Let’s leave aside ethical and moral considerations for the moment and think about what can be gained from contributing to the public domain. At first glance, there does not seem to be much solid ROI to be gained from giving away your work product, via something like the creative commons use license. It’s non-specific, and credit, if given, is not usually highlighted or given primary focus, so many won’t even realize it’s your work on display.
Other types of work, like contributing to the digitization at Project Gutenberg, are even more thankless. Adding to the sum of archived knowledge is definitely helpful in a general, charitable sort of way, but is there a more tangible, immediate benefit to you as a web worker as well? In both examples, the answer is yes.
Honing Your Craft
Let’s take a look at the first example, contributing media to the creative commons for non-profit community use. The main advantage here? The ability to work when you’re not working. I know that sounds suspiciously like never taking a vacation, at first blush, but that’s not what I mean.
As freelancers, we all have dry spells. You know what I’m talking about, those seemingly vast expanses of time during which we’re not as busy as we generally could/should be. Contributing to creative commons helps ensure this time is not entirely lost. You can avoid atrophy by continuing to take photos, make music, write, etc., though your reward won’t be financial. Still, it’s better than sitting on your duff.
While you’re honing your craft, you’re also putting your name out there. I know I already downplayed the publicity aspect of doing creative commons work, but that doesn’t mean it’s altogether negated. Your name is still attached to the product somewhere, and, if the work is really outstanding, someone will definitely take notice, and hopefully take the time to track down the source.
Try not to think of this as the central motivator of your work, but definitely keep it in mind to help ensure your quality standards stay high.
What about the other kind of work, like helping build Project Gutenberg? Aside from the healthy glow your cheeks will acquire after you’ve done something unselfish, you’ll also gain a healthier CV. The kind of work you do in contributing to the creative commons may not necessarily reflect a skill set your employer is looking for, but if you’re searching in the tech industry, it’ll show you genuinely care about and want to help support the development of information and information tech.
There are at least three good reasons to start giving back to the wider internet community. The benefit, for web workers, is that this kind of volunteering doesn’t require you to necessarily go anywhere, receive training, or commit for a definite period of time, so you easily can do it between projects from your home office. It’s a definite win-win.