Confusion and Complexity: High time to prune the Creative Commons licenses?

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In a recent blog, Nina Paley, the animator behind the free-licensed animated film, "Sita Sings the Blues", complained of the enormous confusion caused by poor differentiation of the Creative Commons licenses. In particular, there's a great deal of confusion over the difference between "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" licenses. Maybe the Creative Commons licensing system is still too complex? I'd suggest that only three licenses are really needed: "Attribution" (CC By), "ShareAlike" (CC By-SA), and "NonCommercial" (CC By-NC), and that the others are essentially deadweight that's holding the movement back.

In a recent blog, Nina Paley with the degree to which Creative Commons' "NonCommercial" and "ShareAlike" terms are confused by distributors. It is frequently assumed that "ShareAlike" works can only be used in non-commercial ways, and this is absolutely contrary to the intent of licensors like Paley who've chosen "ShareAlike" licensing, precisely because it does permit commercial re-use:

This is a real problem. Some artists have re-released Sita remixes under Creative Commons Non-Commercial licenses. Many bloggers and journalists assume the non-commercial restrictions, even when the license is correctly named

In her article, she supports an idea first suggested by Karl Fogel of QuestionCopyright, of re-branding the "CC By-SA" licenses as "CC PRO". It's intriguing, but it would just add yet another name to an already confusing mix. I think the real problem is the existence of an abomination called the "Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike" license, which, really, makes zero sense to have published.

Somebody's probably already screaming for their CC By-NC-SA license by now. That's understandable -- it's the most popular CC license by far. But its popularity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of its meaning

Somebody's probably already screaming in defense of their CC By-NC-SA license by now. That's understandable -- it's the most popular CC license by far. But its popularity stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of its meaning. As I hope to show you, it really doesn't differ in any important way from the simpler concept of the By-NC license, because the "ShareAlike" (SA) clause (when combined with the "NonCommercial" NC clause) is meaningless for all practical purposes.

I'm also going to suggest that the "NoDerivatives" (ND) module should be abandoned entirely. This is perhaps surprising, given that even Richard Stallman has supported using the CC By-ND license for certain purposes, but again, I assert that that is due to fundamental misconceptions about its effectiveness.

I am not going to suggest eliminating the "non-free" CC licenses, because while free culture is increasingly offering a better alternative, there is still considerable utility to the buffer zone between free and proprietary publishing worlds. There's a difference between choosing not to use certain methods and insisting that no one else do so!

NoDerivatives Does Nothing

Okay, this is not quite true, but the niche of application for the "NoDerivatives" (ND) licensing module is so tiny that I think we have to question whether it's worth the trouble it causes. Perhaps more importantly, it contributes to a false sense of security, since most of the people who are using it expect it to do more than it really can.

What ND can't do:

  • It can't prevent "fair use" or "fair dealing" uses
  • It can't eliminate parodies or pastiches of your work
  • It can't prevent your work from being quoted (in or out of context)
  • It can't prevent your message from being misrepresented or placed in a bad light

The last three are really a consequence of the first: free expression laws insist that these kinds of uses cannot be restricted by copyright, as they would prevent the free interchange of ideas. There are of course, countries that don't respect freedom of speech so highly, but then they don't necessarily respect copyright either (and at some point, if restrictions are high enough, ethics demands that the law be ignored in any case -- you are asking for an unethical level of control over others, whether the law grants it to you or not, and the Creative Commons really shouldn't be encouraging that kind of behavior).

It's absolutely clear that ND cannot interfere with fair use or fair dealing rights

It's absolutely clear that "ND" cannot interfere with fair use or fair dealing rights. Not only does the law usually trump any license with respect to these free speech issues, but the license text itself says so (from the Legal Code of the CC By-ND license):

Nothing in this License is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any uses free from copyright or rights arising from limitations or exceptions that are provided for in connection with the copyright protection under copyright law or other applicable laws.

What ND doesn't need to do:

  • It doesn't need to force modified versions to remove your name
  • It doesn't need to protect your reputation or your opinions from misrepresentation
  • It doesn't need to ensure that those who modify your work take responsibility for their actions

These are sometimes cited as advantages to the CC By-ND license, but in fact, they have nothing to do with ND. They are provided by the terms of the "Attribution" (By) part of the license -- and thus these protections are shared by all of the CC licenses. Essentially, they allow you to eliminate your endorsement of modifications of your work that you don't approve of (either because they make your work look bad artistically, or because they support political agendas you disagree with).

In fact, under the terms of the "Attribution" module, you can insist pre-emptively that any altered versions should not bear your attribution (The By module allows you to demand non-attribution as well as attribution). Obviously, you can't prevent them from stating as an actual fact that the derived work is based on your work. But you can take your name off of the official credits for it.

This separation of the right to copy and build on other people's work from the act of endorsing such uses is a very important element of the ethos of free culture

This separation of the right to copy and build on other people's work from the act of endorsing such uses is a very important element of the ethos of free culture.

As the saying goes, "Even the Devil quotes scripture," and the freedom of speech guarantees that your enemies can quote your words right back to you if they want. You can do the same to them, but you can't shut them up.

Most people using the ND clause are either imagining that it does give them this kind of power over others (and thus encouraging a very dangerous mindset favorable to censorship and restriction of ideas) or they are imagining that they need it to protect their endorsed expressions from being distorted by others, making it seem that they created something they would find offensive.

Is there any ground in between? Is there anything that "By-ND" lets you control that "By" doesn't? Not very much! And, more importantly, what little it does do, is probably an example of copyright law trampling free speech rights.

Finally, it should be noted, that there is a much simpler license if all you want to do is allow your work to be distributed unaltered, and that is to use a simple grant such as "This document may be distributed verbatim, without alterations, without limit, so long as the author is credited." It's hardly necessary to use a Creative Commons license for that, and doing so really does not convey much new information.

There is no important difference between By-NC and By-NC-SA licenses

The argument here is not that By-NC-SA is somehow evil and should be eliminated, but rather that it does not differ signficantly from By-NC in terms of its practical effect, and -- stipulating that that is true -- it makes no sense to use such an over-complicated name. Instead, the simpler of the two license names should be used.

If it is determined that some aspect of the "ShareAlike" (SA) module is actually useful for By-NC work, then such language should probably be quietly merged into the "NC" module. It's unlikely that existing users of the By-NC license would object to this, for the reasons I'm about to explain.

Myths about the SA part of By-NC-SA

Consider these two myths about By-NC-SA licenses that I hear repeated over and over again by licensors:

  • "The 'SA' clause allows people to share my work"
  • "Without the 'SA' clause, people could exploit me by making commercial uses of 'derivatives' of my work"

Neither is true.

First of all, the "SA" clause doesn't make the By-NC license more open, it restricts it further (at least theoretically). People can share your work just fine under the "By-NC" license, just as they can with any of the basic six Creative Commons licenses.

What the "SA" clause does is to restrict redistribution to only those people who "ShareAlike" -- that is, release whatever changes they make under the same license.

The only real reason most people care about using "ShareAlike" with "NonCommercial" is because they think it protects them from commercial exploitation of the derivative works.

However, this isn't necessary. Deriving from a work in order to make commercial use of the derivative is considered "commercial use." Therefore, the "NC" clause is already "ShareAlike" in the only way that matters to most users of the license.

CC lawyers have officially stated that this is the intentional impact of the "NC" module, although, as with most legal questions about licenses, this would ultimately be determined in a court case, if it came to a conflict (the intent of the authors might or might not be honored).

So what can you do with By-NC that you can't do with By-NC-SA?

Creative Commons provides a few charts to explain how all of its licensing modules interact (see Figure 1), and the result for By-NC is very simple:

Figure 1: Legal conversions among Creative Commons licenses. The transitions affecting CC By-NC are highlighted in red. The green lines mark Figure 1: Legal conversions among Creative Commons licenses. The transitions affecting CC By-NC are highlighted in red. The green lines mark "free" licenses, the red ones mark non-free, "Non-Commercial" licenses, and the black lines mark the "No Derivatives" license which doesn't permit derivatives, except via "fair use." The blue diagonal line marks the parity-based sharing favored by copyleft or "ShareAlike" terms. Note that, while the By-SA license protects sharing from becoming non-free, the only value for By-NC-SA is that it prevents conversion to "NoDerivative" (which would be moot, if the ND module were discontinued). [1]

Derivatives of a By-NC work can use any of these licenses:

  • By-NC -- Of course, they can use the same license
  • By-NC-SA -- They can switch to By-NC-SA, but this changes nothing
  • By-NC-ND -- meaning, that to whatever degree ND is functional, they can take your work and choose not to allow you to incorporate their changes into your future work

Note in particular that they cannot use either of the free CC licenses (By or By-SA), nor any other free licenses, nor can they be used for any "commercial" purpose (which is a very broad term as I've explained in earlier columns).

So, in fact, there are a few differences between By-NC and By-NC-SA in a technical, legal sense. But are any of these important to the licensor?

Releasing derivatives under the By-NC license is probably what is wanted. Being able to switch to By-NC-SA is pointless if there is no actual difference in using By-NC-SA, so we can discount that entirely.

Releasing under the By-NC-ND license seems, if anything, to be wholly detrimental to the original author. Why would you want to grant people the special right to take your work and lock it away from you (and the rest of the world)? I seriously doubt many users of the By-NC license actually have this intent when they choose the license.

"But wait!" you are probably asking, "Didn't you say you want to get rid of By-NC-SA? So why are you now defending it against By-NC?" Well, note first of all that the danger is mostly eliminated if the ND module is eliminated.

But it's true that a more careful analysis might reveal other problems with not using some of the SA terms. If so, though, those terms could simply be incorporated into the NC terms, which already contain a certain degree of copyleft impact, since they are said to constrain the commercial use of derivatives. But there's certainly no reason to keep calling this "NonCommercial" license anything but that. Adding the expression "ShareAlike" just confuses the issue.

Figure 2: Eliminating the ND module and the now degenerate Figure 2: Eliminating the ND module and the now degenerate "NC-SA" combination (or at least eliminating the confusing label) would leave a single "NonCommercial" license and greatly reduce the confusion among users of the licenses (both licensors and licensees)

In other words, since the Creative Commons has already asserted that the "NC" clause is, by itself, essentially "share alike" with respect to the NonCommercial clause itself, then it only makes sense that the rest of the "ShareAlike" terms should be incorporated into it. Then there is no need for a separate module and therefore no separate name. What I am proposing is to merge the terms of the present By-NC-SA license into the By-NC license. Both licenses would "upgrade" to the same license, which would simply be known as "By-NC" or even, for greater simplicity, simply "Creative Commons NonCommercial" or "CC-NC" (all of the CC license now have the Attribution clause, so it's somewhat redundant to use it for disambiguation).

Dropping the ND module is easy of course. The fact that the licenses don't permit derivatives means there are no legal derivatives on which to change the licensing. They are simply dead-ends, as they've always been.

Figure 3: Since the distinction between Figure 3: Since the distinction between "By" and "By-SA" licenses has real effects, it should be retained

Just Three Main Licenses

Now we have much simpler picture. With the ineffective and unnecessary "ND" eliminated, and the redundant "NC" licenses merged into a single case, it would be much easier to understand the Creative Commons licenses, and to promote them to others:

  • CC-By -- The "Creative Commons Attribution" license would function as it does today, as a very liberal, non-copyleft license for aesthetic works
  • CC-By-SA -- The "Creative Commons ShareAlike" license would be the tool of choice for copyleft-based free-culture projects, as it has already been for some time now
  • CC-By-NC -- The "Creative Commons NonCommercial" license would continue to function as a tool for promoting otherwise proprietary work on the fringe between free and non-free culture. It would not, however, create as much confusion with the other two, nor would there be any need to subdivide it

Will this pig fly?

As I write this, the Creative Commons is running a fund-raising campaign, and their website proudly proclaims the slogan "Saving the world from failed sharing!" I wish I could say without reservation that they really lived up to that goal and that I fully supported and endorsed them, but the truth is that Creative Commons has often seemed to be perversely attached to complexity in licensing, and they attach far too much importance to the relative popularity of their existing licenses(constantly falling back on the fact that the CC By-NC-SA license, which has come to be considered, by most of the rest of the world, as "The Creative Commons License" remains their most popular product). But I think they naively assume that people are always thinking clearly and completely through their license choice, when, as far as I can tell, the truth is something closer to "jumping on the bandwagon." The CC By-NC-SA license is popular mostly because it was popular. And it was popular mostly because many early adopters didn't fully understand it.

So, sadly, I'm not really very hopeful that Creative Commons will listen to this plea, but I hope so. There's bound to be another version of the licenses in time, and I think this kind of consolidation might be the right thing to focus on when that comes up.

[1] Data taken from the Creative Commons Frequently Asked Questions



Crosbie Fitch's picture

The whole point of CC having a variety of licenses is to demonstrate that the copyright holding, self-publishing author is in charge of determining what their audience can do, i.e. to insinuate that copyright is properly a right of the author, to modulate as they see fit.

If CC was actually principled upon restoring to the public their freedoms suspended by copyright then it would have a copyright neutralising license, either abdicating it (cf BSD), or copylefting it (cf GPL).

Unlike the FSF, CC is a pro-copyright organisation, hence its willingness to imply that copyright is as much a right one may wish to unreserve as inalienable/inviolable (natural) rights aka moral rights. Why on earth would someone wish to waive the moral right to authorship to permit someone to falsely claim authorship of their work? Conversely, given that the right to copy was derogated from the individual's right to liberty in 1709 by Queen Anne, it is quite laudable to wish to restore this to the public from whom it was stolen.

Terry, apart from demonstrating a complicated interim migration path, you are in danger of suggesting that Creative Commons commit the apostasy of moving from an organisation principled on empowering authors' use of copyright to one principled on enabling/persuading authors to restore to the public their cultural liberty.

A single, libertarian license is what a liberty principled CC would have created. Instead, espousing copyright as if a right, it has created a complex confusion of licensing pollution that has prevented a simple demarcation between copyright/proprietary and copyleft/free culture developing. This is probably the original objective, to consolidate copyright's prominence and importance in any self-publishing artist's consciousness.

Nina Paley has it right. "Copying art is an act of love". It is those who love an artist and their work who are driven to want to promote that artist, to share their published work among their friends.

Cultural intercourse is not something to be constrained by commercial privilege. We must move from an obsession with copyright and obeying the copyright holder, to loving art, respecting the artist, and honesty in sharing their work and promoting them. This means embracing moral rights, but deprecating anachronistic constraints on distribution, copying, communication, or commerce. If you love me, sing my song, tell my story, but be true.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Insightful piece Terry.

I've defended my use of NC (but not necessarily By-NC-SA) for the Bizarre Cathedral on this site and yes I know you were (somewhat carefully) not decrying the use of NC but I feel as a user of By-SA-NC I should at least comment on my understanding of it and why I chose to include SA.

I never saw SA as an addition to a By-NC licence rather it was NC that was an addition to By-SA and I feel that many content creators who use By-SA-NC will have followed the same path. I want attribution and I want derivatives to give the same freedom my original work does and finally I don't want anybody enjoying this work or derivatives of it to have to pay for them. This is less about commercial exploitation of my work than it is about ensuring that a financial barrier for people to enjoy this work should not be re-imposed once I have removed it.

Having said that you are correct in that the SA is somewhat redundant when it comes to the NC part of the licence but it is not when it comes to the attribtution. A By-NC licence insists that any derivative includes an attribution to me and the original but it does not prohibit a "remixer" from licencing their derivative under an NC-only style licence. SA explicitly says "I've used CC licencing you must do so too". At least my understanding of it does. Without it somebody could create derivatives of my work, attribute the original and place a custom "freeware" licence on it. Further derivatives could then lose association with the original and this in my view devalues my contribution to the work. However unlikely this is putting SA in my chosen licence makes it trivial to protect against.

Equitas IT Solutions - fairness, quality, freedom

Terry Hancock's picture

That's my favorite quote from Nina Paley on this, and it sums up the problem nicely. The only way anyone can "impose" a financial barrier on your work is if they can get a monopoly on it. By using a "ShareAlike" license, you deny that possibility, so the exploitation you fear can't happen anyway (no one is going to pay extra money to someone who didn't produce the work when they can get it for free from the source).

You could raise the objection that they might not know they can get it for free, except: the "Attribution" part of the license allows you to insist that your original publishing source is listed, and the By-SA license also must be noted when the work is used.

Protecting your own monopoly is the only real benefit of NC licensing -- it allows you to create scarcity and thus maintain higher prices on selling your work (such as the books you are publishing). It's debatable whether that's actually necessary. But, assuming it is, that's the niche for Non-Commercial licenses.

A few points have been raised (not just by you) about the value of the SA terms with NC. That's fine -- I acknowledged that those might turn up, but in my opinion, there's no one using By-NC who would object to the SA terms.

So, it'd be completely reasonable to fold those into the NC module. The problem is the confusion created by the name "By-NC-SA", which encourages people to conflate the two "SA" licenses, as if they were related, when they are really unrelated in their effect. The naming suggests a false parallelism.

So let me suggest this to you -- if the license you use now were called simply "By-NC", how would that bother you? Because that would be closer to the outcome I suggest.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

A By-NC would not affect the non-commercial status of the work or the attribution within a first level derivative but as I said the second, third fourth level derivatives would not need to acknowledge me at all as the first one could just release theirs with a custom NC-SA licence (no By) and thus my contribution is lost. So my point (not really an objection) was that SA protects the By and not only the NC (which tends to look after itself).

You could raise the objection that they might not know they can get it for free, except: the “Attribution" part of the license allows you to insist that your original publishing source is listed, and the By-SA license also must be noted when the work is used.

I do but your counter does not cover everything. Where in a By-NC clause does it say that the attribution must state how much the derivative creator paid for the work? It doesn't. Thus someone getting a derivative from a more well known source than I, could easily presume that because the derivative is charged for, so is the original source. So in this context the SA makes sense not by just "protecting my monopoly" (of which I am glad BTW) but also ensures acknowledgement of me as the originator of the work. Yes it is unlikely that those using and supporting CC works would not inform their users of the original work but as CC grows we need to remember that the ethos of those using it will be watered down by those more comfortable with traditional copyright monopolies and exploitation.

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bignose's picture
Submitted by bignose on

A By-NC would not affect[…] the attribution within a first level derivative but as I said the second, third fourth level derivatives would not need to acknowledge me at all as the first one could just release theirs with a custom NC-SA licence (no By) and thus my contribution is lost.

What gives you that impression? That's not how copyright licenses work.

Redistribution of your work by a third party doesn't change the fact that you hold copyright, and that your terms are still binding on any recipient. If you distribute to Betty under By-NC terms, and Betty derives a work from that and redistributes the result to Carol, the only license Carol can have in your work is the By-NC terms. Betty doesn't get to remove the terms of work in which you hold copyright.

Betty can apply whatever terms she likes to her work, but any part of that work which is yours is still under By-NC terms no matter who gets it from Betty.

bignose's picture
Submitted by bignose on

A By-NC licence insists that any derivative includes an attribution to me and the original but it does not prohibit a “remixer" from licencing their derivative under an NC-only style licence.… somebody could create derivatives of my work, attribute the original and place a custom “freeware" licence on it.

No, that act (changing the license on a work) is reserved to the copyright holder and the CC licenses don't change that.

If you distribute your work to Betty under CC-By-NC, and that license is the only permission Betty has to redistribute, then Betty can't legally change the terms on that work when redistributing to Carol. Carol receives the work under the same terms, since the copyright holder (you) hasn't changed.

Betty can derive a work from yours and redistribute the result, but that doesn't change the terms on the part in which you hold copyright. Betty's work might be CC-NC, but only the part in which Betty holds copyright; the part of the work which is yours must still be attributed by the terms of CC-By-NC.

In that case, Carol receives a combined work with different parts under different terms. Carol must still abide by all the terms when she receives the combined work; nothing has been re-licensed.

Some free-culture licenses specifically permit re-licensing. The CC licenses do not grant permission to re-license. Your terms continue to apply to work in which you hold copyright, no matter how far it has been remixed and/or redistributed by others.

SA explicitly says “I’ve used CC licencing you must do so too". At least my understanding of it does.

That's not right. Rather, the SA clause says “any work derived from this one must also be under the same license terms". So, if you were to distribute a work to Betty under CC-By-SA, then Betty could derive a work from that; she and you would then both hold copyright in the combined work. The SA clause restricts Betty's redistribution: she has permission to redistribute only under the same terms.

The permission to re-license was never present to begin with, and the SA clause doesn't change that.

Terry Hancock's picture

I think you may have missed that we are discussing the impact of the licenses on derivative works.

Creative Commons licenses (like free software licenses) allow you to make derivatives which you release under terms that may or may not be constrained by the original license.

If they are so constrained, then the license is a "Copyleft" (FSF terminology) or "ShareAlike" (CC terminology) type.

Attribution is a little more complex. There is often "moral rights" or "author's rights" legislation in many jurisdictions that would prohibit claiming another person's work as your own, regardless of licensing status.

But assuming that such legislation doesn't exist in your jurisdiction, Ryan may be right that the absence of a ShareAlike clause would permit removal of attribution in some cases of derived works.

Crosbie Fitch would probably argue that there are ethical reasons not to constrain the licensing on derivative works. Ryan clearly disagrees. I'll consciously demure from that discussion. :-)

However, going back to my original point -- this isn't about the "legal code" of the CC licenses, but about the branding. I assert that "By-NC-SA" is fundamentally misleading and confusing because users think it works similarly to the "By-SA" license. But it doesn't.

It works almost exactly like the "By-NC" license -- and any differences are likely to have been unintentional on the part of the licensor (most users of By-NC probably expect or want it to work like By-NC-SA, so changing the terms to merge the two would only close loopholes that the licensors didn't want anyway).

What I propose is to fold the minimal "sharealike" requirements that concern users like Ryan into the By-NC license, and eliminate "By-NC-SA".

Ryan Cartwright's picture

Crosbie Fitch would probably argue that there are ethical reasons not to constrain the licensing on derivative works. Ryan clearly disagrees.

under certain circumstances yes. I want to emphasise here that I am an advocate for choosing the appropriate licence in each case. You make it sound like I am being unethical - actually my aim is the opposite here. I'll say it again: the cartoons on here are CC:By-NC-SA primarily because I want to prevent others from charging for work I have allowed to be of no cost. By "restricting" the licencing* and usage of derivatives I am trying to ensure that these strips are kept available at zero cost. To me that's an ethical choice, maybe it does mean I am infringing the "rights" of derivative creators but honestly that a huge grey area. These are not educational and in the great shape of things nobody goes without food, water, shelter, air or even enjoyment (or not) of my cartoons because of my choice of licence.

With regards my concerns over attribution. There is a difference between the CC understanding of attribution and the "moral right" clauses of copyright law in many jurisdictions (including my own native UK). The former generally requires some kind of pointer to the original work. The latter simply requires you say who made the original work. This is why I say the SA protects the CC attribution part.

* I maintain that any licence other than public domain imposes restrictions upon users and derivative creators of the work

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Terry Hancock's picture

Ryan, I was certainly not suggesting you were unethical in your choice of license.

I was pointing out that Fitch is a copyright abolitionist, and he probably (if I'm not misrepresenting his agenda) would see all restrictions of derivative works as a bad thing.

Obviously, if people believe that, then any discussion of the effect on derivative works is going to be colored by that. The rest of the comment goes on to address the concerns of people like you, Ryan, who don't think it's a bad thing to put some restrictions on the licensing of derivative works.

You're in pretty good company, there, IMHO. Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds... indeed most free software developers, and of course me and several other contributors to FSM all agree with you on the value of copyleft arrangements.

These do more than merely nullify the effects of copyright law -- it is only through these arrangements that we can insist on the availability of source code for software, for example.

Did you read the part where I conceded that some re-writing of terms might be needed to avoid the consequences you fear?

I re-emphasize that the point here is not that copyleft is bad, but that confusion between "ShareAlike" and "NonCommercial" licenses is bad, and the usage of the terms in CC licenses is inconsistent in terms of actual effect.

4ebees's picture
Submitted by 4ebees on

...and as someone with not such an in-depth understanding of CC licenses and the history of copyright, I would like to say thank you to posters before me for some very illuminating discussion and facts (particularly to Crosbie for the reference to the statute of Queen Anne).

Fascinating read.

Crosbie Fitch's picture

In case it isn't clear: using copyright to restore liberties it suspends via a license that is conditioned on licensees doing the same for their derivative works, should obviously be considered highly laudable and ethical. I am pro-copyleft/pro-GPL because of this.

I am continually mystified that being constrained to relinquish unethical constraint might somehow be considered an unethical constraint. Hence people repeating the canard that the BSD is freer than the GPL because it gives the licensee the 'freedom' to choose how they license derivative works.

'Freedom to enslave' is not liberty.

'Freedom to re-apply copyright to prevent others copying one's published work' is not liberty.

'Freedom to pretend another's work is one's own' is not liberty, but plagiarism, fraud, dishonesty, etc.

This brings us to the moral right to authorship. This is not a privilege to force others to credit the author (as CC insinuates it). It's a natural right. So let's not let it slip into the travesty that trademark is where people claim ownership over words, symbols, colours, etc. An author has the right to identify themselves as the author of their work. The public have a right not to be deceived as to the authorship of a work. It's all about truth, not an obligation to give credit, citation, or attribution. There's an obligation against misattribution, but this isn't the same as an obligation to give attribution. It's a subtle point, easily lost on people eager for ever more power over their fellows. You can tell another author's story without having to credit them. You just have to avoid dishonesty concerning authorship, e.g. stating or implying that you are the author.

Terry Hancock's picture

It is factually incorrect to say that the GPL's copyleft solely erases the effect of copyright. The source code requirement goes beyond that.

I don't remember seeing you address this directly. Do you actually favor the GPL (and therefore a "some copyright" or a "copyleft" world) or genuine copyright abolition (and therefore find the GPL too restrictive)?

I don't think the position can be taken very seriously unless/until you resolve this ambiguity.

Crosbie Fitch's picture

The position I don't think can be taken at all seriously, is that copyright, the privilege of prohibiting copies of one's published work, is necessary to restore to the public their freedom to make copies. It should be patently ridiculous.

As I've always said, I support the GPL's neutralisation of copyright's constraints upon the public's liberty, and thus wholeheartedly recommend people use the GPL - to restore to people those freedoms suspended from them by copyright.

I also support copyright's abolition.

When copyright is abolished the GPL becomes redundant. There is no longer any incentive to keep source code secret/obfuscated because there is no monopoly to be had in the production and sale of binary copies (that would be undermined if source code were published).

When you can't sell copies you have to sell your work. And when people buy work they buy source code, because that's the labour and product they've paid for - they can produce their own binaries for nothing (with the help of a computer and a compiler).

Author information

Terry Hancock's picture


Terry Hancock is co-owner and technical officer of Anansi Spaceworks. Currently he is working on a free-culture animated series project about space development, called Lunatics as well helping out with the Morevna Project.