I subscribe to Seth Godin's blog, and I find his opinions very thought-provoking, I might add. I especially like his rants on usability and good versus bad experience design.
This morning, I read a post by him about one of "his" books being sold on Amazon. To explain why the "his" is in quotes, here's what happened: Seth wrote the book in 2005 and licensed it under a specific Creative Commons (CC) license1. The book was and is still available for free from Seth's website as an unlocked PDF. A book publisher, who had nothing to do with Seth directly, went ahead and printed the book which is now available for $9.99 at Amazon.com2. Seth is now pissed off at someone doing something like this, and is encouraging the readers of his blog not to buy that book.
I think that the publisher's action is not only within the letter of the law, but also within the intent of the Creative Commons license Seth used. There are more than one CC licenses, and the specific one that Seth chose allowed free copying of the book, as long as authorship was properly attributed. Although there exists a Creative Commons license that disallows commercial usage, Seth chose not to apply that clause (which, by the way, he now considers was a mistake back in 2005.) This leads me to conclude that the publisher was offered those rights by Seth himself.
I can understand Seth's getting pissed off because someone else was making money off his effort, but at $9.99, I think it nicely covers printing costs and perhaps makes a little profit for the printer3. If I already had the PDF eBook and still wanted a paper copy, I'd be super-willing to pay $9.99 for simply the printing, binding, cover, etc. I see nothing wrong with the printing of the book.
Although I admire Seth's decision to license his work under a CC license, I feel he is going against the intent of the license by exhorting his readers not to buy a work that was permitted expressly because of that license. If he really wanted to follow the spirit of the Creative Commons, he should have provided a link to the book on Amazon and encouraged his readers to buy a paper copy in addition to the free eBook they might already have downloaded. His current actions undermine the spirit of openness that the original grant of the license had fostered.
1. I also use a Creative Commons license for this website and for all my non-academic writing.
2. I do not know the publisher and I do not earn any money as commission or from Amazon referrals. Just to make it clear, you know.
3. Maybe more. I don't know much about the printing industry.