questions, and kind of blew her world open. She hadn’t told anybody in her family or her friends, and she messaged my team.

For me, it captured the power of this work. That we created space for her to be able to actually say, “Here’s what I’m going through.” I think moments like that really show how the things that we do can really impact people on a daily basis. On a very personal level.

I mean, honestly a lot of times you do the work in a vacuum, and you don’t know beyond comments here and there how it’s really affecting people. For me, especially when my blog wasn’t making any money, getting those kind of people kept me going.

I remember getting notes from somebody who told me that she was in the waiting room as her mother got chemotherapy. The reason why she wasn’t crying was because she was reading my blog in that moment. Things like that for me are really tangible and they really show that our art does have a lot of power attached.

What advice would you give to your younger self about committing to the long haul of your work? Not being pulled left and right for money, fame, and prestige. How do you balance that when you’re starting out?

Luvvie: I think it’s important not to focus on that first. The beauty of blogging, or starting blogging when no one was expecting much from it, is that with that lack of expectation we were able to crack our voices in the exact way we wanted to carve it, and we were able to write as if nobody was reading. We weren’t focused on strategy or my observations. We were writing purely, so I think the value in that is that it allowed us to be more honest.

Nowadays, people start podcasting, blogging, and video blogging with a strategy in mind. It’s all about what type of content is doing well online right now. “Okay, this is how I’m gonna approach it. This is the type of content that I’m gonna do. I’m not gonna stray away from it so I can get the most people.” But what happens is they’re not really starting in a way that puts the authenticity of the content first.

Starting so early, it made a lot of us very honest ’cause nobody was really reading, and we wrote like nobody was really reading. It worked out very well because we were able to hone our voices to build an audience that saw us in our most vulnerable times and without any of the polish. But they grew with us as we got the power, as we figured out what strategy was, but our voices stayed the same.

Honestly a lot of times you do the work in a vacuum, and you don’t know beyond comments here and there how it’s really affecting people. For me, especially when my blog wasn’t making any money, getting those kind of people kept me going.

You recently started a podcast—how did you approach it? Was there any tension in wanting to start with strategy first?

Luvvie: I didn’t spend too much time on strategy. I was just like, “I’m gonna come up with the type of content my podcast would have, and then I’ll drop it.” I try to make sure even though I have a massive audience now that I’m still not changing my voice in any other way. I mean, there’s different versions of me in terms of what my podcast is not.

I wanted my podcast to be a super companion when you’re driving; especially me, talking about the things I wanna talk about, and then interviewing really interesting people.

I was like, “Alright, so the main thing I should spend time on was to be, ‘What is the outline for my podcast? What content am I putting there that doesn’t necessarily feel like I’m letting go of my blog but it’s still, at the core of it all, me. I’m the central voice in it.'”

That is always going to be present, and clear, and that’s important to me. I want my readers to say, “Okay, this is another version of her,” or “This is her voice in a different format.”

Everything that I do is basically me in different forms.

Starting so early, it made a lot of us very honest ’cause nobody was really reading, and we wrote like nobody was really reading. It worked out very well because we were able to hone our voices to build an audience that saw us in our most vulnerable times and without any of the polish. But they grew with us as we got the power, as we figured out what strategy was, but our voices stayed the same.

Another generous project that you shipped, Awesomely Techie, is an online publication that shares insights on business, social media, gadgets and more. It seems like this was born after your initial blog, Awesomely Luvvie, because of what you learned from growing your own business and brand. Can you talk about the intentions that spark your motivation for creating free resources like this and committing to them? What keeps you going?

Luvvie: My professional background is in marketing and visual communications so that’s what I was doing when I graduated from college. I love teaching people.

I’m a fan of being like, “Okay, I found out this information. I wanna tell you about it so you know about it too,” which is why I created Awesomely Techie because I actually familiar writing those type of pieces on AwesomelyLuvvie.com.

I feel like the essays needed their own home. Whereas if somebody’s trying to start a blog or start something in business, they could use this place as a resource, and that’s how I started Awesomely Techie. There’s so much information out there that we’re all for ourselves that it would be better if we let people know about it.

Everything that I do I consider myself my audience. If I don’t find whatever it is I’m doing interesting, or helpful, or useful, then why am I doing it? For me, Awesomely Techie is something that I would find useful if I was a blogger, or if I was an entrepreneur, if I was a small business owner. It’s info that I would want to access so I wanna make sure people have access to it.

Everything that I do is basically me in different forms.

What’s a personal framework that has helped you decide whether to do something for free or charge for it?

Luvvie: I have a series of questions that allows me to say yes or no to stuff that I started using back in December 2017.

I realized that I needed to kind of democratize my decision-making to make it easier on me. What I mean is, I’ll get emails about different activities, and then I have to figure, and be like, “Ahh, is this worth my time? Should I do it? What is the point?” I realized if I could quantify my decision-making it just makes it that much easier.

So the questions are:

  • Will I enjoy it?
  • Does this pay my fee?
  • Is it something new, different, or challenges me in some way, allows me to grow?
  • Will this put me in front of a larger audience?
  • Will this elevate my profile?

Those two questions—being in front of a larger audience and elevating my profile—sounds like the same questions but they’re not. Let’s say they want me to speak in front of 5,000 people, right? Or something could elevate my profile when there’s only 10 people in that room. Those 10 people could be Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, and Ava DuVernay, right?

The answer has to be three yeses out of those five questions.

You’ll get to a certain point where your opportunities are coming, and now your challenge is less, “Oh my God, I need to get opportunities,” and your challenge is more, “How do I get through them to figure out which one is best for me?”

Everybody is gonna end up in a yes loop which is when you are getting all these things in your inbox ’cause they all sound cool. Next thing you realize, you said more yeses than you can handle.

You cannot say yes to all of it. You have to start being more selective and create more filters to figure out ’cause you can’t … Our time is finite, right? So there are many things that we can outsource, but there are many things we can’t. When we realize our time is finite and you can only do so many things, then you really have to be like, “Alright, I got to be a little more picky about where I’m spending my time and how I’m exerting my energy.”

Everything that I do I consider myself my audience. If I don’t find whatever it is I’m doing interesting, or helpful, or useful, then why am I doing it?

What does the future of content look like to you?

Luvvie: I think that the future of content really looks like ownership. I always preached against building your entire business in a walled garden and walled gardens are platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Google and Instagram. If they decided today to somehow snatch a platform, you’d be with that one. You can of course use them, I use them, I place value on them of course, ’cause you have to do social media if you’re gonna be an entrepreneur in 2018.

However, let’s say your entire business is based on Facebook and there’s no other way to contact your clients or consumers or audience. That’s a broken model. Imagine one day randomly Facebook decided to take out pages, for whatever reason.

I think it’s up to us to make sure we always have our own newsletter, our own website, something that is not controlled by somebody else. So I think the future of content creating is marketization of content. You don’t need to work for a newspaper to have an opinion blog, a column. You don’t need to work for a radio station to have a show ’cause you got your own podcast. You don’t need to have a major network producer show because you can create it on YouTube.

What is your definition of owning your content?

Luvvie: Creating content that is on your own terms. So you know how they’re saying, “Created for other people?” You’re creating what you want to create, you’re putting out the art that you want to see in the world. Of course, it’s controlling the platform, whatever that platform may be, some way. That’s huge.

Any final thoughts on this subject that you want to express that I haven’t asked as a question?

Luvvie: I think people should trademark their work. That’s a big piece of it. Art is trademark-able, which basically puts the extra stamp on it that, “This is mine, my intellectual property, this is something that I control.” That’s big for me, and I know that a lot of people are like, “I’m just doin’ the work.” But you also have to protect our work. Even as you give it away, it’s still needs to be protected.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.comCreativeMornings.

Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg.

 

Heather Meeker on The Basics of Intellectual Property Law

Heather Meeker, a specialist in intellectual property licensing, provides a crash course that many creatives never received on licensing and protecting your work.

Intellectual property law is a topic that is easy to ignore, yet it’s paramount to have a foundation of understanding so you can protect yourself and your work. It’s a topic that lacks urgency until someone steals your work and makes a profit or a cease and desist arrives in your mailbox. The Internet has loose boundaries and infinite possibilities, and it behooves us to know some of the basics so your work doesn’t suffer the iron grip of the terms and conditions.

We spoke to Heather Meeker, a specialist in intellectual property licensing. Heather’s clients cover a range of industries including software, communications, educational testing, computer equipment and medical devices. She has wide-ranging experience in open source licensing strategies, and in intellectual property matters related to mergers and acquisitions.

She provides a general understanding of the basics of intellectual property law—a crash course that many of us creatives never received, or even thought about.

What’s a general rule of thumb for understanding intellectual property law and protecting your work?

Heather: Intellectual property law can be confusing, but it is worth investing the time and mental energy to understand the basics.

If you understand the four types of IP and what each one does, you will be much better equipped to protect your work — not to mention understanding the legal environment for creative work.

Copyright covers “works of authorship,” which include traditional works such as books, drawings, movies, plays and sound recordings, but also computer software and semiconductor layouts. An author owns a copyright as soon as the work is “fixed in a tangible medium,” or written down in any form. It’s not necessary to register a copyright to own it, but doing so is a good idea, if you think you will ever want to enforce your rights. Registration is inexpensive and not difficult.

Patents are much harder for most people to understand. A patent is a pure “negative right”  — meaning the ability to prevent others from making, using, selling or importing a product. It does not give the owner the right to do anything. Patents are expensive and time consuming to get — the inventor must submit a patent application and convince the patent office to issue the patent.  You have to prove your invention is new (in patent parlance “non-obvious” in light of prior inventions) and that you are the first inventor of it.

Trademarks are much more understandable. A trademark is a brand name or logo. They can usually be registered for a modest investment. Every business and artist has a trademark, whether they know it or not.

Trade secrets are also a common-sense IP regime. This area of law covers information that is confidential and has business value.

There are also some other kinds of IP that apply to artists, like “moral rights”.  In the US, these are less important than in some other countries. I know that’s a lot to read and understand, but if you understand it, you know more than most people already.  

People often confuse copyright and trademark, for example. So, next time you read something in the news saying that a business has has “copyrighted” its name, you will realize how much you know.

If you understand the four types of IP and what each one does, you will be much better equipped to protect your work — not to mention understanding the legal environment for creative work.

What’s the current landscape of intellectual property law? What’s falling behind and what’s setting up the creative culture for success?

Heather: IP law — like many of the technologies it protects — is in a constant state of adjustment and improvement. Each area has its own contours, but they are all intended to promote innovation and business activity. Some of the biggest issues in IP law today center on how much protection is necessary to promote the general good, and what exceptions are necessary to balance them.

For example, should patents protect software?  (And does the inclusion of software as patentable subject matter increase or decrease innovation?). How should people be able to use trademarks or media content to comment on, spoof or criticize the business activities of companies, particularly when those companies have a significant impact on the lives of the public? Should companies that do not make products (“non-practicing entities” or “patent trolls”) be able to sue for patent infringement, and if so, should courts grant injunctions — to command defendants to stop making their own products? Also, there is ongoing controversy about the length of the term of copyright, which has been extended several times with legislative change.

Let’s say a company is using your work without permission. What’s the professional process for reaching out and ensuring that the work is either compensated or taken off the site?

Heather: The strategies range from friendly reminders to extreme prejudice, depending on the relationship of the infringer to the IP owner. The owner would react differently depending on whether the infringer is a customer, competitor, or simply a bad actor. Many companies will not sue their customers at all, will sue their competitors only after a serious examination of the economics of suit, and sue bad actors almost as a public service.

What’s your definition of owning your content?

Heather: This is one area where lawyers and clients tend to talk at cross-purposes, because ownership of intellectual property is different from everyday concepts of ownership.

Intellectual property rights, are by definition, intangible things. That means that if one person uses them, it doesn’t prevent others from using them. They can be shared infinitely without loss, in a sense. Owning intellectual property only means that the owner can exclude others from using it. Without a legal system to support that, it would not work.  Intellectual property is a recent idea, in historical terms. The notion that you can prevent others from using your ideas, or expression, would have been bizarre to most people in history.

Everyday notions of ownership are much older and more accessible, and include the idea of being able to use a thing without interference from others. Of course, that implies the ability to exclude as well, but it centers on an idea called “quiet enjoyment” — a concept from the law of land ownership. For example, if you own land, you can defend it from trespassers — that’s exclusion. But it also means you can live there, build a house there, and so forth, and no one can kick you out.

Owning content, oddly, doesn’t exactly give you the right to use it.  For example, you could create a post-modern masterpiece like LHOOQ, you would own the copyright in that work.  But that only means other people could not copy your work.  Unfortunately, you copied from something else to create it.  Marcel Duchamp was able to make his version because the Mona Lisa is no longer protected by copyright, but if he had done it with painting made 20 years ago, it would have been a different story.  He might have been in the odd position of owning content he could not use.

In some countries — but not so much in the U.S. — there are also “moral rights” associated with art. These might include, for example, the right to be attributed, the right to prevent destruction of physical artworks, or the right to “disown” a work. These might also be considered ownership of content.

When artists say they own their content, they usually mean some mix of the everyday notion and the legal notions. Of course, artists shouldn’t stifle their own notions of ownership because of what lawyers think.  But artists who are trying to make a living at their art should understand that ownership of intellectual property will only allow them to control certain aspects of their content, and those aspects may be a subset of the rights that might be their due, as artists.  

Intellectual property is a recent idea, in historical terms. The notion that you can prevent others from using your ideas, or expression, would have been bizarre to most people in history.

What does the future of content look like to you?

Heather: As content becomes increasingly digitized, it is easier to copy.  Today, a certain level of infringement is inevitable, because digital content can be copied with little or no cost.  The content industry has been confronting this trend for decades. I think efforts to completely prevent reuse of digital content are probably ultimately futile, and those in the content generation business are best served to adapt their business to win in the marketplace. Some content companies are doing this, for example, by moving to VR or AR experiences that add a service or hardware component to content sales. Others take the approach of allowing fan content even if it might infringe, foregoing some enforcement of their IP rights in order to create an inclusive community around their content.

If you are a content creator, you should take a practical approach, understanding that having rights and enforcing them are different.  You should make sure you take the minimum steps to provide the most “bang for your buck” in protection. For example, watermarking of photos or videos, passwording files, or using formal DRM technology are all helpful. But of course, they are all technical rather than legal measures. Enforcing your legal rights will always be expensive, and you will probably only do that in extreme cases.  

Also, be sure to register your copyrights and trademarks. These are inexpensive measures that will help preserve your rights and give you an advantage if you ever need to enforce your rights.  Trademark registrations are usually done by lawyers, but they are not expensive.  Copyright registrations can be done on your own, if you put a bit of effort into learning how to fill out and file the forms.  There are instructions, and lots of other helpful information, at https://www.copyright.gov/registration/.

You can also hire a lawyer to help you with copyright registrations, but going through the process of filling out a draft form before talking to a lawyer will save legal fees and help you learn to file registrations on your own.

I think efforts to completely prevent reuse of digital content are probably ultimately futile, and those in the content generation business are best served to adapt their business to win in the marketplace.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.comCreativeMornings.

Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview and photo by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg. Photo by Andrew Zinn.

Recommended tools by Heather:

Good reads:

  • The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

 

 

Kathryn Finney on the Connection Between Personal Growth and Your Work

Kathryn Finney talks about why personal growth is a catalyst for the work you produce, and how to turn it into a habit.

Growing your craft and gaining new knowledge is a habit that enriches your work and life. Developing yourself is a consistent practice, an active posture of being self-aware of your bad habits and consciously working towards replacing them with better ones. In fact, being a great leader or founder isn’t so much the title but rather who we are as people, and that takes a lot of work.

We spoke to Kathryn Finney, writer, author, keynote speaker, and founder of digitalundivideda social enterprise that takes an innovative approach to economic empowerment by encouraging women of color (WOC) to own their economic security through entrepreneurship.

She shares the importance of making personal growth a habit and how it feeds into your life’s work.

You give on average 50 keynotes a year, run a business, and manage other side projects—oh, and you have a family. At the height of your career, how do you create time to learn? Or is your work a source of developing new ideas, skills, and knowledge?

Kathryn: I do a lot of learning through reading. My schedule can get pretty crazy, but I do make it a point to read a book a week. I’m also a big fan of apps like Pocket. My husband and I email each other links for our respective reading lists from time to time and I save them in the Pocket app to read later. That’s peak #RelationshipGoals right there!

At the same time, I also learn a lot from my work—from being with my team, with my peers in the industry, and from being with the founders in our BIG Incubator program. Learning never stops for me.

You started one of the first fashion blogs on the net in 2003 and this successful platform created many new opportunities to expand your work. How has writing or managing your own platform helped you develop yourself?

Kathryn: It made me embrace even more who I am. My writing gained a following for representing real women with real budgets, a trend that reflected the exact opposite of what was in vogue at that time, which was more aspirational. In a world where conformity is always the safe choice, my blog had become a destination that celebrates what makes us, us, and I’m really happy that this resonated with my readers so much that it inspired them even in real life.

Your work with digitalundivided enables female entrepreneurs of color for success and you support them with mentorship and community. What are some things that you teach as a foundation for becoming an entrepreneur? Is it a personal framework that you operate on?

Kathryn: digitalundivided’s BIG Incubator is a 30-week incubator program for high potential Black and Latina women founders. BIG’s curriculum is actually based on the Lean Startup Methodology model, which is the same model used by top accelerator programs like Y Combinator and TechStars. We modified this model for Black and Latina women entrepreneurs and the specific challenges they face (for instance, Black women receive less than .2% of  venture funding).

Founders in the incubator learn how to build a minimally viable product, how to test their ideas in a real marketplace before committing money or time, how to develop a pitch deck,  how to scale their products rapidly, and how to gain access to angel and venture funding. Upon completion of the incubator, BIG founders become Confident Founders who can own any room they walk into with their knowledge, self-assurance, and passion for their company and product.

Learning never stops for me.

Do you think there’s a correlation between the content we produce and how we grow into ourselves? Is there an example that you can think of where leveling up your mindset helped you produce work that made a greater impact?

Kathryn: I definitely agree that there’s a connection. After all, writing is the physical manifestation of our own perception of the world. Writing things down makes sense of the chaos of ideas in our heads, clearing up things and compelling us to reflect on things we may have overlooked.

While writing the Project Diane report in 2016, I had come face-to-face with dismal numbers describing the state of Black women in the tech entrepreneurship space. It’s easy to make emotional assumptions, being a Black woman in tech myself, but I kept drilling into these figures to try and find out why such disparity exists in the industry. In the process, I found crucial insights and viable solutions for people and organizations who want to solve this problem, too.

Project Diane went on to amass 1,000+ downloads and 430+ academic and mass media citations, including the New York Times, Forbes, and CNN.

What are some lessons you learned early in your career that are still relevant for you today?

Kathryn: The importance of staying true to oneself. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. And the only way you can sustain yourself is by always being you.

What does the future of content look like to you?

Kathryn: I see content becoming more personalized and predictive for the audience through AI. I’m just blown away by how much we can potentially do with this technology in engaging its targeted audience.

In addition, people have grown savvy when it comes to seeing through fluffy advertorials and search-optimized pieces. I see bigger demand for more authentic, well-researched, and high quality content that can build the readers’ recognition and trust in your publication (super important for this “fake news” era).

After all, writing is the physical manifestation of our own perception of the world. Writing things down makes sense of the chaos of ideas in our heads, clearing up things and compelling us to reflect on things we may have overlooked.

What is your definition of owning your content?

Kathryn: It’s creating content that carries your brand and your “voice” which are recognizable to your audience even when syndicated outside your own blog domain. Think xkcd. It uses generic stick figures that even three-year-olds can make, but combined with its quirky humor and geeky jokes, are pretty unmistakable even when spotted randomly on Facebook or Reddit.

Any final thoughts on this subject that you want to express that I haven’t asked as a question?

Kathryn: I used to get asked how I earned my stripes as a professional blogger/content creator. There’s no magic, instant way to do that. It’s really about putting in the work. I blogged twice a day every day for 2 years before my site started to really take off. So don’t focus on writing that one masterpiece post—write frequently instead and keep at it.

…People have grown savvy when it comes to seeing through fluffy advertorials and search-optimized pieces. I see bigger demand for more authentic, well-researched, and high quality content that can build the readers’ recognition and trust in your publication.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.comCreativeMornings.

Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview and photo by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg. Photo by Freddy Castro.

Recommended tools by Kathryn:

  • Google Apps –  It’s the closest thing to a complete productivity + collaboration solution we can get. What more can I say?
  • Pocket – Helps me organize articles to read while traveling
  • Basecamp – With so many projects and events we do at DID, Basecamp has kept us organized and on track for years.
  • Slack – Our team is scattered across at least four different time zones, so effective communication tools like Slack is crucial for us.
  • Automation tools like IFTTT and Zapier – They take care of the little tedious things like tracking and syncing our records so our team can focus on bigger tasks.

Good reads by Kathryn:

  • Humans of New York. I operate in a space that is often dehumanizing, so this feed- one of the ONLY ones I follow on social media, is a tool a use to help keep me in touch with my own humanity as well as others.

 

 

Maria Popova on Evergreen Ideas and Rethinking the Meaning of Content

Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings, shares what she learned studying evergreen ideas and why we need to rethink the usage of the word content.

To create work that touches people’s lives in ten, a hundred, or a thousand years from now is both a humbling and unexpected reward of one’s effort. But we do not determine whether something is timeless or not; we simply create from the heart, telling the truth about what we see and why it matters, and we ship. You might not be around for the praise, but the choice to be present while enjoying the process is available daily.

We spoke to Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings—a cross-pollination of ideas from a diversity of domains in the pursuit of understanding why we’re here and how we can live well.

She shares her insights on what she has learned studying timeless ideas, producing an evergreen body of work, the origin of ‘content’ and why we need to reframe how we think about it.


Your insatiable curiosity and love for learning has encouraged you to explore history and its ideas through books. What patterns or elements have you noticed in ideas that stand the test of time?

Maria: I am drawn to ideas that remain resonant across time and space, across cultures and civilizations. But I find that a writer can aim for this directly; I find that, paradoxically, the most abiding wisdom originates from a particular person’s lived experience at a particular point in time, coming from a deeply personal place yet speaking — by consequence, not by intention — to the universal.

Anaïs Nin articulated this in a lovely way: “Any experience carried out deeply to its ultimate leads you beyond yourself into a larger relation to the experience of others.”

Your ability to dance with old and new ideas allows readers to navigate the thinking of the past and how it relates to the present and future. Do you think adding layers of history into one’s work helps with creating evergreen content?

Maria: I loathe the term “content” as applied to cultural material — it was foisted upon us by a commercially driven media industry that treats human beings as mindless eyeballs counted in statistics like views and likes, as currency to be traded against advertising revenue. Somehow people have been sold on the idea that the relationship between ads and “content” is a symbiotic one, but it is a parasitic one.

We are flooded with mediocre “content” produced for the sole purpose of transmits the ads — this type of “content,” which is now predominant online, is the reason for the epidemic of clickbait, the carrier for the highly contagious impoverishment of thought and feeling we are undergoing as a civilization. More than half a century ago, long before the web, Susan Sontag wrote beautifully about the trouble with treating art and cultural material as content: “Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art… Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.”

Brain Pickings is the record of my looking, my trying to see. What I write about is simply what I think about as I read what I read, what I feel as one human being moving through this world — a kind of elaborate marginalia, my private discourse with the literature and art and ideas with which I engage. It may be the contents of my heart and mind, but it is not “content” in the sense this term has come to take on.

…The most abiding wisdom originates from a particular person’s lived experience at a particular point in time, coming from a deeply personal place yet speaking — by consequence, not by intention — to the universal.

In this sense, then, it naturally inclines toward what you call “evergreen” — which I take to mean enduring ideas that hold up across the years, decades, and centuries, and continue to solace and give meaning undiminished by time. It can only be this way, because as we move through life, we all invariably brush up against the same handful of elemental experiences — experiences like love, loss, the hunger for purpose, the pursuit of happiness, the struggle to reconcile the contradictory factions of our own being.

Reading about someone — a great writer, artist, or scientist — who was tussling with the selfsame things a generation ago, a century ago, a civilizational epoch ago, is a tremendous clarifying force for one’s own struggles, a kind of assurance that they are survivable and transcendable, assurance only the lived record of time can give.

What is your definition of owning your content?

Maria: In the context of my aversion to how the term “content” is used, the question of ownership becomes completely moot. One can’t “own” any fragment of this complex interlacing of ideas and influences we call culture. The only kind of “ownership” I am interested in is owning one’s experience, in the sense of inhabiting it with integrity and dignity, while making space for the owned experiences of others.


This interview was produced in partnership with WordPress.com & CreativeMornings.

Morning people get 15% off their WordPress.com site at wordpress.com/creativemornings.

Interview by Paul Jun. Illustrations by Jeffrey Phillips. ‘Own Your Content’ illustration by Annica Lydenberg. Photograph by Elizabeth Lippman.