Post Intellectual Protectionism

Sleepwalking past Freedom’s Commons, or how peer production could increase democracy, equality, freedom, and innovation, all of them!

Sunday, February 9th, 2014


The most interesting parts of ‘s The Wealth of Networks concern how peer production facilitates liberal values. I’ll blog a review in the fullness of time.

In lieu of that which may never come, some motivated notes on Coase’s Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm (2002, 78 pages) and Freedom in the Commons: Towards a Political Economy of Information (2003, 32 pages; based on a 2002 lecture). A friend wanted to trial a book group with the former. Re-reading that led me to the latter, which I hadn’t read before. Reading them together, or even just the latter, might be a good alternative to reading The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006, 473 pages).

As might be expected from decade plus old internet research, some of the examples in the papers and book are a bit stale, but sadly their fundamental challenge remains largely unacknowledged, and only taken as a byproduct. I would love to be convinced otherwise. Is the challenge (or my extrapolation) wrong, unimportant, or being met satisfactorily?

Excerpts from Freedom in the Commons (emphasis added by me in all quotes that follow):

[Commons-based peer production] opens a range of new opportunities for pursuing core political values of liberal societies—democracy, individual freedom, and social justice. These values provide three vectors of political morality along which the shape and dimensions of any liberal society can be plotted. Because, however, they are often contradictory rather than complementary, the pursuit of each of these values places certain limits on how we conceive of and pursue the others, leading different liberal societies to respect them in different patterns.

An underlying efficient limit on how we can pursue any mix of arrangements to implement our commitments to democracy, autonomy, and equality, however, has been the pursuit of productivity and growth.

[Commons-based peer production] can move the boundaries of liberty along all three vectors of liberal political morality.

There is no benevolent historical force, however, that will inexorably lead the technological-economic moment to develop towards an open, diverse, liberal equilibrium. If the transformation occurs, it will lead to substantial redistribution of power and money from the twentieth-century, industrial producers of information, culture, and communications—like Hollywood, the recording industry, and the telecommunications giants—to a widely diffuse population around the globe. None of the industrial giants of yore are going to take this redistribution lying down. Technology will not overcome their resistance through some insurmountable progressive impulse. The reorganization of production, and the advances it can bring in democracy, autonomy, and social justice will emerge, if it emerges, only as a result of social and political action. To make it possible, it is crucial that we develop an understanding of what is at stake and what are the possible avenues for social and political action. But I have no illusions, and offer no reassurances, that any of this will in fact come to pass. I can only say that without an effort to focus our attention on what matters, the smoke and mirrors of flashy toys and more convenient shopping will be as enlightening as Aldous Huxley’s soma and feelies, and as socially constructive as his orgy porgy.

Let us think, then, of our being thrust into this moment as a challenge. We are in the midst of a technological, economic, and organizational transformation that allows us to renegotiate the terms of freedom, justice, and productivity in the information society. How we shall live in this new environment will largely depend on policy choices that we will make over the next decade or two. To be able to understand these choices, to be able to make them well, we must understand that they are part of a social and political choice—a choice about how to be free, equal, and productive human beings under anew set of technological and economic conditions. As economic policy, letting yesterday’s winners dictate the terms of economic competition tomorrow is disastrous. As social policy, missing an opportunity to enrich democracy, freedom, and equality in our society, while maintaining or even enhancing our productivity, is unforgivable.

Although the claim that the Internet leads to some form or another of “decentralization” is not new, the fundamental role played in this transformation by the emergence of non-market, nonproprietary production and distribution is often over-looked, if not willfully ignored.

First, if the networked information economy is permitted to emerge from the institutional battle, it will enable an outward shift of the limits that productivity places on the political imagination. Second, a society committed to any positive combination of the three values needs to adopt robust policies to facilitate these modes of production,because facilitating these modes of production does not represent a choice between productivity and liberal values, but rather an opportunity actually to relax the efficient limit on the plausible set of political arrangements available given the constraints of productivity.

We are at a moment in our history at which the terms of freedom and justice are up for grabs. We have an opportunity to improve the way we govern ourselves—both as members of communities and as autonomous individuals. We have an opportunity to be more just at the very core of our economic system. The practical steps we must take to reshape the boundaries of the possible in political morality and to improve the pattern of liberal society will likely improve productivity and growth through greater innovation and creativity. Instead of seizing these opportunities, however, we are sleepwalking.

What arrangements favor reorganization towards commons-based peer production? From Coase’s Penguin:

This suggests that peer production will thrive where projects have three characteristics. First, they must be modular. That is, they must be divisible into components, or modules, each of which can be produced of the production of the others. This enables production to be incremental and asynchronous, pooling the efforts of different people, with different capabilities, who are available at different times. Second, the granularity of the modules is important and refers to the sizes of the project’s modules. For a peer production process to pool successfully a relatively large number of contributors, the modules should be predominately fine-grained, or small in size. This allows the project to capture contributions from large numbers of contributors whose motivation levels will not sustain anything more than small efforts toward the project. Novels, for example, at least those that look like our current conception of a novel, are likely to prove resistant to peer production. In addition, a project will likely be more efficient if it can accommodate variously sized contributions. Heterogeneous granularity will allow people with different levels of motivation to collaborate by making smaller- or larger-grained contributions, consistent with their levels of motivation. Third, and finally, a successful peer production enterprise must have low-cost integration, which includes both quality control over the modules and a mechanism for integrating the contributions into the finished product.

Regulators concerned with fostering innovation may better direct their efforts toward providing the institutional tools that would help thousands of people to collaborate without appropriating their joint product, making the information they produce freely available rather than spending their efforts to increase the scope and sophistication of the mechanisms for private appropriation of this public good as they now do.

That we cannot fully understand a phenomenon does not mean that it does not exist. That a seemingly growing phenomenon refuses to fit our longstanding perceptions of how people behave and how economic growth occurs counsels closer attention, not studied indifference and ignorance.  Commons-based peer production presents a fascinating phenomenon that could allow us to tap substantially underutilized reserves of human creative effort. It is of central importance that we not squelch peer production, but that we create the institutional conditions needed for it to flourish.

There’s been some progress on institutional tools (i.e., policy arrangements writ large, the result of “political action” above) in the 11 or so years since (e.g., Open Access mandates), but not nearly enough to outweigh global ratcheting of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, despite the occasional success of rearguard actions against such ratcheting. Neither these rearguard actions, nor mainstream (nor reformist) discussion of “reform” put commons at the center of their concerns. The best we can expect from this sleepwalking is to muddle through, with policy protecting and promoting commons where such is coincidentally aligned with some industrial interest (often simplified to “Google” in the past several years, but that won’t last forever).

My extrapolation (again, tell me if facile or wrong): shifting production arrangements so as to favor commons-based peer production is as important as, complementary to, and almost necessary for positive policy change. Commons-based product competition simultaneously changes the facts on the ground, the range of policies imaginable, and potentially create a commons “industrial” interest group which is recognizably important to regulators and makes commons-based peer production favoring policy central to its demands — the likely Wikimedia response to the European Commission copyright consultation is a hopeful example.

There has been lots of progress on improving commons-based peer production (e.g., some trends), but also not nearly enough to keep up with proprietary innovation, particularly lacking and missing huge opportunities where proprietary incumbents real advantages sit — not production per se, but funding and distribution/marketing/cultural relevance making. Improving commons-based peer production, shifting the commanding heights (i.e., Hollywood premium video and massively expensive and captured pharma regulatory apparatus) to forms more amenable to commons-based peer production, and expanding the scope of commons-based peer production to include funding and relevance making are among the most potent political projects of our time.

Wake up. ^_^

Technology and wealth Inequality Promotion

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Sam Altman, Technology and wealth inequality:

Without intervention, technology will probably lead to an untenable disparity—so we probably need some amount of intervention. Technology also increases the total wealth in a way that mostly benefits everyone, but at some point the disparity just feels so unfair it doesn’t matter.

This widening wealth divide is happening at all levels—people, companies, and countries. And either it will keep going, or innovation will stop.

The very first intervention ought be in our innovation policy, which presently is tuned to maximize concentration of wealth and minimize the access of everyone to the benefits of innovation — because our innovation policy is a property/rent seeking regime. A few data points.

Such an intervention won’t stop innovation, but might change it, and we should want that. Beautiful progress is that which is produced by a freedom and equality respecting regime. We ought be suspicious and ashamed of progress which depends on infringing freedom and promoting inequality. If mass spectacle ends when the regime falls, all the better. We’ll love whatever culture we have and create, will be amazed by its innovation, in part encouraged through non-enclosing innovation policy.

If innovation-driven inequality is a big problem, we ought be more highly valuing (including figuring out how to characterize that value) and promoting existing systems which depend on and promote freedom and equality, i.e., commons-based ones such as free/open source software and the Wikimedia movement (and recursively working on equality and diversity within those systems).

Innovation could tend to increase inequality independent of wealth concentrating, property/rent-seeking based innovation policies and other political factors. If this is the case (or honestly even if it is not), I’m always disappointed that progressivity of tax systems isn’t central to the debate — and I don’t mean marginal income tax rates. Basically property > income > sales. Further, property property can’t be moved and taxing it doesn’t require extensive privacy invasions. In theory I’d expect the strongest states and most free and equal societies of the future to strongly prefer real property taxation over other systems. But perhaps path dependencies and other factors will swamp this (and innovation policy as well).

Public domain wins copyright week!

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

public domain wins copyright weekEFF coordinated a six day copyright week, with suggested readings and actions in support of six principles, below with readings + actions count:

  • Transparency: 10 + 1 = 11
  • Building and Defending a Robust Public Domain: 16 + 0 = 16
  • Open Access: 9 + 2 = 11
  • You Bought it, You Own It: 8 + 3 = 11
  • Fair Use Rights: 14 + 1 = 15
  • Getting Copyright Right: 7 + 1 = 8

I couldn’t help but notice that the public domain “wins” by the metric of total readings + actions, perhaps indicative of relative enthusiasm and evaluation of importance by the communities EFF reaches. Good.

The apparent “loser” is getting copyright right, which I’ll also take undue satisfaction in: it’s an impoverished objective, relative to expanding and protecting intellectual freedom. Alternatively, public domain maximalism (second alternative, corresponding to the runner-up: fair use maximalism) is getting copyright right. But I acknowledge advocating “getting copyright right” (and the entire exercise of copyright week) is a fine thing to do given constraints, and its “loss” is likely due to being a more difficult writing assignment, and falling on the last day.

The latent “loser” though is the role of commons initiatives in changing the knowledge economy, thus the range of policies which can be imagined, and the resources available to support various policies. Some initiatives are mentioned, but almost exclusively as victims of costs imposed by bad policy. Daniel Mietchen’s Wikimedia and Open Access might be the reading closest to what I’d like to see a whole day dedicated to (on the seventh day of copyright week, commoners made their own freedom). Though starting with copyright-imposed costs to the project, Mietchen proceeds to describe collaboration among Wikimedians and the Open Access movement, and ends with (implied) competition:

wider exposure of Open Access materials through Wikimedia platforms may perhaps serve as an incentive for researchers to reconsider whether putting their articles behind access and reuse barriers is an appropriate approach to publishing them.

Related, because it is the domain of the most robust commons initiatives, it is too bad software was not the primary topic of several copyright week readings and actions. But even ignoring the seventh day angle, it is incredibly short-sighted to treat software as a separate category, whether for purposes of study or policy (e.g., copyright). All of the traditional subjects of copyright are now largely made with and mediated by software, but that’s just the beginning. Soon enough, they’ll all be software, or be obsolete. (In hindsight I should have noticed copyright week approaching, and urged various free/open source software initiatives to participate, and explain their policy relevance and potency.)

Back to cheering, I highly recommend at least skimming a few of the readings in each category, linked on the EFF copyright week page. Unless you follow knowledge policy writ large really closely, you’re almost certain to learn something new about policy battles that will play a large role in shaping the future of society.

To make up for the lack of copyright week “actions” recommended for building and defending a robust public domain: sign the public domain manifesto, upgrade your work to the public domain, and enjoy and share the greatest public domain film to date.

Annual thematic doubt

Friday, January 10th, 2014

As promised, my first annual thematic doubt post, expressing doubts I have about themes I blogged about during 2013.

Intellectual Freedom

If this blog were to have a main purpose other than serving as a despository for my tangents, it’d be protecting and promoting intellectual freedom, in particular through the mechanisms of free/open/knowledge commons movements, and in reframing information and innovation policy with freedom and equality outcomes as top. Some representative posts: Economics and the Commons Conference [knowledge stream] report, Flow ∨ incentive 2013 anthology winner, z3R01P. I’m also fond of pointing out where these issues surface in unusual places and surfacing them where they are latent.

I’m fairly convinced on this theme: regimes infringing on intellectual freedom are individual and collective mind-rot, and “merely” accentuate the tendencies toward inequality and control of whatever systems they are embedded in. Mitigating, militating against, outcompeting, and abolishing such regimes are trivially for the good, low risk, and non-revolutionary. But sure, I have doubts:

  • Though I see their accentuation of inequality and control as increasingly important, and high leverage for determining future outcomes, copyright and patent could instead be froth. The cause of intellectual freedom might be better helped by fighting for traditional free speech issues, for tolerance, against mass incarceration, against the drug war, against war, against corruption, for whatever one’s favored economic system is…
  • The voluntarily constructed commons that I emphasize (e.g., free software, open access) could be a trap: everything seems to grow fast as population (and faster, internet population) grows, but this could cloud these commons being systematically outcompeted. Rather than being undersold, product competition from the commons will never outgrow their dwarfish forms, will never shift nor take the commanding heights (e.g., premium video, pharma) and hence are a burden to both policy and beating-of-the-bounds competition. Plus, copyright and the like are mind-rot: generations of commons activists minds have been rotted and co-opted by learning to work within protectionist regimes rather than fighting and ignoring them.
  • An intellectual freedom infringing regime which produced faster technical innovation than an intellectual freedom respecting regime could render the latter irrelevant, like industrial societies rendered agricultural societies irrelevant, and agricultural societies rendered hunter-gatherer societies irrelevant, whatever the effects of those transitions on freedom and other values were. I don’t believe the current regime is anywhere close to being such a thing, nor are the usual “IP maximalism” reforms taking it in that direction. But it is possible that innovation policy is all that matters. Neither freedom and equality nor the rents of incumbents matter, except as obstacles and diversions from discovering and implementing innovation policy optimized to produce the most technical innovation.

I’m not, but can easily imagine being won over by these doubts. Each merits engagement, which could result in much stronger arguments for intellectual freedom, especially knowledge commons.

Critical Cheering

Unplanned, unnoticed by me until late in the year, my most pervasive subtheme was criticism-embedded-in-praise of free/open/commons entities and actions. Representative posts, title replaced with main target: Creative Commons, crowdfunding, Defensive Patent License, Document Freedom Day, DRM-in-HTML5 outrage, EFF, federated social web, Internet Archive, Open Knowledge Foundation, SOPA/ACTA online protests, surveillance outrage, and the Wikimedia movement.

This is an old theme: examples from 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012. 2009 and 2010 are absent, but the reason for my light blogging here bears some relation to the theme: those are the years I was, in theory, most intensely trying to “walk my talk” at Creative Commons (and mostly failed, side-tracked by trying to get the organization to follow much more basic best practices, and by vast amounts of silliness).

Doubts about the cheering part are implied in the previous section. I’ll focus on the criticism here, but cheering is the larger component, and real: of entities criticized in the above links, in 2013 I donated money to at least EFF, FSF, and Internet Archive, and uncritically promoted all of them at various points. The criticism part amounts to:

  • Gains could be had from better coordination among entities and across domains, ranging from collaboration toward a short term goal (e.g., free format adoption) to diffuse mutual reinforcement that comes from shared knowledge, appreciation, and adoption of free/open/commons tools and materials across domains (e.g., open education people use open source software as inherent part of their practice of openness, and vice versa).
  • The commons are politically potent, in at least two ways: minimally, as existence proof for creativity and innovation in an intellectual freedom respecting regime (carved out); and vastly underappreciated, as destroyer of rents dependent on the intellectual freedom infringing regime, and of resources available for defending those rents and the regime. Commons are not merely to be protected from further bad policy, but are actors in creating a good policy environment, and should be promoted at every turn.

To be clear, my criticism is not usually a call for more “radical” or “extreme” steps or messages, rather more fulsome and coordinated ones. Admittedly, sometimes it may be hard to tell the difference — and this leads to my doubts:

  • Given that coordination is hard, gaining knowledge is expensive, and optimization path dependent, the entities and movements I criticize may not have room to improve, at least not in the direction I want them to improve in. The cost of making “more fulsome and coordinated” true might be greater than mutual reinforcement and other gains.
  • See the second doubt in the previous section — competition from the commons might be futile. Rather than promoting them at every turn, they should sometimes be held up as victims of bad policy, to be protected, and sometimes hidden from policy discourse.

The first doubt is surely merited, at least for many entities on many issues. For any criticism I have in this space, it makes sense to give the criticized the benefit of the doubt; they know their constraints pretty well, while I’m just making abstract speculations. Still, I think it’s worthwhile to call for more fulsome and coordinated strategy in the interstices of these movements, e.g., conversation and even this blog, in the hope of long-term learning, played out over years in existing entities and movements, and new ones. I will try henceforth to do so more often in a “big picture” way, or through example, and less often through criticism of specific choices made by specific entities — in retrospect the stream of the latter on this blog over the last year has been tedious.

International Apartheid

For example: Abolish Foreignness, Do we have any scrap of evidence that [the Chinese Exclusion Act] made us better off?, and Opposing “illegal” immigration is xenophobic, or more bluntly, advocating for apartheid “because it’s the law”. I hinted at a subtheme about the role of cities, to be filled out later.

The system is grossly unjust and ought be abolished, about that I have no doubt. Existing institutions and arrangements must adapt. But, two doubts about my approach:

  • Too little expression of empathy with those who assume the goodness of current policy. Fear of change, competition, “other” are all deep. Too little about how current unjust system can be unwound in a way the mitigates any reality behind these fears. Too little about how benefits attributed to current unjust system can be maintained under a freedom respecting regime. (This doubt also applies to the intellectual freedom theme.)
  • Figuring out development might be more feasible, and certainly would have more impact on human welfare, individual autonomy, than smashing the international apartheid system. Local improvements to education, business, governance, are what all ought focus on — though development economics has a dismal record, it at least has the right target. Migration is a sideshow.

As with the intellectual freedom theme, these doubts merit engagement, and such will strengthen the case for freedom. But even moreso than in the case of intellectual freedom infringing regimes, the unconscionable and murderous injustice of the international apartheid regime must be condemned from the rooftops. It is sickening and unproductive to allow discourse on this topic to proceed as if the regime is anything but an abomination, however unfeasible its destruction may seem in the short term.


Although much of what I write here can be deemed political, one political theme not subsumed by others is inadequate self-regulation of the government “market”, e.g., What to do about democratically elected terrorist regimes, Suppose they gave a war on terror and a few exposed it as terror, and Why does the U.S. federal government permit negative sum competition among U.S. states and localities?

The main problem with this theme is omission rather than doubt — no solutions proposed. Had I done so, I’d have plenty to doubt.


I fell behind, doing refuting only posts from first and second quarters of 2005. My doubt about this enjoyable exercise is that it is too contrived. Many of the refutations are flippant and don’t reflect any real doubts or knowledge gained in the last 8 years. That doubt is what led me to the exercise of this post. How did I do?

Clubbing out of the vicious circle of bad policy (patents)

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Glyn Moody in Defensive Patent Licence: Nice Idea; Not Much Use:

The rest of Linksvayer’s thoughtful post explores these ideas and their background, and in particular looks at how they fit with other aspects of free software.

My fascinating post (thanks).

It’s well worth reading, even if the DPL itself is likely to have relatively little impact. That’s because it only applies to those who join the DPL club, which creates a typical vicious circle: few entities in the club to start with mean that few patents are made available on an royalty-free basis, and so there’s little incentive for more entities to join.

The vicious cycle can be overcome. Joining the club is very low barrier: gratis, and an entity doesn’t even have to hold any patents. Royalty-free patents from club members is only part of the reason for joining. Another is expression — taking advantage of the patent skepticism of many people, and exploiting for ethical branding and recruitment. These patent pool and expressive incentives could be mutually re-enforcing: the more entities join, the larger the pool, and the stronger the expectation that non-evil entities join.

Whether the vicious cycle will be overcome comes down to sales. The DPL people have put in place a lot of groundwork that will help — seemingly a large amount of work by credible people into making the DPL a robust legal instrument, a credible group of people as advisors (and presumably an impressive board when it reaches that stage), presumably some amount of funding. This combination of gravitas and resources would make it possible for a tireless campaigner (the pre-conditions do remind me of Creative Commons, whose tireless campaigner was Lawrence Lessig) or sales team befitting the target market to succeed in getting lots of entities to join the club.

One indicator after the DPL’s public launch next month will be whether the next columns and stories by journalists continue to focus on the barrier of lack of network effects, or on celebrating early joiners and urging other entities to follow as an urgent matter of public policy or industry best practice. This will be an indicator in large part because the DPL people’s efforts right now can shape these stories.

Still, it’s nice to see people thinking innovatively in this space as we work towards the ultimate goal of full abolition of software patents everywhere.

Indeed, though the DPL applies to all patents, and all patents everywhere should be fully abolished, as I’m pretty sure Moody agrees (but probably not the DPL people; that’s OK, they made a useful tool).

You can attend the DPL launch conference in Berkeley: February 28November 7, 2014, gratis registration. Your organization should join the club, now!

Video of the DPL birthday is up on the Internet Archive.

Happy GNU Year & Public Domain Day

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014
happy gnu year and public domain day

Any previous combinations? Reminded of GNU year greetings by Laurel Russwurm and Public Domain Day by the Public Domain Review and Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

My previous Public Domain Day posts:

Echoing the 2011 entry, I recently urged all to upgrade to CC0 (a public domain dedication and license). Also, January 1 is a good date to reiterate:

Unless stated otherwise, everything by me, Mike Linksvayer, published anywhere, is hereby placed in the public domain.

Join me. More importantly, unless you’re prodigious, demand that at the very least all government material go directly into the public domain.

The bottom part of the image is from The Gnoo (1804) by Samuel Daniell (1775-1811). The top is from an illustration (1883) by Louis-Maurice Boutet de Monvel (1851-1913). Latter selected because it is newly unambiguously in the public domain worldwide, including Mexico, which has life + 100 years of restriction. It would not be shocking to see this term ratchet worldwide in the next years.

Bonus links:

Greatest month in history?

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Yesterday, 11 years ago, today, 22 years and 4 months. Recently I noticed an observation in slides by Glyn Moody on Open Acccess (related editorial):

25 August 1991 – Finnish student, Linus Torvalds, announced the start of Linux
23 August 1991 – World Wide Web released publicly
14 August 1991 – Launch of arXiv

Moody titled the slide with above items “greatest week in history?” — arXiv is listed as 19 August, which I think must be a transcription error. Still, perhaps the greatest month in some assessment which grants something like knowledge commons supreme importance; perhaps future conventional wisdom. Those three are a nice mix of software, protocols, literature, data, and infrastructure.

collapsed broadcast towerThe world’s tallest broadcast tower collapsed 8 August 1991 to make way for somewhat less centralized communications.

Linux and the Web make Wikipedia’s short list of August 1991 events, which is dominated by the beginning of the final phase of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. (I have an old post which is a tiny bit relevant to tying this all together, however unwarranted that may be.)

arXiv isn’t nearly as well known to the general public as Linux, which isn’t nearly as well known as the Web. In some ways arXiv is still ahead of its time. The future takes a long time to be distributed — Moody’s cover slide is titled “half a revolution”. Below I’ve excepted a few particularly enjoyable paragraphs and footnotes from It was twenty years ago today… by arXiv founder Paul Ginsparg (who, Moody notes, knew of GNU via a brother). I’ve bolded a couple phrases and added one link for additional entertainment value. The whole 9 page paper (PDF) is worth a quick read (I can’t help but notice and enjoy the complete absence of two words: “copyright” and “license”).

The exchange of completed manuscripts to personal contacts directly by email became more widespread, and ultimately led to distribution via larger email lists.13 The latter had the potential to correct a significant problem of unequal access in the existing paper-preprint distribution system. For purely practical reasons, authors at the time used to mail photocopies of their newly minted articles to only a small number of people. Those lower in the food chain relied on the beneficence of those on the A-list, and aspiring researchers at non-elite institutions were frequently out of the privileged loop entirely. This was a problematic situation, because, in principle, researchers prefer that their progress depends on working harder or on having some key insight, rather than on privileged access to essential materials.

By the spring of 1991, I had moved to the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and for the first time had my own computer on my desk, a 25 MHz NeXTstation with a 105 Mb hard drive and 16 Mb of RAM. I was thus fully cognizant of the available disk and CPU resources, both substantially larger than on a shared mainframe, where users were typically allocated as little as the equivalent of 0.5 Mb for personal use. At the Aspen Center for Physics, in Colorado, in late June 1991, a stray comment from a physicist, concerned about emailed articles overrunning his disk allocation while traveling, suggested to me the creation of a centralized automated repository and alerting system, which would send full texts only on demand. That solution would also democratize the exchange of information, leveling the aforementioned research playing field, both internally within institutions and globally for all with network access.

Thus was born,18 initially an automated email server (and within a few months also an FTP server), powered by a set of csh scripts.19 It was originally intended for about 100 submissions per year from a small subfield of high-energy particle physics, but rapidly grew in users and scope, receiving 400 submissions in its first half year. The submissions were initially planned to be deleted after three months, by which time the pre-existing paper distribution system would catch up, but by popular demand nothing was ever deleted. (Renamed in late 1998 to, it has accumulated roughly 700,000 total submissions [mid Aug 2011], currently receives 75,000 new submissions per year, and serves roughly one million full text downloads to about 400,000 distinct users per week. The system quickly attracted the attention of existing physics publishers, and in rapid succession I received congenial visits from the editorial directors of both the American Physical Society (APS) and Institute of Physics Publishing (IOPP) to my little 10’x10’ office. It also had an immediate impact on physicists in less developed countries, who reported feeling finally in the loop, both for timely receipt of research ideas and for equitable reading of their own contributions. (Twenty years later, I still receive messages reporting that the system provides to them more assistance than any international organization.)

In the fall of 1992, a colleague at CERN emailed me: ‘Q: do you know the worldwide-web program?’ I did not, but quickly installed, serendipitously written by Tim Berners-Lee for the same NeXT computer that I was using, and with whom I began to exchange emails. Later that fall, I used it to help beta-test the first US Web server, set up by the library at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center for use by the high-energy physics community.

Not everyone appreciated just how rapidly things were progressing. In early 1994, I happened to serve on a committee advising the APS about putting Physical Review Letters online. I suggested that a Web interface along the lines of the prototype might be a good way for the APS to disseminate its documents. A response came back from another committee member: “Installing and learning to use a WorldWideWeb browser is a complicated and difficult task — we can’t possibly expect this of the average physicist.”

13The most significant of these was maintained by Joanne Cohn, then a postdoctoral associate at the IAS Princeton, who manually collected and redistributed preprints (originally in the subject area of matrix models of two dimensional surfaces) to what became a list of over a hundred interested researchers, largely younger postdocs and grad students. This manual methodology provided an important proof of concept for the broader automated and archival system that succeeded it, and her distribution list was among those used to seed the initial userbase.

18The name xxx was derived from the heuristic I’d used in marking text in TeX files for later correction (i.e., awaiting a final search for all appearances of the string ‘xxx’, which wouldn’t otherwise appear, and for which I later learned the string ‘tk’ is employed by journalists, for similar reasons).

19The csh scripts were translated to Perl starting in 1994, when NSF funding permitted actual employees.

(the rest)

CC11x11, before, 0, &freebassel

Monday, December 16th, 2013
Gimped CC cake 10 / BY / Kristina Alexanderson
(I wrote 90% of this post a year ago; currently unaware of any actual CC 11 cakes or celebrations.)

Today is the 11th anniversary of the launch of the first version of the first 11 Creative Commons licenses. Depending how one counts, there are now as few as 0, though 6 is probably the conventional answer (only current international versions of ones that were among the original 11), or as many as 608 (all versions, jurisdiction ports, retired licenses, and public domain instruments).

If 2002-12-16 is a significant marker, I’d like to take a look at what preceded it, very nearby — other public copyright licenses, public domain dedications, and ad hoc sharing statements. Eventually I hope to take a more in-depth look at all of these, and moreso I hope others do research around them.

Prior to the 1980s, such statements are very scattered. Has anyone pieced together commonalities and differences of pro-info-sharing statements through history? Examples…

In 868 the Diamond Sutra included:

Reverently [caused to be] made for universal free distribution by Wang Jie on behalf of his two parents on the 13th of the 4th moon of the 9th year of Xiantong.

1869 Recent Discussions on the Abolition of Patents for Inventions, setting a standard that modern books on advocating reform (inclusive of abolition) fail to meet:

No rights are reserved

1910 the English translation of Gandhi’s Indian Home Rule was printed with the words No Rights Reserved on the title page.

1967 the copyright notice of All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace included:

Permission is granted to reprint any of these poems in magazines, books and newspapers if they are given away free.

1976 Tiny BASIC for Intel 8080 included:


1978 In the Making included:

“Alternative publications may reproduce freely provided acknowledgement is made.”

I believe many statements along such lines were published, especially in the last century, but again, as far as I know, nobody has ever thoroughly investigated. I’m very interested, in part because I have a hunch what might be characterized as “information commons” have been malgoverned for the entirety of human history. Why did pro-sharing statements, in the form of public copyright licenses, only become regularized, widespread, and thought by some as creating and protecting commons, in the 1980s, starting with software?

The easy answer is that software had just become clearly restricted by copyright, and programmers have a more immediately compelling need to collaborate across organizational boundaries in a way that implicates copyright restrictions than do others. Still, one may question just how different paths would need to have been for explicit pro-sharing practices to have developed in other domains first, even pre-computer, and how the norms of such practices might have differed. I’ve speculated, very briefly that it’s plausible order could’ve been different, and essentially software freedom norms are a “sweet spot” that would’ve been arrived at anyway. Much more could be said about that, and also about whether and how the explicit pro-sharing practices I’ve recognized as such in this post have crowded out or complemented other pro-sharing practices.

In any case, in the 5 years prior to the launch of the first 11 Creative Commons licenses, there was a proliferation of interest in public copyright licenses for various forms of non-software works (including hardware designs, which took longer to capture much interest, and I won’t cover here). An incomplete list of such licenses released 1998-2002:

Anti-Copyright License, Comic Book Public License, Design Science License, Distributed Encyclopedia General Public License, EFF Open Audio License, Electrohippie Collective’s Ethical Open Documentation License, Ethymonics Free Music License, Free Art License, Free Media License, Free Music Public License, GNU Free Documentation License, No Type License, OpenBits License, Open Content License, Open Directory License, the Open Music licenses, Open Publication License, Open Source Music License, Public Library of Science Open Access License, QING Public Licnese, and Phy-d’eau — License of Intention for Liberty in Expression and Creativity.

Many of these licenses are non-free/open, and nearly all are incompatible with all the rest. These problems preceded Creative Commons. Whether in the past 10 years Creative Commons has on net made these problems better or worse (or merely not better fast enough) is hard to say. One curiosity about these pre-CC licenses is that the only ones remaining in any kind of significant use (Free Art License and Free Documentation License) are free/open, copyleft licenses.

Near certainty of large adoption of public licenses and public domain dedications outside software also preceded CC. The effect one can be most certain of attributing to CC is of killing adoption of the few of these licenses that had any plausibility, and of the development of further non-CC licenses, for awhile. Whether a dominant central license steward was net positive, is hard to say. It’s easy to see some marketing benefits, and some innovation costs, and vice versa.

Some public licenses created for software, mostly the GNU GPL, and BSD licenses, were used for some non-software works before the explosion of non-software public licenses (of which CC was part). An open question is whether this explosion was a good thing at all, or rather a failure on the part of free software license pioneers to occupy a broader space, and create a broader-based, less fragmented movement for intellectual freedom…the part facilitated by public licenses that is.

It’s also possible that free software started with the wrong arrangement in the form of public licenses, and others, including what became CC, ought have tried something different, for example clubs/pools, or skipping voluntary methods altogether. (Many people have focused on one or more of direct action, litigation, and public policy. I tend to think there’s far too little appreciation and collaboration across these methods and voluntary construction, resulting in a further fragmented, scared, and weak movement.)

I didn’t publish a year ago because I’d intended to add sections on the “CC era” of the past 10, now 11 years, and the future. My recent extended quasi-review of CC 4.0 licenses will have to suffice. Now…

Celebrate CC’s 11th birthday:

Upgrade to CC0

Free Bassel

[Semi]Commons Coordinations & Copyright Choices 4.0

Monday, December 9th, 2013

CC0 is superior to any of the Creative Commons (CC) 4.0 licenses, because CC0 represents a superior policy (public domain). But if you’re unable or unwilling to upgrade to CC0, the CC 4.0 licenses are a great improvement over the 3.0 licenses. The people who did the work, led by Diane Peters (who also led CC0), many CC affiliates (several of whom were also crucial in making CC0 a success), and Sarah Pearson and Kat Walsh, deserve much praise. Bravo!

Below read my idiosyncratic take on issues addressed and not addressed in the 4.0 licenses. If that sounds insufferable, but you want to know about details of the 4.0 licenses, skip to the excellent version 4 and license versions pages on the CC wiki. I don’t bother linking to sections of those pages pertinent to issues below, but if you want detailed background beyond my idiosyncratic take on each issue, it can be found there.

Any criticism I have of the 4.0 licenses concerns policy choices and is not a criticism of the work done or people involved, other than myself. I fully understand that the feasible choices were and are highly constrained by previous choices and conditions, including previous versions of the CC licenses, CC’s organizational history, users of CC licenses, and the overall states of knowledge commons and info regulation and CC’s various positions within these. I always want CC and other “open” organizations to take as pro-commons of a stance as possible, and generally judge what is possible to be further than that of the conventional wisdom of people who pay any attention to this scene. Sometimes I advocated for more substantial policy changes in the 4.0 licenses, though just as often I deemed such advocacy futile. At this point I should explain that I worked for CC until just after the 4.0 licenses process started, and have consulted a bit on 4.0 licenses issues since then as a “fellow”. Not many people were in a better position to influence the 4.0 licenses, so any criticisms I have are due to my failure to convince, or perhaps incorrect decision to not try in some cases. As I’ve always noted on this blog, I don’t represent any organization here.


Pro-commons? As opposed to what? The title of the CC blog post announcing the formal beginning of work on the new licenses:

Copyright Experts Discuss CC License Version 4.0 at the Global Summit

My personal blog post:

Commons experts to develop version 4.0 of the CC licenses

The expertise that CC and similar organizations ought to bring to the world is commons coordination. There are many copyright experts in the world, and understanding public copyright licenses, and drafting more, are no great intellectual challenges. The copyright expertise needed to do so ought be purely instrumental, serving the purpose of commons coordination. Or so I think.

Throughout CC’s existence, it has presented itself, and been perceived as, to varying extents, an organization which provides tools for copyright holders to exercise their copyrights, and an organization which provides tools for building a commons. (What it does beyond providing tools adds another dimension, not unrelated to “copyright choice” vs. “commons coordination”; there’s some discussion of these issues in a video included in my personal post above.)

I won’t explain in this post, but I think the trend through most of CC’s history has been very slow movement in the “commons coordination” direction, and the explicit objectives of the 4.0 versioning process fit that crawl.

“Commons coordination” does not directly imply the usual free/open vs. proprietary/closed dichotomy. I think it does mostly fall out that way, in small part due to “license interoperability” practicalities, but probably mostly because I think the ideal universal copyregulation policy corresponds to the non-discriminatory commons that “free/open” terms and communities carve out on a small scale, including the pro-sharing policy that copyleft prototypes, and excluding any role for knowledge enclosure, monopoly, property, etc. But it is certainly possible, indeed usual, to advocate for a mixed regime (I enjoy the relatively new term “semicommons”, but if you wish to see it everywhere, try every non-demagogic call for “balance”), in which case [semi]commons tools reserving substantial exclusivity (e.g., “commercial use”) make perfect sense for [semi]commons coordination.

Continuing to ignore the usual [non-]open dichotomy, I think there still are a number of broad criteria for would-be stewards of any new commons coordinating license (and make no mistake, a new version of a license is a new license; CC introduced 6 new licenses with 4.0) to consider carefully, and which inform my commentary below:

  • Differentiation: does the new license implement some policy not currently available in existing licenses, or at least offer a great improvement in implementation (not to provide excuses for new licenses, but the legal text is just one part of implementation; also consider branding/positioning, understandability, and stewardship) of policy already available?
  • Permissions: does the new license grant all permissions needed to realize its policy objective?
  • Regulation: how does the license’s policy objective model regulation that ought be adopted at a wider scale, e.g., how does it align with usual “user rights” and “copyright reform” proposals?
  • Interoperability: is the new license maximally compatible with existing licenses, given the constraints of its policy objectives, and indeed, to the expense of its immediate policy objectives, given that incompatibility, non-interoperability, and proliferation must fragment and diminish the value of commons?
  • Cross-domain impact: how does the license impact license interoperability and knowledge sharing across fields/domains/communities (e.g., software, data, hardware, “content”, research, government, education, culture…)? Does it further silo existing domains, a tragedy given the paucity of knowledge about governing commons in the world, or facilitate sharing and collaboration across domains?

Several of these are merely a matter of good product design and targeting, and would also apply to an organization that really had a primary goal of offering copyright holders additional choices the organization deems are under-provided. I suspect there is plenty of room for innovation in “copyright choice” tools, but I won’t say more in this post, as such have little to do with commons, and whatever CC’s history of copyright choice rhetoric and offering a gaggle of choices, creating such tools is distant from its immediate expertise (other than just knowing lots about copyright) and light years from much of its extended community.

Why bother?

Apart from amusing myself and a few others, why this writeup? The CC 4.0 licenses won’t change, and hopefully there won’t be CC 4.1 or 4.5 or 5.0 licenses for many years. Longevity was an explicit goal for 4.0 (cf. 1.0: 17 months, 2.0: 12 months; 2.5: 20 months; 3.0: 81 months). Still, some of the issues covered here may be interesting to people choosing to use one of the CC 4.0 licenses, and people creating other licenses. Although nobody wants more licenses, often called license proliferation, as an end in itself, many more licenses is the long term trend, of which the entire history of CC is just a part. Further, more licenses can be a good, to the extent they are significantly different from and better than, and as compatible as possible with, existing licenses.

To be totally clear: many new licenses will be created and used over the next 10 years, intended for various domains. I would hope, some for all domains. Proliferators, take heed!

Development tools

A 4.0 wiki page and a bunch of pages under that were used to lay out objectives, issues and options for resolution, and link to drafts. Public discussion was on the cc-licenses list, with tangential debate pushed to cc-community. Drafts and changes from previous drafts were published as redlined word processor files. This all seems to have worked fairly well. I’d prefer drafts as plain text files in a git repository, and an issue tracker, in addition to a mailing list. But that’s a substantially different workflow, and word processor documents with track changes and inline comments do have advantages, not limited to lawyers being familiar with those tools.

100% wiki would also work, with different tradeoffs. In the future additional tools around source repositories, or wikis, or wikis in source repositories, will finally displace word processor documents, but the tools aren’t there yet. Or in the bad future, all licenses will be drafted in word processors in the cloud.

(If it seems that I’m leaving a a lot out, e.g., methodology for gathering requirements and feedback, in-person and teleconferences, etc., I merely have nothing remotely interesting to say, and used “tools” rather than “process” to narrow scope intentionally.)


The 4.0 licenses were drafted to be jurisdiction neutral, and there will be official, equivalent, verbatim language translations of the licenses (the same as CC0, though I don’t think any translations have been made final yet). Legal “porting” to individual jurisdictions is not completely ruled out, but I hope there will be none. This is a wholly positive outcome, and probably the most impactful change for CC itself (already playing out over the past few years, e.g., in terms of scope and composition of CC affiliates), though it is of small direct consequence to most users.

Now, will other license drafters and would-be drafters follow CC’s lead and stop with the vanity jurisdiction license proliferation already?


At least the EU, Mexico, Russia, and South Korea have created “database rights” (there have been attempts in other jurisdictions), copyright-like mechanisms for entities that assemble databases to persecute others who would extract or copy substantial portions of said databases. Stupid policies that should be abolished, copyright-like indeed.

Except for CC0 and some minor and inconsistent exceptions (certain within-EU jurisdiction “port” versions), CC licenses prior to 4.0 have not “covered” database rights. This means, modulo any implied license which may or may not be interpreted as existing, that a prior-to-4.0 (e.g., CC-BY-3.0) licensee using a database subject to database restrictions (when this occurs is a complicated question) would have permission granted by the licensor around copyright restrictions, but not around database restrictions. This is a pretty big fail, considering that the first job of a public license is to grant adequate permissions. Actual responses to this problem:

  • Tell all database publishers to use CC0. I like this, because everyone should just use CC0. But, it is an inadequate response, as many will continue to use less permissive terms, often in the form of inadequate or incompatible licenses.
  • Only waive or license database restrictions in “ports” of licenses to jurisdictions in which database restrictions exist. This is wholly inadequate, as in the CC scheme, porting involves tailoring the legal language of a license to a jurisdiction, but there’s no guarantee a licensor or licensee in such jurisdictions will be releasing or using databases under one of these ports, and in fact that’s often not the case.
  • Have all licenses waive database restrictions. This sounds attractive, but is mostly confusing — it’s very hard to discern when only database and not copyright restrictions apply, such that a licensee could ignore a license’s conditions — and like “tell database publishers to use CC0″ would just lead many to use different licenses that do purport to conditionally license database rights.
  • Have all licenses grant permissions around database restrictions, under whatever conditions are present in the license, just like copyright.

I think the last is the right approach, and it’s the one taken with the CC 4.0 licenses, as well as by other licenses which would not exist but for CC 3.0 licenses not taking this approach. I’m even more pleased with their generality, because other copyright-like restrictions are to be expected (emphasis added):

Copyright and Similar Rights means copyright and/or similar rights closely related to copyright including, without limitation, performance, broadcast, sound recording, and Sui Generis Database Rights, without regard to how the rights are labeled or categorized. For purposes of this Public License, the rights specified in Section 2(b)(1)-(2) are not Copyright and Similar Rights.

The exclusions of 2(b)(1)-(2) are a mixed bag; see moral and personality rights, and patents below.

CC0 also includes a definition with some generality:

Copyright and Related Rights include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. the right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform,
    display, communicate, and translate a Work;
  2. moral rights retained by the original author(s) and/or
  3. publicity and privacy rights pertaining to a person’s
    image or likeness depicted in a Work;
  4. rights protecting against unfair competition in regards
    to a Work, subject to the limitations in paragraph 4(a),
  5. rights protecting the extraction, dissemination, use and
    reuse of data in a Work;
  6. database rights (such as those arising under Directive
    96/9/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11
    March 1996 on the legal protection of databases, and under
    any national implementation thereof, including any amended
    or successor version of such directive); and
  7. other similar, equivalent or corresponding rights
    throughout the world based on applicable law or treaty, and
    any national implementations thereof.

As does GPLv3:

“Copyright” also means copyright-like laws that apply to other kinds of works, such as semiconductor masks.

Do CC0 and CC 4.0 licenses cover semiconductor mask restrictions (best not to use for this purpose anyway, see patents)? Does GPLv3 cover database restrictions? I’d hope the answer is yes in each case, and if the answer is no or ambiguous, future licenses further improve on the generality of restrictions around which permissions are granted.

There is one risk in licensing everything possible, and culturally it seems, specifically in licensing database rights — the impression that licensee which do so ‘create obligations’ related to those rights. I find this an odd way to think of a conditional permission as the creation of an obligation, when the user’s situation without said permission is unambiguously worse, i.e., no permission. Further, this impression is a problem for non-maximally-permissive licenses around copyright, not only database or other copyright-like rights.

In my opinion the best a public license can do is to grant permissions (conditionally, if not a maximally permissive license) around restrictions with as much generality as possible, and expressly state that a license is not needed (and therefore conditions to not apply) if a user can ignore underlying restrictions for some other reason. Can the approach of CC version 4.0 licenses to the latter be improved?

For the avoidance of doubt, where Exceptions and Limitations apply to Your use, this Public License does not apply, and You do not need to comply with its terms and conditions.

These are all trivialities for license nerds. For publishers and users of databases: Data is free. Free the data!

Moral and personality rights

CC 4.0 licenses address them well:

Moral rights, such as the right of integrity, are not licensed under this Public License, nor are publicity, privacy, and/or other similar personality rights; however, to the extent possible, the Licensor waives and/or agrees not to assert any such rights held by the Licensor to the limited extent necessary to allow You to exercise the Licensed Rights, but not otherwise.

To understand just how well, CC 3.0 licenses say:

Except as otherwise agreed in writing by the Licensor or as may be otherwise permitted by applicable law, if You Reproduce, Distribute or Publicly Perform the Work either by itself or as part of any Adaptations or Collections, You must not distort, mutilate, modify or take other derogatory action in relation to the Work which would be prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor or reputation. Licensor agrees that in those jurisdictions (e.g. Japan), in which any exercise of the right granted in Section 3(b) of this License (the right to make Adaptations) would be deemed to be a distortion, mutilation, modification or other derogatory action prejudicial to the Original Author’s honor and reputation, the Licensor will waive or not assert, as appropriate, this Section, to the fullest extent permitted by the applicable national law, to enable You to reasonably exercise Your right under Section 3(b) of this License (right to make Adaptations) but not otherwise.

Patents and trademark

Prior versions were silent, CC 4.0 licenses state:

Patent and trademark rights are not licensed under this Public License.

Perhaps some potential licensor will be reassured, but I consider this unnecessary and slightly harmful, replicating the main deficiency of CC0. The explicit exclusion makes it harder to see an implied license. This is especially troublesome when CC licenses are used in fields in which patents can serve as a barrier. Software is one, for which CC has long disrecommended use of CC licenses largely because software is already well-covered by licenses with which CC licenses are mostly incompatible with; the explicit patent exclusion in the CC 4.0 licenses makes them even less suitable. Hardware design is another such field, but one with fragmented licensing, including use of CC licenses. CC should now explicitly disrecommend using CC licenses for hardware designs and declare CC-BY-SA-4.0 one-way compatible with GPLv3+ so that projects using one of the CC-BY-SA licenses for hardware designs have a clear path to a more appropriate license.

Patents of course can be licensed separately, and as I pointed out before regarding CC0, there could be curious arrangements for projects using such licenses with patent exclusions, such as only accepting contributions from Defensive Patent License users. But the better route for “open hardware” projects and the like to take advantage of this complementarity is to do both, that is use a copyright and related rights license that includes a patent peace clause, and join the DPL club.


CC 4.0 licenses:

The Licensor waives and/or agrees not to assert any right or authority to forbid You from making technical modifications necessary to exercise the Licensed Rights, including technical modifications necessary to circumvent Effective Technological Measures.

This is a nice addition, which had been previously suggested for CC 3.0 licenses and rejected — the concept copied from GPLv3 drafts at the time. I would have preferred to also remove the limited DRM prohibition in the CC licenses.


The CC 4.0 licenses slightly streamline and clarify the substance of the attribution requirement, all to the good. The most important bit, itself only a slight streamlining and clarification of similar in previous versions:

You may satisfy the conditions in Section 3(a)(1) in any reasonable manner based on the medium, means, and context in which You Share the Licensed Material. For example, it may be reasonable to satisfy the conditions by providing a URI or hyperlink to a resource that includes the required information.

This pulls in the wild use from near zero to-the-letter compliance to fairly high.

I’m not fond of the requirement to remove attribution information if requested by the licensor, especially accurate information. I don’t know whether a licensor has ever made such a request, but that makes the clause only pointless rather than harmful. Not quite though, as it does make for a talking point.


not primarily intended for or directed towards commercial advantage or private monetary compensation. For purposes of this Public License, the exchange of the Licensed Material for other material subject to Copyright and Similar Rights by digital file-sharing or similar means is NonCommercial provided there is no payment of monetary compensation in connection with the exchange.

Not intended to be a substantive change, but I’ll take it. I’d have preferred a probably more significantly narrowed definition and a re-branding so as to increase the range of and differentiation among the licenses that CC stewards. But at the beginning of the 4.0 licenses process, I expected no progress, so am not disappointed. Branding and other positioning changes could come post-launch, if anyone is so inclined.

I think the biggest failure of the range of licenses with an NC term (and there are many preceding CC) is not confusion and pollution of commons, very roughly the complaints of people who would like NC to have a more predictable meaning and those who think NC offers inadequate permissions, respectively, but lack of valuable use. Licenses with the NC term are certainly used for hundreds of millions of photos and web pages, and some (hundreds of?) thousands of songs, videos, and books, but few where either the licensor or the public gains significant value above what would have been achieved if the licensor had simply offered gratis access (i.e., put stuff on the web, which is incredibly valuable even with no permissions granted). As far as I know, NC licenses haven’t played a significant role in enabling (again, relative to gratis access) any disruptive product or policy, and their use by widely recognized artists and brands is negligible (cf. CC-BY-SA, which Wikipedia and other mass collaboration projects rely on to exist, and CC-BY and CC0, which are part of disruptive policy mandates).

CC is understandably somewhat stuck between free/open norms, which make licenses with the NC an embarrassment, and their numerically large but low value uses. A license steward or would-be steward that really believed a semicommons license regime could do much more would try to break out of this rut by doing a complete rethink of the product (or that part of the product line), probably resulting in something much more different from the current NC implementation than the mere definitional narrowing and rebranding that I started out preferring. This could be related to my commentary on innovation in “copyright choice” tools above; whether the two are really the same thing would be a subject for inquiry.


If there were licenses that should not have been brought to version 4.0, at least not under the CC brand, it would have been CC-BY-NC-ND and CC-BY-ND.

Instead, an express permission to make derivatives so long as they are not shared was added. This change makes so-called text/content/data mining of any work under any of the CC version 4.0 licenses unambiguously permitted, and makes ND stick out a tiny bit less as an aberration from the CC license suite modeling some moderate copyright reform baseline.

There are some costs to this approach: surprise that a “no derivatives” license permits derivatives, slight reduction in scope and differentiation among licenses that CC stewards, giving credence to ND licenses as acceptable for scholarship, and abetting the impression that text/content/data mining requires permission at all. The last is most worrisome, but (as with similar worries around licensing databases) can be turned into a positive to the extent CC and everyone knowledgeable emphasizes that you ought not and probably don’t need a license; we’re just making sure you have the freedoms around CC licensed works that you ought to have anyway, in case the info regulation regime gets even worse — but please, mine away.


This is the most improved named (BY/NC/ND/SA) elements in CC 4.0 licenses, and the work is not done yet. But first, I wish it had been improved even more, by making more uses unambiguously “trigger” the SA provision. This has been done once, starting in 2.0:

For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical composition or sound recording, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image (“synching”) will be considered a Derivative Work for the purpose of this License.

The obvious next expansion would have been use of images (still or moving) in contextual relation to other material, eg illustrations used in a text. Without this expansion, CC-BY-SA and CC-BY-NC-SA are essentially identical to CC-BY and CC-BY-NC respectively for the vast majority of actual “reuse” instances. Such an expansion would have substantially increased the range of and differentiation among licenses that CC stewards. The main problem with such an expansion (apart from specifying it exactly) would be increasing the cost of incompatibility, where texts and images use different licenses. This problem would be mitigated by increasing compatibility among copyleft licenses (below), or could be eliminated by broadening the SA licensing requirement for uses triggered by expansion, eg any terms granting at least equivalent permissions, such that a CC-BY-SA illustration could still be used in a text licensed under CC-BY or CC0. Such an expansion did not make the cut, but I think together with aforementioned broadening of licensing requirements, such a modulation (neither strictly “stronger” nor “weaker”) would make for an interesting and heretofore unimplemented approach to copyleft, in some future license.

Apart from a subtle improvement that brings SA closer to a full “or later versions” license, and reflects usual practice and understanding (incidentally, “no sublicensing” in non-SA licenses remains pointless, is not to be found in most non-CC permissive licenses, and should not be replicated), the big improvements in CC 4.0 licenses with the SA element are the addition of the potential for one-way compatibility to CC-BY-SA, adding the same compatibility mechanism to CC-BY-NC-SA, and discussions with stewards of potentially compatible licenses which make the realization of compatibility more likely. (I would have included a variation on the more complex but in my view elegant and politically advisable mechanism introduced in MPL 2.0, which allows for continued use under the donor compatible license as long as possible. Nobody demanded such, so not adding the complexity was perhaps a good thing.)

I hope that in 2014 CC-BY-SA-4.0 will be declared bilaterally compatible with the Free Art License 1.3, or if a new FAL version is required, it is being worked on, with achieving bilateral compatibility as a hard requirement, and more importantly, that CC-BY-SA-4.0 is declared one-way compatible (as a donor) with GPLv3+. An immediate step toward those ends will be finalizing an additional statement of intent regarding the stewardship of licenses with the ShareAlike element.

Though I’ll be surprised if any license appears as a candidate for compatibility with CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0, adding the mechanism to that license is a good thing: as a matter of general license stewardship, reducing the barriers to someone else creating a better NC license (see above), and keeping “porting” completely outside the 4.0 license texts (hopefully there will be no porting, but if there is any, compatibility with the international versions in licenses with the SA element would be exclusively via the compatibility mechanism used for any potentially compatible license).


All license clauses have id attributes, allowing direct linking to a particular clause. These direct links are used for references within the licenses. These are big usability improvements.

I would have liked to see an expansive “tech” (including to some extent design) effort synchronized with the 4.0 licenses, from the practical (e.g., a canonical format for license texts, from which HTML, plain text, and others are generated; that may be HTML, but the current license HTML is inadequate for the task) to the impractical (except for increasing CC’s reputation, e.g., investigating whether any semantic annotation and structure, preferably building on existing research, would be useful, in theory, for the license texts, and possibly even a practical aid to translation), to testing further upgrades to the ‘legal user interface’ constituted by the license texts and “deed” summaries (e.g., combining these), to just bringing various CC tooling and documentation up to date with RDFa 1.1 Lite. But, some of these things could be done post-launch if anyone is so inclined, and my understanding is that CC has only a single technology person on staff, dedicated to creating other products, and most importantly, the ability to directly link to any license clause probably has more practical benefits than anything on my wishlist.


One of the best things about the CC 4.0 licenses is their increased understandability. This is corroborated by crude automated readability metrics below, but I suspect these do not adequately characterize the improvement, for they include three paragraphs of explanatory text not present in previous versions, probably don’t fully reflect the improvement of splitting hairball paragraphs into lists, and have no mechanism for accounting for how the improved usability of linking to individual clauses contributes to understandability.

CC-BY-NC-SA (the license with the most stuff in it, usually used as a drafting template for others) from version 1.0 through 4.0, including 4.0 drafts (lower numbers indicate better readability, except in the case of Flesch; Chars/(Flesch>=1) is my gross metric for how painful it is to read a document; see license automated readability metrics for an explanation):

SHA1 License Characters Kincaid ARI Coleman-Liau Fog Lix SMOG Flesch Chars/(Flesch>=1)
39b2ef67be9e5b4e743e5269a31ad1691515eede CC-BY-NC-SA-1.0 10228 13.3 16.3 14.2 17.0 59.7 14.2 48.4 211
5800ac2d32e35ace035cdcae693423cd9ff5bb6f CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 11927 13.3 16.2 14.7 17.1 60.0 14.4 47.0 253
e5f44c2df6b1391d1ddb6efb2db6f90670e4ae67 CC-BY-NC-SA-2.5 12013 13.1 16.0 14.6 16.9 59.6 14.2 47.7 251
a63b7e81e7b9e30df5d253aed1d2991af47992df CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0 17134 16.4 19.7 14.2 20.6 67.0 16.3 38.8 441
8b36c30ed0510d9ca9c69a2ef826b9fd52992474 by-nc-sa-4.0d1 12465 13.0 15.0 14.9 16.3 57.4 14.0 43.9 283
4a87c7af5cde7729e2e456ee0e8958f8632e3005 by-nc-sa-4.0d2 11583 13.1 14.8 14.2 16.8 56.2 14.4 44.7 259
bb6f239f7b39343d62440bff00de24da2b3d256f by-nc-sa-4.0d3 14422 14.1 15.8 15.1 18.2 61.0 15.4 38.6 373
cf5629ae38a745f4f9eca429f7b26af2e71eb109 by-nc-sa-4.0d4 14635 13.8 15.6 15.5 17.8 60.2 15.2 38.6 379
a5e1b9829fd287cbe255df71eb9a5aad7fb19dbc by-nc-sa-4.0d4v2 14808 14.0 15.8 15.5 18.0 60.6 15.2 38.1 388
887f9a5da675cf681421eab3ac6d61f82cf34971 CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0 14577 13.1 14.7 15.7 17.1 58.6 14.7 40.1 363

Versions 1.0 through 4.0 of each of the six CC licenses brought to version 4.0, and CC0:

SHA1 License Characters Kincaid ARI Coleman-Liau Fog Lix SMOG Flesch Chars/(Flesch>=1)
74286ae0dfea38c489437bf659b209737945145c CC0-1.0 5116 16.2 19.5 15.0 19.5 66.3 15.6 36.8 139
c766cc6d5e63277e46a3d83c6254e3528082587b CC-BY-1.0 8867 12.6 15.5 14.1 16.4 57.8 13.8 51.3 172
bf23729bec8ffd0de4d319fb33395c595c5c762b CC-BY-2.0 9781 12.1 14.9 14.3 16.1 56.7 13.7 51.9 188
024bb6d37d0a17624cf532bd14fbd42e15c5a963 CC-BY-2.5 9867 11.9 14.7 14.2 15.8 56.3 13.6 52.6 187
20dc61b94cfe1f4ba5814b340095b4c3fa23e801 CC-BY-3.0 14956 16.1 19.4 14.1 20.4 66.1 16.2 40.0 373
00b29551deee9ced874ffb9d29379b92f1487045 CC-BY-4.0 13003 13.0 14.5 15.4 16.9 57.9 14.6 41.1 316
e0c4b13ec5f9b5702d2e8b88d98b803e07d65cf8 CC-BY-NC-1.0 9313 13.2 16.2 14.3 17.0 59.3 14.1 49.3 188
970421995789d2e8189bb12071ab838a3fcf2a1a CC-BY-NC-2.0 10635 13.1 16.1 14.6 17.2 59.5 14.4 48.1 221
08773bb9bc13959c6f00fd49fcc081d69bda2744 CC-BY-NC-2.5 10721 12.9 15.8 14.5 16.9 59.0 14.2 48.9 219
9639556280637272ace081949f2a95f9153c0461 CC-BY-NC-3.0 15732 16.5 19.9 14.1 20.8 67.2 16.4 38.7 406
afcbb9791897e1e2f949d9d56ba64164746e0828 CC-BY-NC-4.0 13520 13.2 14.8 15.6 17.2 58.6 14.8 39.8 339
9ab2a3818e6ccefbc6ffdd48df7ecaec25e32e41 CC-BY-NC-ND-1.0 8729 12.7 15.8 14.4 16.4 58.6 13.8 51.0 171
966c97357e3b529e9c8bb8166fbb871c5bc31211 CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0 10074 13.0 16.1 14.7 17.0 59.7 14.3 48.8 206
c659a0e3a5ee8eba94aec903abdef85af353f11f CC-BY-NC-ND-2.5 10176 12.8 15.9 14.6 16.8 59.2 14.2 49.3 206
ad4d3e6d1fb6f89bbd28a44e263a89430b575dfa CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 14356 16.3 19.7 14.1 20.5 66.8 16.2 39.7 361
68960bdf512ff5219909f932b8a81fdb255b4642 CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0 13350 13.3 14.8 15.7 17.2 58.4 14.8 39.4 338
39b2ef67be9e5b4e743e5269a31ad1691515eede CC-BY-NC-SA-1.0 10228 13.3 16.3 14.2 17.0 59.7 14.2 48.4 211
5800ac2d32e35ace035cdcae693423cd9ff5bb6f CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0 11927 13.3 16.2 14.7 17.1 60.0 14.4 47.0 253
e5f44c2df6b1391d1ddb6efb2db6f90670e4ae67 CC-BY-NC-SA-2.5 12013 13.1 16.0 14.6 16.9 59.6 14.2 47.7 251
a63b7e81e7b9e30df5d253aed1d2991af47992df CC-BY-NC-SA-3.0 17134 16.4 19.7 14.2 20.6 67.0 16.3 38.8 441
887f9a5da675cf681421eab3ac6d61f82cf34971 CC-BY-NC-SA-4.0 14577 13.1 14.7 15.7 17.1 58.6 14.7 40.1 363
e4851120f7e75e55b82a2c007ed98ffc962f5fa9 CC-BY-ND-1.0 8280 12.3 15.5 14.3 16.1 57.9 13.6 52.4 158
f1aa9011714f0f91005b4c9eb839bdb2b4760bad CC-BY-ND-2.0 9228 11.9 14.9 14.5 15.8 56.9 13.5 52.7 175
5f665a8d7ac1b8fbf6b9af6fa5d53cecb05a1bd3 CC-BY-ND-2.5 9330 11.8 14.7 14.4 15.6 56.5 13.4 53.2 175
3fb39a1e46419e83c99e4c9b6731268cbd1591cd CC-BY-ND-3.0 13591 15.8 19.2 14.1 20.0 65.6 15.9 41.2 329
ac747a640273815cf3a431be0afe4ec5620493e3 CC-BY-ND-4.0 12830 13.0 14.4 15.4 16.9 57.6 14.6 40.7 315
dda55573a1a3a80d294b1bb9e1eeb3a6c722968c CC-BY-SA-1.0 9779 13.1 16.1 14.2 16.8 59.1 14.0 49.5 197
9cceb80d865e52462983a441904ef037cf3a4576 CC-BY-SA-2.0 11044 12.5 15.3 14.4 16.2 57.9 13.8 50.2 220
662ca9fce7fed61439fcbc27ca0d6db0885718d9 CC-BY-SA-2.5 11130 12.3 15.0 14.4 16.0 57.5 13.6 50.9 218
4a5bb64814336fb26a9e5d36f22896ce4d66f5e0 CC-BY-SA-3.0 17013 16.4 19.8 14.1 20.5 67.2 16.2 38.9 437
8632363dcc2c9fc44f582b14274259b3a35744b2 CC-BY-SA-4.0 14041 12.9 14.4 15.4 16.8 57.8 14.5 41.4 339

It’s good for automated readability metrics that from 3.0 to 4.0 CC-BY-SA is most improved (the relevant clause was a hairball paragraph; CC-BY-NC-SA should have improved less, as it gained the compatibility mechanism) and CC-BY-ND is least improved (it gained express permission for private adaptations).


I leave a list of recommendations (many already mingled in or implied by above) to a future post. But really, just use CC0.

Software Patent NATO, 1993

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

In my thoughts on the Defensive Patent License, I neglected to note in the history section a similar proposal made in 1993 by John Walker, founder of Autodesk, PATO: Collective Security In the Age of Software Patents:

[T]he trend toward increased litigation, constraining innovation in the software industry, is accelerating. The U.S. government is using trade negotiations to force other countries to institute software patents in their own markets.

While eliminating software patents would be the best solution, changing the law takes a long time and is uncertain to succeed. I’ve been trying to puzzle out how the software industry might rescue itself from immolation through litigation and came up with the following proposal.

Could have been written in 2013.

I’ve been thinking about using NATO as a model of a patent defence consortium. Suppose a bunch of big software companies (perhaps led by Oracle, who’s already taken the point on this) were to form PATO–Patent And Technology Organisation–and contribute all their current software patents, and all new software patents they were granted as long as they remained a member of PATO, to its “cross-licensing pool”. To keep the lawyers and shareholders from going nuts, the patents would be licensed through PATO but would remain the property of the member–a member could withdraw with appropriate notice and take the patents back from the pool.

Any member of PATO would be granted an automatic, royalty-free license to use any patent in the cross-licensing pool. Thus, by putting your patents in the pool, you obtain access to all the others automatically (but if you withdraw and pull your patents, of course you then become vulnerable for those you’ve used, which creates a powerful disincentive to quit).

The basic principle of NATO is that an attack on any member is considered an attack on all members. In PATO it works like this–if any member of PATO is alleged with infringement of a software patent by a non-member, then that member may counter-sue the attacker based on infringement of any patent in the PATO cross-licensing pool, regardless of what member contributed it. Once a load of companies and patents are in the pool, this will be a deterrent equivalent to a couple thousand MIRVs in silos–odds are that any potential plaintiff will be more vulnerable to 10 or 20 PATO patents than the PATO member is to one patent from the aggressor. Perhaps the suit will just be dropped and the bad guy will decide to join PATO….

Differences with the DPL, two decades hence:

  • PATO was to cover software patents only; a challenge to define.
  • PATO members could counter-sue attackers with patents from any other member; I have no idea whether this is legally feasible.
  • PATO never moved beyond raw idea stage, as far as I know, while legal work on the DPL has gone on for a few years, DPL 1.0 is complete, and the project is set for a public launch in February.

In 1993, software patents were new, and still opposed by Oracle and Microsoft. Since then both have become software patent aggressors and defend the idea of software patents.

Many companies that claim to dislike software patent aggression in 2013 will become aggressors over the next years, or their patents will be obtained and used by trolls and other aggressors. Becoming a DPL user now may be an effective way for such companies to avoid this fate, and avoid contributing to the stifling of equality, freedom, and innovation.

Addendum 20131202: Another difference between the PATO sketch and the DPL implementation is that the former includes “US$25/year” to be a member, while the latter is gratis. I assume that the nascent DPL Foundation will be able to attract adequate grants and other support, perhaps more than could be obtained through a membership fee, but the choice is at the least an interesting and important one.