Open Content Licensing Mess

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If all authors on a topic want their work to be freely reused and don't care about the details too much you'd think it would be simple. But no. If all authors on a topic want their work to be freely reused and don't care about the details too much you'd think it would be simple. But no.
-For the article [[Linux Server Partitioning]] I thought I would copy a few sentences from [http://twiki.iwethey.org/Main/NixPartitioning the Nix Partitioning Guide]. That would be fair use, but I could easily have wanted to take more. The license says:+For the article [[Linux Server Partitioning]] I thought I would copy a few sentences from [http://twiki.iwethey.org/Main/NixPartitioning the Nix Partitioning Guide]. That would be [[:en:fair dealing]], but I could easily have wanted to take more. The license says:
This content may be freely distributed, copied, or This content may be freely distributed, copied, or

Revision as of 23:46, 22 September 2006

Imagine you want to write documents and make them reusable by others. I certainly want to! So, learning from the Free Software and Open Source Software licenses for copyright-protected software, surely something similar can't be too hard? Unfortunately that's what lots of people thought when they went and created Open Content licenses with enthusiasm. It is a young area, solutions are coming but right now there are some issues to work through.

We have a situation where millions of pages of Open Content Licensing are available for free re-use and mixing, so long as they aren't mixed with each other. Which was mostly not the intention when the licenses were written :-(

Open Content Licensing is confusing and there are no completely satisfactory outcomes. This article discusses the options and finds a solution for shearer.org.

Dan 17:41, 7 August 2006 (CST)

Contents

Open Content Licensing

Image:Opencontent.png

Why It is a Mess

Open Content is a mess principally because it is a young field. In their attempts to emulate the success of Open Source and Free software, early Open Content licenses were mutually incompatible and some of them have unwieldy terms and conditions. Some of this was unintended. Even software authors who strongly believe in incompatible licensing regimes do not seem to feel that way about documentation, and many non-technical authors explicitly do want compatibility.

A lot of people are now working to harmonise licenses, with pressure from content owners who want their content to be more generally useful and who do not want to do complicated things to accommodate the mess.

Background About Copyright

Today's copyright situation is quite recent, see Wikipedia on Copyright for lots of detail.

Copyright is a legal guarantee of a monopoly of the right to copy a particular work, originally intended for the benefit of the author of the work. Copyright is a Western European idea widely codified towards the end of the 1700s, and until the 1900s only applied to written literary works. From the 1960s on this monopoly right was reinforced greatly and turned into a weapon for very large companies to use against individuals. Since the 1970s legal and technical means have been invented to turn copyright into a business weapon of large companies against individual consumers. Copyright laws still also benefit individual creators, but the armoury of enforcement tools is only practically available to large companies. This armoury includes tools that can affect everything a consumer does with their computer, regardless of whether they use any material copyright or administrered by a large company.

Some Western countries such as Spain provide relief to ordinary consumers from the worst aspects of copyright law. In contrast the United States grants full monopoly rights together with enforcement against consumers to corporations. Other Western countries fall between these two extremes.

Copyleft is an even more recent (1980s) term referring to an inverted approach, using the strong protections of Copyright law to let an author insist that a work always remains available for copy and modification. Copyleft ideas has been tested in some Western courts of law and is regarded as valid.

Background About Open Content

The idea of creative output of all kinds being freely available for copying, sharing and modifying has been the default for all recorded history, with the recent exception of Copyright as applying to literature. Even more recently Copyright was applied to most kinds of artistic and creative endeavour.

By the end of the 1990s the Free Software and Open Source movements had demonstrated conclusively that applying Copyright law to the revese of its intent is a good solution. People started thinking about applying the principle to other kinds of works as a way of imperfectly re-creating the kind of environment in which all creative talent flourished down the millenia. In 1998 the term Open Content was coined and a lot of activity started to define legal terms required.

The challenge of Open Content is that authors of computer software requires a much less sophisticated range of protections than authors of, well, anything creative, encompassing every imaginable tangible and intangible medium.

The Problem

I want to choose a licensing model that will allow:

  • me to remain assosciated with my original work, even though other people are copying and modifying it. All open content licenses allow this by means of an attribution clause. If you chisel my name off you are breaching the agreement and so have no rights to use my content at all on pain of being strangled by your own tapeworm etc etc.
  • users of my work not to be restricted in what media or language they use. That's a problem with the GFDL, which mandates that the license in its entirety be appended to all copies.
  • my work to be incorporated into common online media projects, especially Wikipedia. Wikipedia mandates the GFDL, which was chosen when Open Content was in its infancy and the GFDL was considered a good alternative at the time. The FSF is working to fix the problems but FSF license changes always take a long time to happen and have no deadline.
  • users not to be intimidated by the license in any way, for real or imagined reasons. That can be problem with the GFDL.
  • users to be free to use my work under a variety of different licenses, recognising that often people are constrained by whoever started a document, or by institutional policies etc. This is a problem with the GFDL because it cannot be combined with several of the very popular licenses.
  • users comforted by seeing a familiar license that they can rely on. This isn't a comment on the quality of the license but on how well it is accepted (I do want a reasonable quality license too!)

The Open Content License and the Open Publication License are not suitable. They were among the very earliest attempts at Open Content and are rarely used these days.

Policy at shearer.org

All shearer.org content will have clearly marked license at the footer.

Most shearer.org content will be dual licensed with:

  • the GFDL, so content can move to Wikipiedia and similar projects, and
  • the Creative Commons Cc-by-sa which is a well-known copyleft and compatible with many other things.

I may be persuaded to use Cc-by, I'm not too bothered. I can easily re-license material if I do change my mind :-)

This means that material leaving shearer.org can be covered by two licenses or either of the above. So, for example, someone cuts and pastes into Wikipedia, that's under the GFDL. If it is then modified and I cut and paste back, that can only be under the GFDL so I will then need to make that clear. Annoying, but managable given that I don't expect too many authors.

If someone wants to reuse a large chunk of my material in the Far Eastern Economic Review for example, then they need to choose one of these licenses, or both. Or perhaps more likely, they come to an agreement where I give them publishing rights quite separately to the rights granted to everyone reading shearer.org.

None of this impacts en:fair dealing (or, in the US, fair use) provisions of Copyright law.

Example of How This Works

If all authors on a topic want their work to be freely reused and don't care about the details too much you'd think it would be simple. But no.

For the article Linux Server Partitioning I thought I would copy a few sentences from the Nix Partitioning Guide. That would be en:fair dealing, but I could easily have wanted to take more. The license says:

 This content may be freely distributed, copied, or 
 modified, with attribution, and this notice.

Which is a BSD-style license, compatible with both the Cc-by-sa and the GFDL because it does not have any clauses that say "you must not add other conditions". So I can pull as much of that as I want (almost nothing, as it happens.)

If someone at ix wants to reuse my content then they can take it under the terms of the Cc-by-sa, but not the GFDL.

My content can find its way to Wikipedia and back again to shearer.org, but not back again from Wikipedia via ix.

No wonder the Debian project passed a General Resolution Vote that says Why the GNU Free Documentation License is not suitable for Debian main

References

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution iconCreative Commons Share Alike icon
This content is licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike License v. 2.5:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/


GNU head GFDL: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License". (shearer.org uses but does not currently recommend the GDFL and here's the explanation why. )
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