Post Open Hardware

Software Freedom Conservancy 2015

Thursday, December 24th, 2015

Software Freedom Conservancy is running its 2nd annual (last year) individual supporter campaign. We need 750 supporters (at US$120 each) to keep the lights on (continue serving as a non-profit charitable home for free/open source software projects…assuming we manage to stay alive, some exciting new member projects will be joining in 2016) and 2500 to take on new GPL enforcement work. See the Conservancy news item and blog post announcing the campaign last month.

Conservancy supporter Sumana Harihareswara made a great video explaining why you should also support Conservancy. [Added 20151228: blog post with transcript]

The news item above includes a list of 2015 accomplishments. My second favorite is Outreachy (“helps people from groups underrepresented in free and open source software get involved”) joining as the first member project that isn’t strictly a software development project. My favorite is a link away from the main list. The list notes that Conservancy joined a one-page comment urging the FCC to not restrict wireless devices to manufacturer-provided software. That’s good, but the blog post about the comment notes that Conservancy leaders Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn also signed a much more interesting and extensive comment proposing an alternate regulatory regime of requiring fully auditable software and ongoing security updates, almost mandating supported free software (but not quite, for the comment doesn’t call for mandating free copyright licensing) for approved devices. This is by far the most important document on software freedom produced this year and I urge everyone to read it. I’ve copied most of the alternative proposal below (it starts on page 12, and is followed by many pages of endorsers):

In place of these regulations, we suggest that the Commission adopt rules to foster innovation and improve security and usage of the Wi-Fi spectrum for everybody.

Specifically, we advocate that rather than denying users the ability to make any changes to the router whatsoever, router vendors be required to open access to their code (especially code that controls RF parameters) to describe and document the safe operating bounds for the software defined radios within the Wi-Fi router.

In this alternative approach, the FCC could mandate that:

  1. Any vendor of SDR, wireless, or Wi-Fi radio must make public the full and maintained source code for the device driver and radio firmware in order to maintain FCC compliance. The source code should be in a buildable, change controlled source code repository on the Internet, available for review and improvement by all.
  2. The vendor must assure that secure update of firmware be working at shipment, and that update streams be under ultimate control of the owner of the equipment. Problems with compliance can then be fixed going forward by the person legally responsible for the router being in compliance.
  3. The vendor must supply a continuous stream of source and binary updates that must respond to regulatory transgressions and Common Vulnerability and Exposure reports (CVEs) within 45 days of disclosure, for the warranted lifetime of the product, the business lifetime of the vendor, or until five years after the last customer shipment, whichever is longer.
  4. Failure to comply with these regulations should result in FCC decertification of the existing product and, in severe cases, bar new products from that vendor from being considered for certification.
  5. Additionally, we ask the FCC to review and rescind any rules for anything that conflict with open source best practices, produce unmaintainable hardware, or cause vendors to believe they must only shipundocumented “binary blobs” of compiled code or use lockdown mechanisms that forbid user patching. This is an ongoing problem for the Internet community committed to best practice change control and error correction on safety-critical systems.

This path has the following advantages:

  • Inspectability – Skilled developers can verify the correctness of software drivers that are now hidden in binary “blobs”.
  • Opportunity for innovation – Many experiments can be performed to make the network “work better” without affecting compliance.
  • Improved spectrum utilization – A number of techniques to improve the use of Wi-Fi bands remain theoretical possibilities. Field trials with these proposed algorithms could prove (or disprove) their utility, and advance the science of networking.
  • Fulfillment of legal (GPL) obligations -Allowing router vendors to publish their RF-controlling source code in compliance with the license under which they obtained it will free them from the legal risk of being forced to cease shipping code for which they no longer have a license.

Requiring all manufacturers of Wi-Fi devices to make their source code publicly available and regularly maintained, levels the playing field as no one can behave badly. The recent Volkswagen scandal with uninspected computer code that cheated emissions testing demonstrates that this is a real concern.

Why is this so important?

  • It isn’t purely a rear-guard action aiming to stop a bad regulation.
  • It proposes a commons-favoring regulatory regime.
  • It does so in an extremely powerful public regulatory context.
  • It makes a coherent argument for the advantages of its approach; it tries to win a policy argument.
  • The advantages are compelling.

Yes, the last three points are in contrast with relying on an extremely weak and resource poor private regulatory hack which substitutes developer caprice for a public policy argument. But not entirely: the last advantage mentions this hack. I doubt we’ll reach the 2500 supporters required to pursue new hack (GPL) enforcement, but please prove me wrong. Whether you love, hate, or exploit the GPL, enforcement works for you.

Please join Sumana Harihareswara, me, and a who’s who of free/open source software in supporting Conservancy’s work. The next $50,000 in donations are being matched by Private Internet Access.

Call for mini-essays on “the cost of freedom” in free knowledge movements in honor of Bassel Khartabil

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Dear friends,

I’m helping organize a book titled “The Cost of Freedom” in honor of Bassel Khartabil, a contributor to numerous free/open knowledge projects worldwide and in Syria, where he’s been a political prisoner since 2012, missing and in grave danger since October 3. You can read about Bassel at and lots more at and

Much of the book is going to be created at a face-to-face Book Sprint in Marseille Nov 2-6; some info about that and the theme/title generally at

We’re also asking people like yourself who have been fighting in the trenches of various free knowledge movements (culture, software, science, etc.) to contribute brief essays for inclusion in the book. One form an essay might take is a paragraph on each of:

* An issue you’ve faced that was challenging to you in your free knowledge work, through the lens on “cost”; perhaps a career or time opportunity cost, or the cost of dealing with unwelcoming or worse participants, or the cost of “peeling off layer upon layer the proprietary way of life” as put in
* How you addressed this challenge, or perhaps have yet to do so completely
* Advice to someone starting out in free knowledge; perhaps along the lines of had you understood the costs, what would you have done differently

But feel free to be maximally creative within the theme. We don’t have a minimum or a maximum required length for contributed essays, but especially do not be shy about concision or form. If all we get is haiku that might be a problem, or there might be a message in that of some sort.

Other details: The book will be PUBLISHED on Nov 6. We need your contribution no later than the end of Nov 3 UTCThursday, Nov 5 at 11:00 UTC (Paris: noon; New York: 6AM; Tokyo: 9PM) to be included. The book will be released under CC0; giving up the “right” to sue anyone for any use whatsoever of your contribution is a cost of entry…or one of those proprietary layers to be peeled back. Send contributions to

Feel free to share this with other people who you know have something to say on this topic. We’re especially looking for voices underrepresented in free knowledge movements.


p.s. Please spread the word about #freebassel even if you can’t contribute to the book!

Hello World Intellectual Freedom Organization

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

Today I’m soft launching an initiative that I’ve been thinking about for 20 years, obtained a domain name for in 1998, blogged about once in 2004, and the last few years have been exploring on this blog without naming it. See the first items in my annual thematic doubt posts for 2013 and 2014: “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.”

I call it the World Intellectual Freedom Organization (WIFO).

Read about its theory, why a new organization, proposed activities, and how you can help/get involved.

Why today? Because April 26 is World Intellectual Freedom Day, occupying and displacing World Intellectual Property Day, just as intellectual freedom must occupy and displace intellectual property for a good future. Consider this 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day another small step forward, following last year’s Without Intellectual Property Day.

Why a soft launch? Because I’m eager to be public about WIFO, but there’s tons of work to do before it can properly be considered launched. I’ve been getting feedback from a handful of people on a quasi-open fellowship proposal for WIFO (that’s where the activities link above points to) and apologize to the many other people I should’ve reached out to. Well, now I’m doing that. I want your help in this project of world liberation!

Video version of my proposal at the Internet Archive or YouTube. My eyes do not lie, I am reading in an attempt to fit too much material in 5 minutes.

I’ll probably blog much less here about “IP” and commons/free/libre/open issues here from now on, especially after opening a WIFO blog (for now there’s a Discourse forum; most of the links above point there). Not to worry, I am overflowing with idiosyncratic takes on everything else, and will continue to post accordingly here, as much as time permits. ☻

Be sure to celebrate the 0th World Intellectual Freedom Day, even if only momentarily and with your lizard brain.

Defensive Patent License 1.1 w/diff

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

13 months ago I wrote about the Defensive Patent License, in particular in relation to free/open source software (followup, 1993 predecessor). Today the DPL project released DPL 1.1 and announced the first licensor; see Internet Archive and EFF posts.

(The EFF post references its earlier guide to alternative patent licensing which I meant to critique, probably along lines of a partially overalpping guide to reform proposals, see patent reform, parts deficient in commons and compare with protect commons from patents. I noticed today that one of the other alternative licensing schemes, License On Transfer, seems to be getting some uptake.)

Most of what I wrote previously about the DPL concept still applies with DPL 1.1 (interesting concept, possibility of substantial good impact in long term). The new version makes one major improvement (especially in relation to FLOSS) — the exclusion of “clone” products or services from the license grant has been removed. Another small (as in a -3 words difference) improvement is that alleging patent invalidity against another DPL user no longer breaches one’s licenses (only alleging infringement does), invalidation being a defensive tactic.

DPL 1.1 also adds the requirement of explicit acceptance, which strikes me as burdensome: one must research licensed patents in order to figure out which DPL users to contact with acceptance, or regularly contact all known DPL users with acceptance of all licensed patents. I understand from the DPL 1.1 announcement telecon that formal acceptance was added because the license grant is more likely to stand up in court with such explicit acceptance, with that more likely assessment based on differences between patent and copyright, and between clubs and public licenses — and further that the “contact all known DPL users” practice will in the future be facilitated by the DPL website.

Finally, a very minor issue: DPL 1.1 reproduces the GPL’s confusing three-option version compatibility scheme (this-version-or-later, only-this-version, or any-version-if-none-specified). If one must have options, I consider less confusing this-version-or-later as default, with option to explicitly mandate only-this-version.

Congratulations and thanks to Jason Schultz, Jennifer Urban, Brewster Kahle, John Gilmore, and others for getting the DPL into production. I hope it is wildly successful; check out the DPL website and help update the Wikipedia article.

Following is a wdiff between DPL 1.0 and 1.1 in two parts (because 1.0 put definitions at the beginning, 1.1 puts them at the end) below, excluding 1.1’s preface, which has no equivalent in 1.0.

DPL 1.0-1.1 wdiff: Grant, conditions, etc.

[-2.-]{+1.+} License Grant

Subject to the conditions and limitations of this [-License and upon-]
[-affirmative assent to the commitments specified in Section 1.7 from an-]
[-individual DPL User,-] {+License,+} Licensor hereby
grants and agrees to grant to [-such-] {+any+} DPL User {+(as defined in Section 7.6) who+}
{+follows the procedures for License Acceptance (as defined in Section 1.1)+}
a worldwide, royalty-free, no-charge, non-exclusive, irrevocable (except
as stated in Sections [-3(e)-] {+2(e)+} and [-3(f))-] {+2(f))+} license, perpetual for the term of
the relevant Licensed Patents, to make, have made, use, sell, offer for
sale, import, and distribute Licensed Products and Services that would
otherwise infringe any claim of Licensed Patents. A Licensee’s sale
of Licensed Products and Services pursuant to this agreement exhausts
the Licensor’s ability to assert infringement [-by-] {+against+} a downstream
purchaser or user of the Licensed Products or Services.

[-2.1-] {+Licensor’s+}
{+obligation to grant Licenses under this provision ceases upon the arrival+}
{+of any applicable Discontinuation Date, unless that Date is followed by+}
{+a subsequent Offering Announcement.+}
{+1.1+} License Acceptance

In order to accept this License, Licensee must {+qualify as a DPL User+}
{+(as defined in Section 7.6) and must+} contact Licensor via the
[-contact-] information
provided in [-Section 1.16 and-] {+Licensor’s Offering Announcement to+} state affirmatively that
Licensee accepts the terms of this License. Licensee must also {+communicate+}
{+the URL of its own Offering Announcement (as defined in Section 7.13) and+}
specify whether it is accepting the License to all Licensor’s Patents or
only a subset of those Patents. If Licensee is only accepting the License
to a subset of Licensor’s Patents, Licensee must specify each individual
{+Patent’s country of issuance and corresponding+} patent [-by patent number.-]
[-3.-] {+number for which+}
{+it is accepting a License. There is no requirement that the Licensor+}
{+respond to the Licensee’s affirmative acceptance of this License.+}
{+2.+} License Restrictions

Notwithstanding the foregoing, this License is expressly subject to and
limited by the following restrictions:

(a) No Sublicensing. This License does not include the right to sublicense
any Licensed Patent of any Licensor.

(b) License Extends Solely to Licensed Patents in Connection with Licensed
Products and Services. For clarity, this License does not purport to
grant any rights in any Licensor’s copyright, trademark, trade dress,
design, trade secret, other intellectual property, or any other rights of
Licensor other than the rights to Licensed Patents granted in Section 2,
nor does the License cover products or services other than the Licensed
Products and Services.  {+For example, this License would not apply to+}
{+any conduct of a Licensee that occurred prior to accepting this License+}
{+under Section 1.1.+}

(c) Scope. This License does not include Patents with a priority date
or Effective Filing Date later than Licensor’s last Discontinuation
Date that has not been followed by a subsequent Offering Announcement
by Licensor.

(d) Future DPL Users. This License does not extend to any DPL User whose
Offering Announcement occurs later than Licensor’s last Discontinuation
Date that has not been followed by a subsequent Offering Announcement
by Licensor.

(e) Revocation and Termination Rights. Licensor reserves the right to
revoke and/or terminate this License with respect to a particular Licensee [-if:-]
{+if, after the date of the Licensee’s most recent Offering Announcement:+}
{+i.+} Licensee makes any Infringement Claim, not including Defensive Patent
Claims, against a DPL User; or

{+ii.+} Licensee {+assigns, transfers, or+} grants an exclusive [-license,-]
[-    with the right to sue, or assigns or transfers-] {+license for+}
a Patent to an entity or individual other than a DPL User without
conditioning the [-transfer-] {+assignment, transfer, or exclusive license+} on the [-transferee-]
{+recipient+} continuing to abide by the terms of this [-License.-] {+License, including but+}
{+not limited to the revocation and termination rights under this Section.+}

(f) Optional Conversion to FRAND Upon Discontinuation. [-As-] {+Notwithstanding+}
{+any other provision in this License, as+} of any particular Licensee’s
Discontinuation Date, Licensor has the right to convert the License of
that particular Licensee from one that is royalty-free and no-charge to
one that is subject to Fair, Reasonable, And Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) [-terms.-]
{+terms going forward. No other terms in the license may be altered in+}
{+any way under this provision.+}
{+3.+}        Versions of the License


{+(a)+} New Versions

The DPL [-Foundation is-] {+Foundation, Jason M. Schultz of New York University, and Jennifer+}
{+M. Urban of the University of California at Berkeley are+} the license [-steward. No-]
{+stewards. Unless otherwise designated by one of the license stewards,+}
{+no+} one other than the license [-steward-] {+stewards+} has the right to modify or publish
new versions of this License. Each version will be given a distinguishing
version number.


{+(b)+} Effect of New {+or Revised+} Versions

[-Licensed Products and Services-]

{+Any one of the license stewards+} may {+publish revised and/or new versions+}
{+of the DPL from time to time. Such new versions will+} be [-used, made, sold, offered for sale,-]
[-imported, or distributed under-] {+similar in spirit+}
{+to+} the [-terms-] {+present version, but may differ in detail to address new problems+}
{+or concerns.+}
{+Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If Licensor+}
{+specifies in her Offering Announcement that she is offering a certain+}
{+numbered version+} of the [-version-] {+DPL “or any later version”, Licensee+}
{+has the option+} of {+following+} the [-License-]
[-originally accepted pursuant to Section 2.1,-] {+terms and conditions either of that+}
{+numbered version+} or [-under-] {+of any later version published by one of+} the [-terms-] {+license+}
{+stewards. If Licensor does not specify a version number+} of {+the DPL in+}
{+her Offering Announcement, Licensee may choose+} any
[-subsequent-] version {+ever+} published
by {+any of+} the license [-steward.-]
[-5.-] {+stewards.+}
{+4.+}        Disclaimer of Claims Related to Patent Validity and [-Noninfringement.-]

Licensor makes no representations and disclaims any and all warranties
as to the validity of the Licensed Patents or [-that-] {+the+} products or processes
covered by Licensed Patents do not infringe the patent, copyright,
trademark, trade secret, or other intellectual property rights of any
other party.


{+5.+}        Disclaimer of [-Warranties.-] {+Warranties+}



{+6.+}        Limitation of [-Liability.-] {+Liability+}


DPL 1.0-1.1 wdiff: Definitions

[-1.-]{+7.+} Definitions


{+7.1+} “Affiliate” means a corporation, partnership, or other entity in
which the Licensor or Licensee possesses more than fifty percent (50%) of
the ownership interest, representing the right to make the decisions for
such corporation, partnership or other entity which is now or hereafter,
owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by Licensor or Licensee.

[-1.2  “Clone Products or Services” means products or services of-]
[-Licensee that include the same or substantially identical functionality of-]
[-all or a commercially substantial portion of a prior released product or-]
[-service of a Licensor and implement the same or a substantially identical-]
[-proprietary user interface of the prior product or service.-]

{+7.2+} “Defensive Patent Claim” means an Infringement Claim against a
DPL User made in response to a pending prior Infringement Claim by said
DPL User against the asserter of the Defensive Patent Claim.


{+7.3+} “Discontinuation Announcement” means a DPL User’s announcement

{+(a)+} declares the DPL User’s intent to discontinue offering to license
its Licensed Patents under the DPL, effective as of the Discontinuation
Date; and

{+(b)+} contains the DPL [-User's-] {+User’s+} contact information for licensing purposes;
and [-is submitted to the DPL-]
[-    Website via the Websites's official email address-]

{+(c)+} at least 180 days prior to [-a-] {+the+} Discontinuation [-Date;-] {+Date is posted to a+}
{+publicly accessible website;+} and

{+(d)+} at least 180 days prior to the Discontinuation Date is [-posted to a publicly accessible-]
[-    indexed-] {+communicated+}
{+reasonably and promptly, along with the URL of the+} website [-controlled-] {+mentioned in+}
{+subsection (c) of this provision,+} by the {+discontinuing+} DPL User [-using a URL accessible-]
[-    via at least the following syntax: "" or-]
[-    "" where "NAME" is-] {+to every+}
{+Licensor of+} a [-name-]
[-    commonly associated with-] {+Patent to which+} the {+discontinuing+} DPL [-user, such as-] {+User is+} a [-company name.-]
[-1.5-] {+Licensee.+}
{+7.4+} “Discontinuation Date” means the date a DPL User specifies in
{+its+} Discontinuation Announcement to discontinue offering to license its
Licensed Patents under the DPL, which must be at least 180 days after
the date of an individual or entity’s most recent Discontinuation


{+7.5+} “DPL” and “License” mean the grant, conditions, and
limitations herein.


{+7.6+} “DPL User” means an entity or individual that:

{+(a)+} has committed to offer a license to each of its Patents under the [-DPL, or, if such entity or individual has no Patents, has-]
[-    committed to offer a license to any Patents it may obtain in the-]
[-    future under the-]
DPL; and

{+(b)+} has declared such commitment by means of an Offering Announcement; and

{+(c)+} if the entity or individual has made a Discontinuation Announcement,
the Discontinuation Date has not yet occurred; and

{+(d)+} has not engaged in the conduct described in either Sections [-3(e)(i)-] {+2(e)(i)+}
or [-3(e)(ii).-]
[-1.8 “DPL Website” means the website-]
[-, or any future site designated by-]
[-the DPL Foundation.-]
[-1.9-] {+2(e)(ii).+}
{+7.7+} “Effective Filing Date” is the effective filing date determined
by the applicable patent office that issued the relevant Licensed Patent.

[-1.10 “Foundry Services or Products” means services provided by-]
[-Licensee to, or products manufactured by Licensee for or on behalf of,-]
[-a specific third party, using designs or specifications received in-]
[-a substantially completed form from that third party, for resale or-]
[-relicense to or on behalf of that third party. This definition will not-]
[-apply when:-]
[-    Licensee or its Affiliate owns the design or specification of such-]
[-    service or product and the service or product is not specifically-]
[-    designed for commercial exploitation substantially only by such third-]
[-    party; or such design or specification resulted from a bona fide joint-]
[-    development or joint participation between Licensee or its Affiliate-]
[-    and such third party, including but not limited to a standards body-]
[-    or community organization and the resulting products, services or-]
[-    components provided by Licensee or its Affiliate meet the definition-]
[-    of Licensed Services Product or Products as set forth herein; or-]
[-    the third party recipient of the products or services is a DPL User.-]

{+7.8+} “Infringement Claim” means any legal action, proceeding or
procedure for the resolution of a controversy in any jurisdiction in
the world, whether created by a claim, counterclaim, or cross-claim,
alleging patent [-infringement or patent invalidity.-] {+infringement.+} Such actions, proceedings, or procedures
shall include, but not be limited to, lawsuits brought in state or
federal court, binding arbitrations, and administrative actions such as
a proceeding before the International Trade Commission.


 {+7.9+} “Licensed Patents” means any and all Patents (a) owned or
 controlled by Licensor; or (b) under which Licensor has the right
 to grant licenses without the consent of or payment to a third party
 (other than an employee inventor).


{+7.10+} “Licensed Products and Services” means any products, services
or other activities of a Licensee that practice one or more claims of
one or more Licensed Patents of a [-Licensor, but excluding Foundry Services-]
[-or Products and Clone Products or Services.-]
[-1.14-] {+Licensor.+}
{+7.11+} “Licensee” means any individual, corporation, partnership or
other entity exercising rights granted by the Licensor under this License
including all Affiliates of such entity.


{+7.12+} “Licensor” means any individual, corporation, partnership or
other entity with the right to grant licenses in Licensed Patents under
this License, including any Affiliates of such entity.


 {+7.13+} “Offering Announcement” means a Licensor’s announcement that:

{+(a)+} declares the Licensor’s commitment to offer a [-license to-] {+Defensive Patent+}
{+License for any of+} its Patents
    [-under the DPL, or, if such Licensor has no Patents, the commitment to-]
[-    offer a license-] to any [-Patents it may obtain in the future under the-]
[-    DPL;-] {+DPL User;+} and

{+(b)+} contains the Licensor’s contact information for licensing purposes;
and [-is submitted to the DPL Website via the Website’s-]
[-    official email address; and-]

{+(c)+} is posted to a publicly accessible
    [-indexed website controlled by Licensor using a URL accessible-]
[-    via at least-] {+website.+}
{+An Offering Announcement may, but is not required to, specify the+}
{+particular version of the DPL that+} the [-following syntax: "" or-]
[-    "" where "NAME"-] {+Licensor+} is {+committed to+}
{+offering. It may also specify+} a [-name-]
[-    commonly associated with Licensor, such as a company name.-]
[-1.17-] {+particular version of the DPL “or any+}
{+later version” to allow Licensees to accept subsequent new or revised+}
{+versions of the DPL.+}
{+7.14+} “Patent” means any right, whether now or later acquired,
under any national or international patent law issued by a governmental
body authorized to issue such rights. For clarity, this definition
includes any rights that may arise in patent applications, utility
models, granted patents, including, but not limited to, continuations,
continuations-in-part, divisionals, provisionals, results of any patent
reexaminations, and reissues, but excluding design patents or design

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Last month the Free Software Foundation and Software Freedom Conservancy launched, “a collaborative project to create and disseminate useful information, tutorial material, and new policy ideas regarding all forms of copyleft licensing.” The main feature of the project now is a 157 page tutorial on the GPL which assembles material developed over the past 10 years and a new case study. I agreed to write a first draft of material covering CC-BY-SA, the copyleft license most widely used for non-software works. My quote in the announcement: “I’m glad to bring my knowledge about the Creative Commons copyleft licenses as a contribution to improve further this excellent tutorial text, and I hope that as a whole can more generally become a central location to collect interesting ideas about copyleft policy.”

I tend to offer apologia to copyleft detractors and criticism to copyleft advocates, and cheer whatever improvements to copyleft licenses can be mustered (I hope to eventually write a cheery post about the recent compatibility of CC-BY-SA and the Free Art License), but I’m far more interested in copyleft licenses as prototypes for non-copyright policy.

For now, below is that first draft. It mostly stands alone, but might be merged in pieces as the tutorial is restructured to integrate material about non-GPL and non-software copyleft licenses. Your patches and total rewrites welcome!

Detailed Analysis of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike Licenses

This tutorial gives a comprehensive explanation of the most popular free-as-in-freedom copyright licenses for non-software works, the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (“CC-BY-SA”, or sometimes just “BY-SA”) – with an emphasis on the current version 4.0 (“CC-BY-SA-4.0”).

Upon completion of this part of the tutorial, readers can expect to have learned the following:

  • The history and role of copyleft licenses for non-software works.
  • The differences between the GPL and CC-BY-SA, especially with respect to copyleft policy.
  • The basic differences between CC-BY-SA versions 1.0, 2.0, 2.5, and 4.0.
  • An understanding of how CC-BY-SA-4.0 implements copyleft.
  • Where to find more resources about CC-BY-SA compliance.

FIXME this list should be more aggressive, but material is not yet present

WARNING: As of November 2014 this part is brand new, and badly needs review, referencing, expansion, error correction, and more.

Freedom as in Free Culture, Documentation, Education…

Critiques of copyright’s role in concentrating power over and making culture inaccessible have existed throughout the history of copyright. Few contemporary arguments about “copyright in the digital age” have not already been made in the 1800s or before. Though one can find the occasional ad hoc “anti-copyright”, “no rights reserved”, or pro-sharing statement accompanying a publication, use of formalized public licenses for non-software works seems to have begun only after the birth of the free software movement and of widespread internet access among elite populations.

Although they have much older antecedents, contemporary movements to create, share, and develop policy encouraging “cultural commons”, “open educational resources”, “open access scientific publication” and more, have all come of age in the last 10-15 years – after the huge impact of free software was unmistakable. Additionally, these movements have tended to emphasize access, with permissions corresponding to the four freedoms of free software and the use of fully free public licenses as good but optional.

It’s hard not to observe that it seems the free software movement arose more or less shortly after as it became desirable (due to changes in the computing industry and software becoming unambiguously subject to copyright in the United States by 1983), but non-software movements for free-as-in-freedom knowledge only arose after they became more or less inevitable, and only begrudgingly at that. Had a free culture “constructed commons” movement been successful prior to the birth of free software, the benefits to computing would have been great – consider the burdens of privileged access to proprietary culture for proprietary software through DRM and other mechanisms, toll access to computer science literature, and development of legal mechanisms and policy through pioneering trial-and-error.

Alas, counterfactual optimism does not change the present – but might embolden our visions of what freedom can be obtained and defended going forward. Copyleft policy will surely continue to be an important and controversial factor, so it’s worth exploring the current version of the most popular copyleft license intended for use with non-software works, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-SA-4.0), the focus of this tutorial.

Free Definitions

When used to filter licenses, the Free Software Definition and Open Source Definition have nearly identical results. For licenses primarily intended for non-software works, the Definition of Free Cultural Works and Open Definition similarly have identical results, both with each other and with the software definitions which they imitate. All copyleft licenses for non-software works must be “free” and “open” per these definitions.

There are various other definitions of “open access”, “open content”, and “open educational resources” which are more subject to interpretation or do not firmly require the equivalent of all four freedoms of the free software definition. While these definitions are not pertinent to circumscribing the concept of copyleft – which is about enforcing all four freedoms, for everyone. But copyleft licenses for non-software works are usually considered “open” per these other definitions, if they are considered at all.

The open access to scientific literature movement, for example, seems to have settled into advocacy for non-copyleft free licenses (CC-BY) on one hand, and acceptance of highly restrictive licenses or access without other permissions on the other. This creates practical problems: for example, nearly all scientific literature either may not be incorporated into Wikipedia (which uses CC-BY-SA) or may not incorporate material developed on Wikipedia – both of which do happen, when the licenses allow it. This tutorial is not the place to propose solutions, but let this problem be a motivator for encouraging more widespread understanding of copyleft policy.

Non-software Copylefts

Copyleft is a compelling concept, so unsurprisingly there have been many attempts to apply it to non-software works – starting with use of GPLv2 for documentation, then occasionally for other texts, and art in various media. Although the GPL was and is perfectly usable for any work subject to copyright, several factors were probably important in preventing it from being the dominant copyleft outside of software:

  • the GPL is clearly intended first as a software license, thus requiring some perspective to think of applying to non-software works;
  • the FSF’s concern is software, and the organization has not strongly advocated for using the GPL for non-software works;
  • further due to the (now previous) importance of its hardcopy publishing business and desire to retain the ability to take legal action against people who might modify its statements of opinion, FSF even developed a non-GPL copyleft license specifically for documentation, the Free Documentation License (FDL; which ceases to be free and thus is not a copyleft if its “invariant sections” and similar features are used);
  • a large cultural gap and lack of population overlap between free software and other movements has limited knowledge transfer and abetted reinvention and relearning;
  • the question of what constitutes source (“preferred form of the work for making modifications”) for many non-software works.

As a result, several copyleft licenses for non-software works were developed, even prior to the existence of Creative Commons. These include the aforementioned FDL (1998), Design Science License (1999), Open Publication License (1999; like the FDL it has non-free options), Free Art License (2000), Open Game License (2000; non-free options), EFF Open Audio License (2001), LinuxTag Green OpenMusic License (2001; non-free options) and the QING Public License (2002). Additionally several copyleft licenses intended for hardware designs were proposed starting in the late 1990s if not sooner (the GPL was then and is now also commonly used for hardware designs, as is now CC-BY-SA).1

At the end of 2002 Creative Commons launched with 11 1.0 licenses and a public domain dedication. The 11 licenses consisted of every non-mutually exclusive combination of at least one of the Attribution (BY), NoDerivatives (ND), NonCommercial (NC), and ShareAlike (SA) conditions (ND and SA are mutually exclusive; NC and ND are non-free). Three of those licenses were free (as was the public domain dedication), two of them copyleft: CC-SA-1.0 and CC-BY-SA-1.0.

Creative Commons licenses with the BY condition were more popular, so the 5 without (including CC-SA) were not included in version 2.0 of the licenses. Although CC-SA had some advocates, all who felt very strongly in favor of free-as-in-freedom, its incompatibility with CC-BY-SA (meaning had CC-SA been widely used, the copyleft pool of works would have been further fragmented) and general feeling that Creative Commons had created too many licenses led copyleft advocates who hoped to leverage Creative Commons to focus on CC-BY-SA.

Creative Commons began with a small amount of funding and notoriety, but its predecessors had almost none (FSF and EFF had both, but their entries were not major focuses of those organizations), so Creative Commons licenses (copyleft and non-copyleft, free and non-free) quickly came to dominate the non-software public licensing space. The author of the Open Publication License came to recommend using Creative Commons licenses, and the EFF declared version 2.0 of the Open Audio License compatible with CC-BY-SA and suggested using the latter. Still, at least one copyleft license for “creative” works was released after Creative Commons launched: the Against DRM License (2006), though it did not achieve wide adoption. Finally a font-specific copyleft license (SIL Open Font License) was introduced in 2005 (again the GPL, with a “font exception”, was and is now also used for fonts).

Although CC-BY-SA was used for licensing “databases” almost from its launch, and still is, copyleft licenses specifically intended to be used for databases were proposed starting from the mid-2000s. The most prominent of those is the Open Database License (ODbL; 2009). As we can see public software licenses following the subjection of software to copyright, interest in public licenses for databases followed the EU database directive mandating “sui generis database rights”, which began to be implemented in member state law starting from 1998. How CC-BY-SA versions address databases is covered below.

Aside on share-alike non-free therefore non-copylefts

Many licenses intended for use with non-software works include the “share-alike” aspect of copyleft: if adaptations are distributed, to comply with the license they must be offered under the same terms. But some (excluding those discussed above) do not grant users the equivalent of all four software freedoms. Such licenses aren’t true copylefts, as they retain a prominent exclusive property right aspect for purposes other than enforcing all four freedoms for everyone. What these licenses create are “semicommons” or mixed private property/commons regimes, as opposed to the commons created by all free licenses, and protected by copyleft licenses. One reason non-free public licenses might be common outside software, but rare for software, is that software more obviously requires ongoing maintenance.2 Without control concentrated through copyright assignment or highly asymmetric contributor license agreements, multi-contributor maintenance quickly creates an “anticommons” – e.g., nobody has adequate rights to use commercially.

These non-free share-alike licenses often aggravate freedom and copyleft advocates as the licenses sound attractive, but typically are confusing, probably do not help and perhaps stymie the cause of freedom. There is an argument that non-free licenses offer conservative artists, publishers, and others the opportunity to take baby steps, and perhaps support better policy when they realize total control is not optimal, or to eventually migrate to free licenses. Unfortunately no rigorous analysis of any of these conjectures exists. The best that can be done might be to promote education about and effective use of free copyleft licenses (as this tutorial aims to do) such that conjectures about the impact of non-free licenses become about as interesting as the precise terms of proprietary software EULAs – demand freedom instead.

In any case, some of these non-free share-alike licenses (also watch out for aforementioned copyleft licenses with non-free and thus non-copyleft options) include: Open Content License (1998), Free Music Public License (2001), LinuxTag Yellow, Red, and Rainbow OpenMusic Licenses (2001), Open Source Music License (2002), Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike and Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Licenses (2002), Common Good Public License (2003), and Peer Production License (2013). CC-BY-NC-SA is by far the most widespread of these, and has been versioned with the other Creative Commons licenses, through the current version 4.0 (2013).

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike

The remainder of this tutorial exclusively concerns the most widespread copyleft license intended for non-software works, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike(CC-BY-SA). But, there are actually many CC-BY-SA licenses – 5 versions (6 if you count version 2.1, a bugfix for a few jurisdiction “porting” mistakes), ports to 60 jurisdictions – 96 distinct CC-BY-SA licenses in total. After describing CC-BY-SA and how it differs from the GPL at a high level, we’ll have an overview of the various CC-BY-SA licenses, then a section-by-section walkthrough of the most current and most clear of them – CC-BY-SA-4.0.

CC-BY-SA allows anyone to share and adapt licensed material, for any purpose, subject to providing credit and releasing adaptations under the same terms. The preceding sentence is a severe abridgement of the “human readable” license summary or “deed” provided by Creative Commons at the canonical URL for one of the CC-BY-SA licenses – the actual license or “legalcode” is a click away. But this abridgement, and the longer the summary provided by Creative Commons are accurate in that they convey CC-BY-SA is a free, copyleft license.

GPL and CC-BY-SA differences

FIXME this section ought refernence GPL portion of tutorial extensively

There are several differences between the GPL and CC-BY-SA that are particularly pertinent to their analysis as copyleft licenses.

The most obvious such difference is that CC-BY-SA does not require offering works in source form, that is their preferred form for making modifications. Thus CC-BY-SA makes a huge tradeoff relative to the GPL – CC-BY-SA dispenses with a whole class of compliance questions which are more ambiguous for some creative works than they are for most software – but in so doing it can be seen as a much weaker copyleft.

Copyleft is sometimes described as a “hack” or “judo move” on copyright, but the GPL makes two moves, though it can be hard to notice they are conceptually different moves, without the contrast provided by a license like CC-BY-SA, which only substantially makes one move. The first move is to neutralize copyright restrictions – adaptations, like the originally licensed work, will effectively not be private property (of course they are subject to copyright, but nobody can exercise that copyright to prevent others’ use). If copyright is a privatized regulatory system (it is), the first move is deregulatory. The second move is regulatory – the GPL requires offer of source form, a requirement that would not hold if copyright disappeared, absent a different regulatory regime which mandated source revelation (one can imagine such a regime on either “pragmatic” grounds, e.g., in the interest of consumer protection, or on the grounds of enforcing software freedom as a universal human right).

FIXME analysis of differences in copyleft scope (eg interplay of derivative works, modified copies, collections, aggregations, containers) would be good here but might be difficult to avoid novel research

CC-BY-SA makes the first move3 but adds the second in a limited fashion. It does not require offer of preferred form for modification nor any variation thereof (e.g., the FDL requires access to a “transparent copy”). CC-BY-SA does prohibit distribution with “effective technical measures” (i.e., digital restrictions management or DRM) if doing so limits the freedoms granted by the license. We can see that this is regulatory because absent copyright and any regime specifically limiting DRM, such distribution would be perfectly legal. Note the GPL does not prohibit distribution with DRM, although its source requirement makes DRM superfluous, and somewhat analogously, of course GPLv3 carefully regulates distribution of GPL’d software with locked-down devices – to put it simply, it requires keys rather than prohibiting locks. Occasionally a freedom advocate will question whether CC-BY-SA’s DRM prohibition makes CC-BY-SA a non-free license. Few if any questioners come down on the side of CC-BY-SA being non-free, perhaps for two reasons: first, overwhelming dislike of DRM, thus granting the possibility that CC-BY-SA’s approach could be appropriate for a license largely used for cultural works; second, the DRM prohibition in CC-BY-SA (and all CC licenses) seems to be mainly expressive – there are no known enforcements, despite the ubiquity of DRM in games, apps, and media which utilize assets under various CC licenses.

Another obvious difference between the GPL and CC-BY-SA is that the former is primarily intended to be used for software, and the latter for cultural works (and, with version 4.0, databases). Although those are the overwhelming majority of uses of each license, there are areas in which both are used, e.g., for hardware design and interactive cultural works, where there is not a dominant copyleft practice or the line between software and non-software is not absolutely clear.

This brings us to the third obvious difference, and provides a reason to mitigate it: the GPL and CC-BY-SA are not compatible, and have slightly different compatibility mechanisms. One cannot mix GPL and CC-BY-SA works in a way that creates a derivative work and comply with either of them. This could change – CC-BY-SA-4.0 introduced4 the possibility of Creative Commons declaring CC-BY-SA-4.0 one-way (as a donor) compatible with another copyleft license – the GPL is obvious candidate for such compatibility. Discussion is expected to begin in late 2014, with a decision sometime in 2015. If this one-way compatibility were to be enacted, one could create an adaptation of a CC-BY-SA work and release the adaptation under the GPL, but not vice-versa – which makes sense given that the GPL is the stronger copyleft.

The GPL has no externally declared compatibility with other licenses mechanism (and note no action from the FSF would be required for CC-BY-SA-4.0 to be made one-way compatible with the GPL). The GPL’s compatibility mechanism for later versions of itself differs from CC-BY-SA’s in two ways: the GPL’s is optional, and allows for use of the licensed work and adaptations under later versions; CC-BY-SA’s is non-optional, but only allows for adaptations under later versions.

Fourth, using slightly different language, the GPL and CC-BY-SA’s coverage of copyright and similar restrictions should be identical for all intents and purposes (GPL explicitly notes “semiconductor mask rights” and CC-BY-SA-4.0 “database rights” but neither excludes any copyright-like restrictions). But on patents, the licenses are rather different. CC-BY-SA-4.0 explicitly does not grant any patent license, while previous versions were silent. GPLv3 has an explicit patent license, while GPLv2’s patent license is implied (see [gpl-implied-patent-grant] and [GPLv3-drm] for details). This difference ought give serious pause to anyone considering use of CC-BY-SA for works potentially subject to patents, especially any potential licensee if CC-BY-SA licensor holds such patents. Fortunately Creative Commons has always strongly advised against using any of its licenses for software, and that advice is usually heeded; but in the space of hardware designs Creative Commons has been silent, and unfortunately from a copyleft (i.e., use mechanisms at disposal to enforce user freedom) perspective, CC-BY-SA is commonly used (all the more reason to enable one-way compatibility, allowing such projects to migrate to the stronger copyleft).

The final obvious difference pertinent to copyleft policy between the GPL and CC-BY-SA is purpose. The GPL’s preamble makes it clear its goal is to guarantee software freedom for all users, and even without the preamble, it is clear that this is the Free Software Foundation’s driving goal. CC-BY-SA (and other CC licenses) state no purpose, and (depending on version) are preceded with a disclaimer and neutral “considerations for” licensors and licensees to think about (the CC0 public domain dedication is somewhat of an exception; it does have a statement of purpose, but even that has more of a feel of expressing yes-I-really-mean-to-do-this than a social mission). Creative Commons has always included elements of merely offering copyright holders additional choices and of purposefully creating a commons. While CC-BY-SA (and initially CC-SA) were just among the 11 non-mutually exclusive combinations of “BY”, “NC”, “ND”, and “SA”, freedom advocates quickly adopted CC-BY-SA as “the” copyleft for non-software works (surpassing previously existing non-software copylefts mentioned above). Creative Commons has at times recognized the special role of CC-BY-SA among its licenses, e.g., in a statement of intent regarding the license made in order to assure Wikimedians considering changing their default license from the FDL to CC-BY-SA that the latter, including its steward, was acceptably aligned with the Wikimedia movement (itself probably more directly aligned with software freedom than any other major non-software commons).

FIXME possibly explain why purpose might be relevant, eg copyleft instrument as totemic expression, norm-setting, idea-spreading

FIXME possibly mention that CC-BY-SA license text is free (CC0)

There are numerous other differences between the GPL and CC-BY-SA that are not particularly interesting for copyleft policy, such as the exact form of attribution and notice, and how license translations are handled. Many of these have changed over the course of CC-BY-SA versioning.

CC-BY-SA versions

FIXME section ought explain jurisdiction ports

This section gives a brief overview of changes across the main versions (1.0, 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, and 4.0) of CC-BY-SA, again focused on changes pertinent to copyleft policy. Creative Commons maintains a page detailing all significant changes across versions of all of its CC-BY* licenses, in many cases linking to detailed discussion of individual changes.

As of late 2014, versions 2.0 (the one called “Generic”; there are also 18 jurisdiction ports) and 3.0 (called “Unported”; there are also 39 ports) are by far the most widely used. 2.0 solely because it is the only version that the proprietary web image publishing service Flickr has ever supported. It hosts 27 million CC-BY-SA-2.0 photos 5 and remains the go-to general source for free images (though it may eventually be supplanted by Wikimedia Commons, some new proprietary service, or a federation of free image sharing sites, perhaps powered by GNU MediaGlobin). 3.0 both because it was the current version far longer (2007-2013) than any other and because it has been adopted as the default license for most Wikimedia projects.

However apart from the brief notes on each version, we will focus on 4.0 for a section-by-section walkthrough in the next section, as 4.0 is improved in several ways, including understandability, and should eventually become the most widespread version, both because 4.0 is intended to remain the current version for the indefinite and long future, and it would be reasonable to predict that Wikimedia projects will make CC-BY-SA-4.0 their default license in 2015 or 2016.

FIXME subsections might not be the right strcuture or formatting here

1.0 (2002-12-16)

CC-BY-SA-1.0 set the expectation for future versions. But the most notable copyleft policy feature (apart from the high level differences with GPLv2, such as not requiring source) was no measure for compatibility with future versions (nor with the CC-SA-1.0, also a copyleft license, nor with pre-existing copyleft licenses such as GPL, FDL, FAL, and others, nor with CC jurisdiction ports, of which there were 3 for 1.0).

2.0 (2004-05-25)

CC-BY-SA-2.0 made itself compatible with future versions and CC jurisdiction ports of the same version. Creative Commons did not version CC-SA, leaving CC-BY-SA-2.0 as “the” CC copyleft license. CC-BY-SA-2.0 also adds the only clarification of what constitutes a derivative work, making “synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image” subject to copyleft.

2.5 (2005-06-09)

CC-BY-SA-2.5 makes only one change, to allow licensor to designate another party to receive attribution. This does not seem interesting for copyleft policy, but the context of the change is: it was promoted by the desire to make attribution of mass collaborations easy (and on the other end of the spectrum, to make it possible to clearly require giving attribution to a publisher, e.g., of a journal). There was a brief experiment in branding CC-BY-SA-2.5 as the “CC-wiki” license. This was an early step toward Wikimedia adopting CC-BY-SA-3.0, four years later.

3.0 (2007-02-23)

CC-BY-SA-3.0 introduced a mechanism for externally declaring bilateral compatibility with other licenses. This mechanism to date has not been used for CC-BY-SA-3.0, in part because another way was found for Wikimedia projects to change their default license from FDL to CC-BY-SA: the Free Software Foundation released FDL 1.3, which gave a time-bound permission for mass collaboration sites to migrate to CC-BY-SA. While not particularly pertinent to copyleft policy, it’s worth noting for anyone wishing to study old versions in depth that 3.0 is the first version to substantially alter the text of most of the license, motivated largely by making the text use less U.S.-centric legal language. The 3.0 text is also considerably longer than previous versions.

4.0 (2013-11-25)

CC-BY-SA-4.0 added to 3.0’s external compatibility declaration mechanism by allowing one-way compatibility. After release of CC-BY-SA-4.0 bilateral compatibility was reached with FAL-1.3. As previously mentioned, one-way compatibility with GPLv3 will soon be discussed.

4.0 also made a subtle change in that an adaptation may be considered to be licensed solely under the adapter’s license (currently CC-BY-SA-4.0 or FAL-1.3, in the future potentially GPLv3 or or a hypothetical CC-BY-SA-5.0). In previous versions licenses were deemed to “stack” – if a work under CC-BY-SA-2.0 were adapted and released under CC-BY-SA-3.0, users of the adaptation would need to comply with both licenses. In practice this is an academic distinction, as compliance with any compatible license would tend to mean compliance with the original license. But for a licensee using a large number of works that wished to be extremely rigorous, this would be a large burden, for it would mean understanding every license (including those of jurisdiction ports not in English) in detail.

The new version is also an even more complete rewrite of 3.0 than 3.0 was of previous versions, completing the “internationalization” of the license, and actually decreasing in length and increasing in readability.

Additionally, 4.0 consistently treats database (licensing them like other copyright-like rights) and moral rights (waiving them to the extent necessary to exercise granted freedoms) – in previous versions some jurisdiction ports treated these differently – and tentatively eliminates the need for jurisdiction ports. Official linguistic translations are underway (Finnish is the first completed) and no legal ports are planned for.

4.0 is the first version to explicitly exclude a patent (and less problematically, trademark) license. It also adds two features akin to those found in GPLv3: waiver of any right licensor may have to enforce anti-circumvention if DRM is applied to the work, and reinstatement of rights after termination if non-compliance corrected within 30 days.

Finally, 4.0 streamlines the attribution requirement, possibly of some advantage to massive long-term collaborations which historically have found copyleft licenses a good fit.

The 4.0 versioning process was much more extensively researched, public, and documented than previous CC-BY-SA versionings; see for the record and for a summary of final decisions.

CC-BY-SA-4.0 International section-by-section

FIXME arguably this section ought be the substance of the tutorial, but is very thin and weak now

FIXME formatted/section-referenced copy of license should be added to license-texts.tex and referenced throughout

The best course of action at this juncture would be to read – the entire text is fairly easy to read, and should be quickly understood if one has the benefit of study of other public licenses and of copyleft policy.

The following walk-through will simply call out portions of each section one may wish to study especially closely due to their pertinence to copyleft policy issues mentioned above.

FIXME subsections might not be the right structure or formatting here

1 – Definitions

The first three definitions – “Adapted Material”, “Adapter’s License”, and “BY-SA Compatible License” are crucial to understanding copyleft scope and compatibility.

2 – Scope

The license grant is what makes all four freedoms available to licensees. This section is also where waiver of DRM anti-circumvention is to be found, also patent and trademark exclusions.

3 – License Conditions

This section contains the details of the attribution and share-alike requirements; the latter read closely with aforementioned definitions describe the copyleft aspect of CC-BY-SA-4.0.

4 – Sui Generis Database Rights

This section describes how the previous grant and condition sections apply in the case of a database subject to sui generis database rights. This is an opportunity to go down a rabbit-hole of trying to understand sui generis database rights. Generally, this is a pointless exercise. You can comply with the license in the same way you would if the work were subject only to copyright – and determining whether a database is subject to copyright and/or sui generis database rights is another pit of futility. You can license databases under CC-BY-SA-4.0 and use databases subject to the same license as if they were any other sort of work.

5 – Disclaimer of Warranties and Limitation of Liability

Unsurprisingly, this section does its best to serve as an “absolute disclaimer and waiver of all liability.”

6 – Term and Termination

This section is similar to GPLv3, but without special provision for cases in which the licensor wishes to terminate even cured violations.

7 – Other Terms and Conditions

Though it uses different language, like the GPL, CC-BY-SA-4.0 does not allow additional restrictions not contained in the license. Unlike the GPL, CC-BY-SA-4.0 does not have an explicit additional permissions framework, although effectively a licensor can offer any other terms if they are the sole copyright holder (the license is non-exclusive), including the sorts of permissions that would be structured as additional permissions with the GPL. Creative Commons has sometimes called offering of separate terms (whether additional permissions or “proprietary relicensing”) the confusing name “CC+”; however where this is encountered at all it is usually in conjunction with one of the non-free CC licenses. Perhaps CC-BY-SA is not a strong enough copyleft to sometimes require additional permissions, or be used to gain commercially valuable asymmetric rights, in contrast with the GPL.

8 – Interpretation

Nothing surprising here. Note that CC-BY-SA does not “reduce, limit, restrict, or impose conditions on any use of the Licensed Material that could lawfully be made without permission under this Public License.” This is a point that Creative Commons has always been eager to make about all of its licenses. GPLv3 also “acknowledges your rights of fair use or other equivalent”. This may be a wise strategy, but should not be viewed as mandatory for any copyleft license – indeed, the ODbL attempts (somewhat self-contradictorily; it also acknowledges fair use or other rights to use) make its conditions apply even for works potentially subject to neither copyright nor sui generis database rights.


There are only a small number of court cases involving any Creative Commons license. Creative Commons lists these and some related cases at

Only two of those cases concern enforcing the terms of a CC-BY-SA license (Gerlach v. DVU in Germany, and No. 71036 N. v. Newspaper in a private Rabbinical tribunal) each hinged on attribution, not share-alike.

Further research could uncover out of compliance uses being brought into compliance without lawsuit, however no such research, nor any hub for conducting such compliance work, is known. Editors of Wikimedia Commons document some external uses of Commons-hosted media, including whether user are compliant with the relevant license for the media (often CC-BY-SA), resulting in a category listing non-compliant uses (which seem to almost exclusively concern attribution).

Compliance Resources

FIXME this section is just a stub; ideally there would also be an additional section or chapter on CC-BY-SA compliance

Creative Commons has a page on ShareAlike interpretation as well as an extensive Frequently Asked Questions for licensees which addresses compliance with the attribution condition.

English Wikipedia’s and Wikimedia Commons’ pages on using material outside of Wikimedia projects provide valuable information, as the majority of material on those sites is CC-BY-SA licensed, and their practices are high-profile.

FIXME there is no section on business use of CC-BY-SA; there probably ought to be as there is one for GPL, though there’d be much less to put.

Open policy for a secure Internet-N-Life

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

(In)Security in Home Embedded Devices Jim Gettys says software needs to be maintained for decades considering where it is being deployed (e.g., embedded in products with multi-decade lifetimes, such as buildings) and the criticality of some of that software, an unpredictable attribute — a product might become unplanned “infrastructure” for example if it is widely deployed and other things come to depend on it. Without maintenance, including deployment of updates in the field, software (and thus systems it is embedded in) becomes increasingly insecure as vulnerabilities are discovered (cites a honeymoon period enjoyed by new systems).

This need for long-term maintenance and field deployment implies open source software and devices that users can upgrade — maintenance needs to continue beyond the expected life of any product or organization. “Upgrade” can also mean “replace” — perhaps some kinds of products should be more modular and with open designs so that parts that are themselves embedded systems can be swapped out. (Gettys didn’t mention, but replacement can be total. Perhaps “planned obsolescence” and “throwaway culture” have some security benefits. I suspect the response would be that many things continue to be used for a long time after they were planned to be obsolete and most of their production run siblings are discarded.)

But these practices are currently rare. Product developers do not demand source from chip and other hardware vendors and thus ship products with “binary blob” hardware drivers for Linux kernel which cannot be maintained, often based on kernel years out of date when product is shipped. Linux kernel near-monoculture for many embedded systems, increasing security threat. Many problems which do not depend on hardware vendor cooperation, ranging from unintentionally or lazily not providing source needed for rest of system, to intentionally shipping proprietary software, to intentionally locking down device to prevent user updates. Product customers do not demand long-term secure devices from product developers. There is little effort to fund commons-oriented embedded development (in contrast with Linux kernel and other systems development for servers, which many big companies fund).

Gettys is focused on embedded software in network devices (e.g., routers) as network access is critical infrastructure much else depends on, including the problem at hand: without network access, many other systems cannot be feasibly updated. He’s working on CeroWrt a cutting edge version of OpenWrt firmware, either of which is several years ahead of what typically ships on routers. A meme Gettys wishes to spread, the earliest instance of which I could find is on cerowrt-devel, a harsh example coming the next week:

Friends don’t let friends run factory firmware.

Cute. This reminds me of something a friend said in a group discussion that touched on security and embedded in body (or perhaps it was mind embedded in) systems, along the lines of “I wouldn’t run (on) an insecure system.” Or malware would give you a bad trip.

But I’m ambivalent. Most people, thus most friends, don’t know what factory firmware is. Systems need to be much more secure (for the long term, including all that implies) as shipped. Elite friend advice could help drive demand for better systems, but I doubt “just say no” will help much — its track records for altering mass outcomes, e.g., with respect to proprietary software or formats, seems very poor.

In Q&A someone asked about centralized cloud silos. Gettys doesn’t like them, but said without long-term secure alternatives that can be deployed and maintained by everyone there isn’t much hope. I agree.

You may recognize open source software and devices that users can upgrade above as roughly the conditions of GPL-3.0. Gettys mentioned this and noted:

  • It isn’t clear that copyright-based conditions are effective mechanism for enforcing these conditions. (One reason I say copyleft is a prototype for more appropriate regulation.)
  • Of “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness”, free software has emphasized the latter two, but nobody realized how important free software would be for living one’s life given the extent to which one interacts with and depends on (often embedded) software. In my experience people have realized this for many years, but it should indeed move to the fore.

Near the end Gettys asked what role industry and government should have in moving toward safer systems (and skip the “home” qualifier in the talk title; these considerations are at least as important for institutions and large-scale infrastructure). One answer might be in open policy. Public, publicly-interested, and otherwise coordinated funders and purchasers need to be convinced there is a problem and that it makes sense for them to demand their resources help shift the market. The Free Software Foundation’s Respects Your Freedom criteria (ignoring the “public relations” item) is a good start on what should be demanded for embedded systems.

Obviously there’s a role for developers too. Gettys asked how to get beyond the near Linux kernel monoculture, mentioning BSD. My ignorant wish is that developers wanting to break the monoculture instead try to build systems using better tools, at least better languages (not that any system will reduce the need for security in depth).

Here’s to a universal, secure, and resilient web and technium. Yes, these features cost. But I’m increasingly convinced that humans underinvest in security (not only computer, and at every level), especially in making sure investments aren’t theater or worse.

Without Intellectual Property Day [edit]

Saturday, April 26th, 2014
Without Intellectual Property Day by Parker Higgins of the EFF is quite good, and released under CC-BY. Clearly deserving of adaptation. Mine below, followed by a diff.

April 26 is the day marked each year since 2000 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) as “World Intellectual Property Day”, in which WIPO tries to associate its worldwide pushes for more enclosure with creativity.

Celebrating creativity is a good thing, but when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For the World Intellectual Property Organization, it may seem like creativity and “intellectual property” are inextricably linked. That’s not the case. In the spirit of adding to the conversation, let’s honor all the creativity and industry that is happening without a dependence on a system intellectual property.

There’s an important reason to encourage and promote creativity outside the bounds of increasingly restrictive laws: to the extent such creativity succeeds, it helps us re-imagine the range of desirable policy and reduces the resources available to enclosure industries to lobby for protectionism — in sum shifting what is politically possible. It’s incumbent on all of us who want to encourage creativity to continue to explore and utilize structures that reward creators without also restricting speech.

Comedy, Fashion, Cooking, Magic, and More

In the areas in which intellectual freedom is not typically infringed, there is tremendous innovation and consistent creativity outside of the intellectual property system. Chefs create new dishes, designers imagine new styles, comedians write new jokes, all without a legal enforcement mechanism to restrict others from learning and building on them.

There may be informal systems that discourage copying—the comedy community, to take one example, will call out people who are deemed to be ripping off material—but for the most part these work without expensive litigation, threats of ruinous fines, and the creation of systems of surveillance and censorship.

Contributing to a Creative Commons

The free software movement pioneered the practice of creating digital media that can legally and freely be shared and expanded, building a commons. The digital commons idea is being pushed in more areas than ever before, including culture, education, government, hardware design, and research. There are some projects we’re all familiar with — Wikipedia is perhaps the most prominent, creating an expansive and continuously updated encyclopedia that is freely accessible under permissive terms to the entire world.

Focusing on this year’s World IP Day theme of movies, there have been some impressive contributions the commons over the years. Nina Paley’s feature animation Sita Sings The Blues, which she released into the public domain, has spread widely, inspired more work, and earned her money. The short films from the Blender Foundation have demonstrated cutting-edge computer graphics made with free software and, though they’ve sometimes been on the receiving end of bogus copyright takedowns, have been watched many millions of times.

Kickstarting and Threshold Pledges

Finally, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go have made a major splash in the last few years as another fundraising model that can complement, or even replace, copyright exclusivity. These platforms build on theoretical framework laid out by scholars like John Kelsey and Bruce Schneier in the influential “Street Performer Protocol” paper, which set out to devise an alternative funding system for public domain works. But most crowdfunded works are not in the commons, indicating an need for better coordination of street patrons.

Looking at movies in particular: Kickstarter alone has enabled hundreds of millions of dollars of pledges, hundreds of theatrical releases, and seven Oscar-nominated films (including Inocente, winner of the Best Documentary Short category). Blender Foundation is currently crowdfunding its first feature length film, Gooseberry.


The conceit of copyright and other “intellectual property” systems is that they can be calibrated to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. But the reality of these systems is corruption and rent seeking, not calibration. The cost is not just less creativity and innovation, but less freedom and equality.

It’s clear from real world examples that other systems can achieve the goal of promoting creativity, progress, and innovation. We must continue to push for both practice and policy that favors these systems, ultimately rendering “intellectual property” a baffling anachronism. In a good future, a policy-oriented celebration of creativity and innovaion would be called World Intellectual Freedom Day.

wdiff -n eff-wipd.html eff-wipd-edit.html |colordiff |aha -w > eff-wipd-diff.html
[-<p>Today, April 26,-]{+<p>April 26+} is the day marked each year since 2000 [-as "Intellectual Property Day"-] by the <a href="">World Intellectual Property Organization [-(WIPO)</a>. There are many areas where EFF has not historically agreed with WIPO,-] {+(WIPO)</a> as "World Intellectual Property Day", in+} which [-has traditionally pushed-] {+WIPO tries to associate its <a href="">worldwide pushes+} for more [-restrictive agreements and served as a venue for <a href="">domestic policy laundering</a>, but we agree that celebrating-] {+enclosure</a> with creativity.</p>+}
{+<p>Celebrating+} creativity is a good [-thing.</p>-]
[-<p>As the saying goes, though:-] {+thing, but+} when you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. For the World Intellectual Property Organization, it may seem like creativity and <a href="">"intellectual property"</a> are inextricably linked. That's not the case. In the spirit of adding to the conversation, [-we'd like to-] {+let's+} honor all the creativity and industry that is happening <i>without</i> a dependence on a system intellectual property.</p>
<p>There's an important reason to encourage {+and promote+} creativity outside the bounds of increasingly restrictive [-laws, too. As Ninth Circuit Chief Justice Alex Kozinski eloquently explained in <a href="">a powerful dissent</a> some 20 years ago, pushing only for more IP restrictions tips a delicate balance against creativity:</p>-]
[-<blockquote><p>Overprotecting intellectual property is as harmful as underprotecting it. Creativity is impossible without a rich public domain. Nothing today, likely nothing since we tamed fire, is genuinely new: Culture, like science and technology, grows by accretion, each new creator building on-] {+laws: to+} the [-works-] {+extent such creativity succeeds, it helps us re-imagine the range+} of [-those who came before. Overprotection stifles the very creative forces it's supposed-] {+desirable policy <i>and</i> reduces the resources available+} to [-nurture.</p></blockquote>-]
[-<p>It's-] {+enclosure industries to lobby for protectionism -- in sum shifting what is politically possible. It's+} incumbent on all of us who want to encourage creativity to continue to explore {+and utilize+} structures that reward creators without also restricting speech.</p>
<h3>Comedy, Fashion, Cooking, Magic, and More</h3>
<p>In the areas [-known as copyright's "negative spaces,"-] {+in which intellectual freedom is not typically infringed,+} there is tremendous innovation and consistent creativity outside of the intellectual property system. Chefs create new dishes, designers imagine new styles, comedians write new jokes, all without a legal enforcement mechanism to restrict others from learning and building on them.</p>
<p>There may be informal systems that discourage copying—the comedy community, to take one example, <a href="">will call out people</a> who are deemed to be ripping off material—but for the most part these work without expensive litigation, threats of ruinous fines, and the creation of systems [-that can be abused to silence lawful non-infringing speech.</p>-] {+of surveillance and censorship.</p>+}
<h3>Contributing to a Creative Commons</h3>
<p>The free software movement [-may have popularized-] {+pioneered+} the [-idea-] {+practice+} of creating digital media that can legally and freely be shared and expanded, [-but the free culture movement has pushed the-] {+building a commons. The digital commons+} idea [-further-] {+is being pushed in more areas+} than ever [-before.-] {+before, including culture, education, government, hardware design, and research.+} There are some projects we're all familiar [-with—Wikipedia-] {+with -- Wikipedia+} is perhaps the most prominent, creating an expansive and continuously updated encyclopedia that is freely accessible under permissive terms to the entire world.</p>
<p>Focusing on this year's World IP Day theme of movies, there have been some impressive contributions the commons over the years. Nina Paley's feature animation <i><a href="">Sita Sings The Blues</a></i>, which she released into the public domain, has spread widely, inspired more work, and earned her money. The <a href="">short films from the Blender Foundation</a> have demonstrated cutting-edge computer graphics made with free software and, though they've sometimes been on <a href="">the receiving end of bogus copyright takedowns</a>, have been watched many millions of times.</p>
<h3>Kickstarting and Threshold Pledges</h3>
<p>Finally, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indie-Go-Go have made a major splash in the last few years as another fundraising model that can complement, or even replace, [-traditional-] copyright exclusivity. These platforms build on theoretical framework laid out by scholars like John Kelsey and [-EFF board member-] Bruce Schneier in <a href="">the influential "Street Performer Protocol" paper</a>, which set out to devise an alternative funding system for public [-works.</p>-] {+domain works. But most crowdfunded works are not in the commons, indicating an need for better <a href="">coordination of street patrons</a>.</p>+}
<p>Looking at movies in particular: Kickstarter alone has <a href="">enabled hundreds of millions of dollars of pledges</a>, hundreds of theatrical releases, and seven Oscar-nominated films (including <i>Inocente</i>, winner of the Best Documentary Short category). [-Along with other-] {+Blender Foundation is currently+} crowdfunding [-sites, it has allowed the development of niche projects that might never have been possible under the traditional copyright system.&nbsp;</p>-] {+its first feature length film, <em><a href="">Gooseberry</a></em>.</p>+}
[-<p>As the Constitution tells us,-]
{+<p>The conceit of+} copyright and other "intellectual property" systems [-can, when-] {+is that they can be+} calibrated [-correctly,-] {+to+} promote the progress of science and the useful arts. [-We continue to work pushing for a balanced law that would better achieve that end.</p>-]
[-<p>But it's also-] {+But the reality of these systems is corruption and rent seeking, not calibration. The cost is not just less creativity and innovation, but less freedom and <a href="">equality</a>.</p>+}
{+<p>It's+} clear from [-these-] real world examples that other systems can achieve [-that-] {+the+} goal [-as well. Promoting-] {+of promoting+} creativity, progress, and [-innovation is an incredibly valuable mission—it's good to know that it doesn't have-] {+innovation. We must continue+} to [-come through systems-] {+push for both practice and <a href="">policy+} that [-can-] {+favors these systems</a>, ultimately rendering "intellectual property" a baffling anachronism. In a good future, a policy-oriented celebration of creativity and innovaion would+} be [-abused to stifle valuable speech.</p>-] {+called World Intellectual Freedom Day.</p>+}

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.

Hierarchy of mechanisms for limiting copyright and copyright-like barriers to use of Public Sector Information, or More or Less Universal Government License(s)

Sunday, November 24th, 2013

This sketch is in part motivated by a massive proliferation of copyright and copyright-like licenses for government/public sector information, e.g., sub- and sub-sub-national jurisdiction licenses and sector- and jurisdiction-specific licenses intended to combat license proliferation within a sector within a jurisdiction. Also by longstanding concern about coordination among entities working to limit barriers to use of PSI and knowledge commons governance generally.

Everything following concerns PSI only relative to copyright and copyright-like barriers. There are other pertinent regulations and considerations to follow when publishing or using PSI (e.g., privacy and fraud; as these are pertinent even without copyright, it is silly and unnecessarily complicating to include them in copyright licenses) and other important ways to make PSI more useful technically and politically (e.g., open formats, focusing on PSI that facilitates accountability rather than openwashing).

Eliminate copyright and copyright-like restrictions

No longer barriers to use of PSI, because no longer barriers to use of information. May be modulated down to any general copyright or copyright-like barrier reduction, where the barrier is pertinent to use of PSI. Examples: eliminate sui generis database restrictions where they exist, increase threshold of originality required for information to be subject to copyright restriction, expand exceptions and limitations to copyright restrictions, expand affirmative user rights.

Eliminate copyright and copyright-like restrictions for PSI

For example, works produced by employees of the U.S. federal government are not subject to copyright restrictions in the U.S. Narrower exclusions from copyright restrictions (e.g., of laws, court rulings) are fairly common worldwide. These could be generalized to include eliminate copyright and copyright-like restrictions for PSI, worldwide, and expanded to include PSI produced by contractors or other non-government but publicly funded entities. PSI could be expanded to include any information produced with public funding, e.g., research and culture funded by public grants.

“Standard” international licenses for PSI

Public copyright licenses not specifically intended for only PSI are often used for PSI, and could be more. CC0 is by far the best such license, but other Creative Commons (CC) and Open Data Commons (ODC) licenses are frequently used. Depending on the extent to which the licenses used leave copyright and copyright-like restrictions in place (e.g., CC0: none; CC-BY-NC-ND, lots, thus considered non-open) and how they are applied (from legislative mandate for all PSI to one-off use for individual reports and datasets at discretion of agency), could have effect similar to eliminating copyright and copyright-like restrictions for PSI, or almost zero effect.

Universal Government License

Governments at various levels have chosen to make up their own licenses rather than use a standard international license. Some of the better reasons for doing so will be eliminated by the forthcoming version 4.0 of 6 of the CC licenses (though again, CC0 has been the best choice, since 2009, and will remain so). But some of the less good reasons (uncharitable characterization: vanity) can’t be addressed by a standard international license, and furthermore seem to be driving the proliferation of sub-sub-national licenses, down to licenses specific to an individual town.

Ideally this extreme license proliferation trend would terminate with mass implementation of one of the above options, though this seems unlikely in the short term. Maybe yet another standard license would help! The idea of an “open government license” which various governments would have a direct role in creating and stewarding has been casually discussed in the past, particularly several years ago when the current proliferation was just beginning, the CC 4.0 effort had not begun, and CC and ODC were not on the same page. Nobody is particularly incented to make this unwieldy project happen, but nor is it an impossibility — due to the relatively small world of NGOs (such as CC and the Open Knowledge Foundation, of which ODC is a project) and government people who really care and know about public licenses, and the possibility their collective exhaustion and exasperation over license details, incompatibility, and proliferation could reach a tipping point into collective action. There’s a lot to start from, including the research that went into CC-BY-4.0, and the OGL UK 2.0, which is a pretty good open license.

But why think small? How many other problems could be addressed simultaneously?

  • Defend the traditional meaning of ‘open government’ by calling the license something else, e.g., Universal/Uniform/Unified Government License.
  • Rallying point for public sector worldwide to commit more firmly and broadly to limiting copyright and copyright-like barriers to use of PSI, more rapidly establishing global norm, and leading to mandates. The one thing to be said for massive PSI license proliferation could be increased commitment from proliferating jurisdictions to use their custom licenses (I know of no data on this). A successful UGL would swamp any increased local commitment due to local vanity licenses through much higher level expectation and mandate.
  • Make the license work well for software (including being approved by the Open Source Initiative), as:
    • Generically “open” licenses are inevitably used for software, whether the steward apparently intends this (OGL UK 2.0) or does not (CC).
    • The best modern permissive license for software (Apache 2.0) is relatively long and unreadable for what it does, and has an discomfiting name (not nearly as bad as certain pro sports organizations, but still); it ought be superseded.
  • Ensure the license works for other domains, e.g., open hardware, which don’t really require domain-specific licenses, are headed down the path of proliferation and incompatibility, and that governments have obvious efficiency, regulatory, security, and welfare interests in.
  • Foster broader “open innovation community” engagement with government and public policy and vice versa, and more knowledge transfer across OIC domains, on legal instruments at the least.
  • Uniform Public License may be a better name than UGL in some respects (whatever the name, it ought be usable by the public sector, and the general public), but Government may be best overall, a tip of the hat to both the vision within governments that would be necessary to make the license succeed, and to the nature of copyright and copyright-like barriers as government regulatory regimes.

National jurisdiction licenses for PSI

A more likely mechanism for license proliferation deceleration and harm reduction in the near term is for governments within a national jurisdiction to use a single license, and follow various license stewardship and use best practices. Leigh Dodds recently blogged about the problem and highlighted this mechanism in a post titled The Proliferation of Open Government Licences.

Sub-national jurisdiction licenses for PSI

Each province/state and sub-jurisdiction thereof, down to towns and local districts, could use its own vanity license. This appears to be the trend in Canada. It would be possible to push further in this direction with multiple vanity licenses per jurisdiction, e.g., various licenses for various kinds of data, reports, and other materials.

Licenses for each PSI dataset or other work

Each and every government dataset or other publication could come with its own bespoke license. Though these licenses would grant permissions around some copyright and copyright-like restrictions, I suspect their net effect would be to heighten copyright and copyright-like restrictions as a barrier to both the use and publication of PSI, on an increased cost basis alone. This extreme highlights one of the downsides of copyright licenses, even unambiguously open ones — implementing, understanding, and using them can be seen as significant cost centers, creating an additional excuse for not opening materials, and encouraging the small number of people who really understand the mechanisms to be jealous and wary of any other reform.


Included for completeness.

Privatization of PSI copyright

Until now, I’ve assumed that copyright and copyright-like restrictions are barriers to use of PSI. But maybe there aren’t enough restrictions, or they aren’t allocated to the right entities, such that maximum value is realized from use of PSI. Control of copyright and copyright-like restrictions in PSI could be auctioned off to entities with the highest ability to extract rents from PSI users. These businesses could be government-owned, with various public-private partnerships in between. This would increase the direct contribution of PSI to GDP, incent the creation and publication of more PSI, ensure PSI is maintained and marketed, reaching citizens that can affordneed it, and provide a solid business model for Government 2.0, academia, cultural heritage, and all other publicly funded and publicly interested sectors, which would otherwise fail to produce an optimal level of PSI and related materials and innovations.

Do not let any of the above trick you into paying more attention to possible copyright and copyright-like barriers and licenses than actually doing stuff, especially with PSI, especially with “data”, doubly with “government data”.

I agree with Denny Vrandečić’s paradoxical sounding but correct directive:

Data is free. Free the data!

I tried to communicate the same in a chapter of the Data Journalism Handbook, but lacked the slogan.

Data is free. Free the data!

And what is not data? ☻

Addendum: Entirely by coincidence (in response to a European Commission consultation on PSI, which I had already forgotten about), today posts by Timothy Vollmer for the Communia Association and Creative Commons call out the license proliferation problem and endorse public domain as the default for PSI.