Aaron Swartz has a provocative post on creating a legacy. I think it almost impossible to leave a real (by Swartz’s test — leaving the world in a significantly different state than if you had not acted) and good legacy.
Swartz cites simultaneous discovery as evidence that Darwin did not leave an impactful legacy. I think this vastly understates the value of multiple confirmations of a discovery and of arriving at a discovery sooner rather than later. Consider discoveries made or nearly made once, but not widely known nor used for many years. If more people had been working in the relevant fields perhaps the knowledge would not have languished and the world would, right now, be a different place, even if only shifted forward in time. (So perhaps I should not continue to say it is almost imposible to leave a good legacy.)
I do not have a compelling example right now, but countering Swartz’s argument is not even why I’m making this post…
Rather, having been spurred to think about legacy, another reason to add one’s creative output to the commons (e.g., by releasing it under a Creative Commons license) occurs to me: one’s creative legacy.
If you were to die tomorrow your heirs would own exclusive rights to your creative works, possibly forever. If not immediately (likely), then sooner or later your heirs will be unreachable or disagree over the disposition of your copyrights, annihilating your creative legacy. For without permission, your works may not be legally displayed, performed, reproduced, distributed, translated, repurposed, or otherwise used (excepting narrow and increasingly constrained fair use).
Due to unknown or recalcitrant owners your work will go to the grave with you like so much rotting celluloid … unless you choose to give the public permission in advance to use your work, now.