Introduction: Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Eric Wilhelm

Picture of Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Eric Wilhelm

So, you got your Instructable all posted and sent it to all your friends, and somebody comes back with, "Hey, I want to print a PDF but it says I have to pay."

"Hmm," you say, "I thought I specified Non-Commercial in my Creative Commons License. Let me check on that."

And so the journey begins.

Log out of Instructables and find your own Instructable. Click on the "more info" link.

Step 1: Download That PDF

Picture of Download That PDF

Your friend must be crazy ... Instructables doesn't violate the Creative Commons licensing. There's not even mention in their Terms of Service [yet as of 2009-Aug-17] about a separate license between you and Instructables so they can charge for your work.

So while you're logged-out (as if you're an anonymous Interweb lurker), click on that PDF link.

What's this? I need to have a "Pro" membership to download PDF's? Okay ... and it's a modest (but not Non-Commercial) expense. Hmm ...

Update 2009-Aug-19: I should have read closer. In 7(d) it says, "you grant Instructables the world-wide, royalty free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable license to use, distribute, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, publicly perform and publicly display such Content solely for the purposes of providing and promoting Instructables." It's the "royalty-free" thing that implies they can collect money but they're under no obligation to pay you part of it.

Step 2: No, Really: Download the PDF

Picture of No, Really: Download the PDF

Ok, so go back and download the PDF. You'll have to sign in first.

From my limited vantage point, it appears that any user who signed up before that whole "Pro" thing gets to download PDF's. Or maybe it's just our own. Regardless, I think anybody can download the PDF.

Update 2009-Aug-19: It's both. Users with accounts before Pro appeared get 3 months of Pro services and you can always download your own PDF.

Step 3: Edit Your Instructable You Just Acquired the PDF Of

Picture of Edit Your Instructable You Just Acquired the PDF Of

Now go back and edit the Instructable for which you have the PDF. After the last step (or wherever you'd like to put it) add a step so people can download your PDF. Upload the PDF and attach it to this step.

Step 4: Save Your Instructable

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You got it: save it.

Step 5: Check to Make Sure It Worked.

Picture of Check to Make Sure It Worked.

Go back to your instructable (logged-in or not) and download the PDF.

And this time, take a closer look. Didn't my license also say, "Share Alike"? Shouldn't it include the same Creative Commons license I specified in the first place? Curious and erroneous, but I don't feel like editing a PDF right now.

Step 6: What About Eric?

Picture of What About Eric?

As best I can tell, Eric Wilhelm is still pretty much in charge. Why would he be such a jerk?

Whoa, there pardner: let's take a time-out for a minute first.

The guy's just trying to make a buck on his really clever idea. I mean, Instructables is a great tool. It's a nice sandbox for those of us rusty in the whole technical writing department. I have to say, my own ability to explain a process has expanded immensely. Plus, my photography skills have improved.

That said, this issue really needs to be addressed. Writing it as an Instructable was just an amusing way to garner attention and approach it. The best case is that I'm just bumping the fringe of the Terms of Use and not actually violating it. Whatever will be, will be, though.

Step 7: Download As PDF

Go ahead: download this one too as a PDF if you want!


DJ Radio (author)2009-09-14

Do you want a site with limited features, or no site at all? He only created pro accounts because he was losing too much money without them.

Hamb0 (author)2009-09-04

I really don't know what the flip you're all talking about... but THATS what they guy who owns this site looks like?! Jesus, if you make any money or whatever on my PDFs or any such wotzits... For the love of God use it to get yourself a decent haircut!

ewilhelm (author)2009-08-18

The creative commons license only applies to third-parties (usually other websites). To use your content, they must either ask you for permission, or do so in a way that abides by the license you have selected. By posting on Instructables, you have agreed to let us use your content in a variety of ways including advertising around your content or using it as the basis of a paid feature. Even though we have broad rights in how we use your content, we still view it as yours, and always ask permission to do things like publish it in our book.

The deeper issue here is that we provide a valuable service in our documentation engine and the community we've built and managed, and need to make money for Instructables to be a sustainable service. Advertising only does a fraction, so we've created Pro accounts as a way to charge the audience a fair price for the value they receive. PDFs are an added-value, and are a big part of why members opt to go pro. So, while it's your choice to post a PDF copy of your project within the Instructable, I hope you'll consider what it would mean if this were to happen on a large scale, and what that would mean for the future existence of Instructables.

In any case, many of these issues have been discussed at length here, here, and here.

Finally, you do make a good point that we don't specifically attach your chosen license to the PDF itself. Considering these PDFs are traded around and potentially posted elsewhere, we should make sure the license is included.

jarv34 (author)ewilhelm2009-09-01

@jolshefsky or @ewilhelm - does the license of my instructable extend to the pdf? I assume the comments are licensed separately from the instructable itself. Can I download a pdf of my instructable and redistribute it or would be upset about that?

ewilhelm (author)jarv342009-09-01

I view the PDF of your Instructable yours. You should feel free to redistribute it.

jolshefsky (author)ewilhelm2009-08-19

The executive summary of this post: I understand and mostly agree with your points, but I felt a little blindsided/neglected/deceived when I was told by others that my Instructables weren't useful to them without paying.

Ok, now to the hopefully reasonably-concise point-by-point:

Re; licensing. I guess my view of Creative Commons is a little different (perhaps from the perspective of authorship rather than licensee). As far as I know, a CC license applies to anyone who wishes to use a work unless another license is in place that supersedes it. As such, Instructables must abide by the CC license except that there is another license in the Terms of Service that I agreed to. 7(d) just notes "royalty-free use": my bad. Not being a lawyer nor an avid reader of legalese, I didn't consider that implied that Instructables may profit from my work without an expectation of payment to me.

Re: documentation engine. The documentation engine is indeed fantastic and obviously a challenge. Manually laying out good instructions is hard. Doing it automatically with good results ... dude. You blew my mind. I fully understand your desire to recoup your expenses in creating and running it. I hope, however, that you also understand us authors' desires to recoup our expenses in writing Instructables. By that, I mean that Instructables is valuable partly for its engineering and your efforts, and is valuable partly for the authored content.

So the value provided by the website, hosting, design, engineering is some percentage X of the total value, and the value of all the Instructables authoring is the remainder 1-X. Each individual Instructable contributes some fraction of that 1-X.

Now I speculate, because I agreed in Terms of Use to not expect royalty payments. What if the first Instructable whose Pro features are used after a user signs up for Pro gets a 1-cent credit towards Pro membership? In other words, if a user sees an Instructable they like, signs up, and downloads the PDF, the author of that first-used Instructable gets a penny toward Pro. This would help people understand how minor their individual contribution is toward Instructables as a whole, and acquiesce a true "profit sharing" kind of thing. Effectively, this means "X" is 2.94/2.95, "1-X" is 0.01/2.95, and the function to divine an individual Instructable's value is simply that an Instructable that inspires Pro purchases is monetarily valuable. Obviously that penny could be 1% or 0.5%, or whatever.

Re: PDF licenses. Thanks. That would be excellent and helpful. I believe it should be a copyright notice with the author's name, and the CC license per the requirements/suggestion of Creative Commons.

And finally, I tend to gravitate to bizarre methods of communication if possible. As such, the point of this Instructable isn't really to get people to short-circuit the system and get shut down, it's more to raise awareness that all is not as it appears: when you click that selection for a Creative Commons license, it does not apply to for that is already enforced in the Terms of Use.

Thanks for your reasoned response, Eric.

ewilhelm (author)jolshefsky2009-08-19

Don't apologize for misreading the TOS. It could use a rewrite, and ideally would be understandable on a single read by an average Instructable user. As you can imagine, there are lots of issues like this that are on our ever-growing to-do list. I'm hesitant to add a profit-sharing component to authorship, because the payout would be small (a website such as this only makes any money on advertising and premium services at scale), and adding a monetary component would change the feel of posting an Instructable. I hope that authors are repaid by meeting like-minded individuals, getting opportunities they otherwise wouldn't, and some little slice of fame. Essentially, we hope to pay you in vanity rather than greed (I mean that in a totally positive sense).

jolshefsky (author)ewilhelm2009-08-19

Re: profit sharing. I understand what you mean that it would be small, disenfranchising payments to only a few people, and it could really change the feel of things. I never really got the warm fuzzies about there being a community here -- at least not in the sense of some kind of critical-mass brotherhood; more like a scattering of a steadily suppressed breed. That said, the thought crosses my mind that a "camaraderie tagging" might help bridge things -- something like a note that describes one of the things that makes common ground between you and another member. Perhaps that you live within 50 miles of one another, or that your interests include "beer", or that you each made an Instructable with the same tag. Consider this sample image. But I digress ... I think adding the Pro features turned a lot of people off. While some can only appreciate a site if it is forever free, people like me at least understand it's not free to maintain, and it takes a lot of time -- especially something as polished and reliable as this. My gut reaction was the same as others: I helped make this place as good as it is, so why don't I get appreciated? However, a little thought I think revealed pretty much what you can see in the finances: each individual Instructable probably results in at most one person buying Pro to download a PDF. The best contributor probably only "caused" 5 Pro memberships, and there are probably fewer than 250 contributors that "caused" a Pro membership at all. I don't know if this kind of abstract explanation would help someone understand how the site's finances work, but I think (not unlike your reasoning) that the pittance of paybacks would be disheartening and insulting. Heck, until I get above about 50 views, I think it's barely worth my while to have created an Instructable.

ewilhelm (author)jolshefsky2009-08-24

That sounds like a fun feature!

jolshefsky (author)jolshefsky2009-08-19

Then I got Pro.

PKM (author)2009-08-18


You are free to Remix — to adapt the work
Under the following conditions:
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

From those parts of the license it certainly leaves a possible interpretation that the PDF is a remix of the Instructable (adaptation from web medium to PDF) which under the Share-alike term cannot be used for commercial purposes, and IANAL but I see where you are coming from in interpreting PDF downloads, which you must be a Pro member to use, as commercial use.

Someone with a better grasp of how these licenses work in practise probably needs to clarify this issue, I just hope that it stays in good faith and isn't used as point-scoring by any anti-pro members. Remember that you can unpublish your Instructable at any time if you feel the site is abusing it, but they don't owe you free PDF downloads any more than they owe you free ice cream.

jolshefsky (author)PKM2009-08-18

As I understand it, the Creative Commons license I designated means that the text and images I created can be licensed according to the terms I specified by another party without the need for them to get my explicit consent. As the author, I can also license the work to another party with a separate license, that may have different terms (i.e. it may be commercial in nature, or not "share-alike"). The only restriction a Creative Commons license puts on this is that the license must necessarily be non-exclusive, as the CC license already exists.

I'm no lawyer, but I checked the Terms of Service, and Instructables does not appear to claim a separate commercial license for the work, only a lightweight license to retransmit it for purposes of operating the website like most sites do. Since the PDF does not include the CC license (which in itself is a violation of the CC license I specified, should it be enforceable), or any other license for that matter, I boldly assumed the CC license I specified in the Instructable was in force for the PDF, shared it, and gave attribution (in the form of identifying my source).

I have to put a finer point on the "free PDF" angle, though. Because of the licensing I set up when I wrote this (and all my other) Instructables, that if Instructables creates a derivative work (PDF), they must either provide it for free (non-commercial) unless I agree to license my Instructable(s) to them under a separate commercial license. Likewise, they would only owe me free ice cream if they said they'd give me free ice cream.

PKM (author)jolshefsky2009-08-18

I think I'm with Kiteman on this one- as far as I can tell the PDF is not a commercial work, as it is free to redistribute (subject to license etc.). The site aren't charging for the PDF, they are charging for their server space and bandwidth- providing a hosting service which isn't free for PDFs.

I believe there are a lot of sites which do this, provide a paid-for service in which they give you access to public domain information, so presumably there is a precedent for a site like Project Gutenberg being allowed to charge for the service they provide of collecting public-domain works and making them available for download.

I guess an alternative angle is that the PDF isn't a derivative work, it is the original work (which is freely available online) delivered via a different medium. It's free to listen to music on the radio, but it's not free to have it on CD, despite it being the same work, because the method of delivery is what incurs the costs, not the content.

jolshefsky (author)PKM2009-08-18

Yeah, it's all a matter of nuance. Public domain works are different from copyrighted works licensed through Creative Commons in that with "public domain," nobody holds copyright to the work.

It took me a while to understand this, but licensing my copyrighted work through Creative Commons is not the same thing as giving it away. I had to realize that CC licenses are not exclusive: I can make a separate license for a specific party for a specific purpose. Also, the CC licensing is not "transferred" to a derivative work that is also CC licensed, it is included with the derivative work's CC license. I imagine it becomes a convoluted mess if you're 15 derivative works deep, but when it's just 1 or 2 levels, it's not so bad.

So here's what I think Instructables needs to do: they need to make a separate license with each author of an Instructable that gives Instructables the right to collect money in exchange for the delivery of the Instructable in PDF format. Ideally, they could offer an alternative where the author could decline, and the Instructable would be presented for free, just not available as PDF.

And as far as CC is concerned, "commercial" means essentially, "in exchange for money" (in non-legalese ... once again: I am not a lawyer). Consider the case where someone takes one of your Instructables, publishes it in a book, then charges only the publishing costs. This is not allowed under a Non-Commercial license. The legal way is for the potential publisher to contact the author (or, in the case of the -- I still believe -- derivative PDF, contact both Instructables and the original author) and to hash out a license. It could be as simple as, "hey, I want to publish this and only collect the publishing costs, is that okay?", although unless you are trusting or just don't care, a lawyer would be helpful.

Kiteman (author)2009-08-18

Being charged for the PDF is not the same as being charged to see the Instructable - that is free to access, read, follow and circulate even if you are not a member, and no matter what thee licence says. Your "hack" is old news, though - check out all the projects I have posted since the pro accounts started (plus I have gone back and added the PDF to a couple of my more popular past projects).

jeff-o (author)2009-08-18

You hacked Instructables! Nice work. :)

Bongmaster (author)2009-08-17

thats mental..

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