Non-Commercial, Free Distribution
Some authors are primarily interested having people read, listen to, or see their works; they are not seeking to be paid for them. For example, perhaps you are a talented amateur photographer. You don’t think there’s much chance that you’ll make a living from your photos, and you’d much rather people have the freedom to copy your photos without asking you, so long as they provide attribution and don’t alter or resell your works. Or perhaps you’ve written a political manifesto and want everyone to read it. You want it read and distributed widely, but you don’t want it modified or distorted.
If your goals are exposure, rather than payment, Creative Commons and other open access websites can be a good place to start. These sites offer a way to waive rights of economic control. They make it easier for others to use your works, without your having to give up all control—allowing you, for example, to demand attribution or to withhold permission to alter or adapt the work. If that’s you, a Creative Commons license may be the kind of thing you’re looking for.
The Creative Commons website does a good job of explaining the available options. A typical Creative Commons license lets people copy and distribute your work, so long as they give you credit. The main questions are whether you want to choose a license that will allow other people to modify your work, and/or whether you want a license that will allow others to use your work commercially.
The greatest danger for creators who seek broad distribution without payment for their work is divestiture, both inadvertent (you didn’t realize what rights you were giving up, or you didn’t understand the consequences of giving up certain rights) as well as intentionally giving up rights now that you didn’t realize you might want to control later. For example, say you are making a series of videos to post on a user-generated-content website. While you’d like to maximize exposure, you might also hope one day to commercialize the works, perhaps selling the videos as a DVD. In that case, you probably want a Creative Commons or other license that reserves commercial uses of the product to the author. You should be aware, however, that even if you reserve commercial uses, you may be compromising the later commercial prospects for your work if you make it widely available for free now.
The international authors’ rights group, Association Littéraire et Artistique International, has published a memo [PDF] [Word doc] describing some of the potential pitfalls of Creative Commons licenses for authors.