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Concise Copyleft · Thursday March 22, 2007 by Crosbie Fitch

If there was a succinct copyleft licence I wonder what it would look like?

How about this:

The Libertarian Licence

You are free to take any liberties you wish with my published work, with but one constraint: The liberties you take may not be withheld from those to whom you give my work (or your combined/derivative work), who you must similarly constrain.
3rd Revision Apr 5, 4pm

Improvements? Errors?

As simple as possible, but no simpler…

drew Roberts said 3858 days ago :

Nor may it be used in collective works, where the works individually and as a whole do not also grant the same liberties.

Crosbie Fitch said 3857 days ago :

Don’t you think the combined/collective work is included within the definition of a derivative work?

drew Roberts said 3853 days ago :

“Don’t you think the combined/collective work is included within the definition of a derivative work?”

Not according to the people over at the creative commons mailing lists if I get them right.

They state that you can legally do things like use a BY-SA photograph in an all rights reserved article with the text of the article being all rights reserved as well.

Do you follow those lists?

all the best,

drew

Crosbie Fitch said 3853 days ago :

I was aware of this liberty one could take with CC-SA works (and hence that CC-SA isn’t strictly a copyleft license).

I don’t follow CC mailing lists primarily because CC is not a free culture organisation, i.e. it promotes the author’s use of copyright – rather than its nullification.

However, if ‘derivative’ doesn’t include a containing work, then yes, this may need to be addressed.

How about this: “(or your work that includes or derives from it)”

drew Roberts said 3853 days ago :

The way the GPL does it if I get it is this:

A derivative must be GPL. Period.

A non-derivative work can be non-GPL when not mixed and must be GPL then mixed.

I can see being a little more flexible…

For copyleft, derivatives must have the same license, works in a collection/etc must have a compatible free license and the collection itself must have the same license.

(This is off the top of my head. It probably needs more thought.)

all the best,

drew

Crosbie Fitch said 3852 days ago :

Do you think a concise copyleft license needs a name in order to refer to itself?

It may deserve a name, but I don’t think it needs to refer to itself as the GPL does.

99% of the power of the GPL comes not from litigation, but from opprobrium.

If a concise copyleft statement can be sufficiently unambiguous in meaning (despite the difficulty of potentially sophisticated language) then it doesn’t need to spell everything out in detail (because it isn’t ever expected to hold up in a court of law, only in the court of public opinion).

drew Roberts said 3852 days ago :

“Do you think a concise copyleft license needs a name in order to refer to itself?”

I don’t know if I have an answer to this.

“99% of the power of the GPL comes not from litigation, but from opprobrium.”

I think you may be putting too high a number on this.

Also, I think you may not be considering one of the benefits of having the force of law in a copyleft.

It can provide “back pressure” that may act on those with interests in extending the reach and length of copyright laws.

It may also provide an example to the public of how copyright can operate to further the interests of the public while providing proper incentives for authors.

Do you know if the courts will except a meta license?

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to send email

Crosbie Fitch said 3852 days ago :

I don’t think the force of law is fully understood when it comes to copyleft.

Either the copyleft statement is deemed to be a license in which case it must therefore be a valid license, OR it is not a valid license in which case there is either copyright infringement or there isn’t. The copyright holder is the only one who can prosecute for infringement, and they will only prosecute (if they can afford the lawyers) if they deem the infringement contrary to the principles of the copyleft statement.

If the copyright holder is an evil publisher who will prosecute for infringement and pretend the copyleft statement is immaterial, then they may consequently become prosecuted by the original copyright holder of the base work – not least subject to extensive opprobrium.

If the copyleft statement is a valid license, ipso facto it must be coherent and unambiguous, can be upheld in a court of law, and everyone is happy.

Crosbie Fitch said 3852 days ago :

Thanks to Drew’s comments, I have now revised the copyleft license/statement.

It previously read:

“You are free to take any liberties you wish with my published work, with but one constraint: The liberties you take may not be withheld from those to whom you give my work (or your derivative thereof), who you must similarly constrain.”

drew Roberts said 3852 days ago :

Crosbie,

I still think you are failing to cover the collections issue. Now not all works or meta works which use my work will be derivatives of my work.

Do you want them to be able to use the work in question and not grant the given liberties where the resulting work is not a derivative? But is still dependant on it for the meta work…

Take an illustrated book. The works covered are the illustrations.

I write text and decide your illustrations can enhance my book. So, rather than publish my book with just text, I include your illustrations. I print up a nice coffee table book.

My text is not a derivative of your illustrations. As far as I gather, even my book itself is not a derivative of your illustrations.

So, I could slap an all rights reserved on the book and the text and only extend the liberties on your illustrations.

That is one of the things I gather is possible. Are you cool with that situation?

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to send email

Crosbie Fitch said 3852 days ago :

Given the revision: “(or your work that includes or derives from it)”

Then you must not withhold the liberties you take with my illustrations from those to whom you give your book that includes my illustrations, who you must similarly constrain.

Thus, whatever liberties you take with my illustrations (reproduction, inclusion within a published work) you may not withhold from the recipients of your book (who may thus reproduce your book, or include it within a larger volume).

And of course, you should reserve all your rights anyway. :)

drew Roberts said 3851 days ago :

“Given the revision: “(or your work that includes or derives from it)””

Sorry, momentary brain glitch…

Now, then, does this perhaps go too far and now try to cover what the GPL calls mere aggregation? If it does cover that, is that a wanted “feature”???

I know your point on all rights reserved, I just have not thought about it enough to know if I want to adopt that terminology/way of speaking yet.

~;-)

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to send email.

Crosbie Fitch said 3851 days ago :

A word that means ‘inseparable combination or inclusion’, without meaning ‘separable collection’?

How about:
“(or your combined or derivative work)”

drew Roberts said 3850 days ago :

I am not actually sure it went to far, I was just asking.

Should it depend on whether a copyright obtains on the whole?

I would say on whether a copyright is sought on the whole, but that doesn’t really help the situation due to the automatic copyright that gets granted.

Even if a person does not seek a copyright, if one is possible, the person gets it.

all the best,

drew

(+1)/10 to send email.

drew Roberts said 3830 days ago :

“The liberties you take may not be withheld from those to whom you give my work (or your combined/derivative work), who you must similarly constrain.”

Actually, I don’t like how that is worded. The people in line should get all the liberties you offer not only the liberties that someone in between takes.

Your language would allow someone to make a derivative and make it non-commercial for instance if they chose not to take the liberty of selling it or using it in some other commercial fashion.

Right? Or am I misreading something?

all the best,

drew

Crosbie Fitch said 3830 days ago :

You make a good point.

I recognised that issue when I wrote it.

However, I think it’s tolerable.

For someone to make a simple copy, means that anyone else can make a copy – but the suspension of liberty in that copy (according to copyright) is still in the control of the original copyright holder (the republisher can’t restrict it unless it is a derivative), therefore all recipients of that copy can take any liberty they wish (subject to the copyleft statement).

For someone to make a copy and produce a derivative means that anyone else can do so.

The only tricky bit comes with combined works. Consider the original artist Albert, and a combining artist Bill…

Bill could say:

I have not taken the liberty of producing a derivative of Albert’s work, and thus withhold from you the liberty of producing a derivative of my work within this combined work (you may include it in your own combined work). Otherwise, the liberties you take may not be withheld from those to whom you give my work (or your combined work), who you must similarly constrain.

However, Bill cannot abrogate Albert’s original copyleft statement, so Charlie can still take any amount of liberty with Albert’s work that he finds within Bill’s combined work.

So, Charlie can still make a derivative of Albert’s work and copy Albert’s or Bill’s work, he just can’t make a derivative of Bill’s work.

How many people like Bill are there? Do they matter?

Crosbie Fitch said 3830 days ago :

On the commercial aspect, yes, Bill could say for another work:

I am not enjoying any commercial use from my copy or derivative of Albert’s work, and thus withhold from you the liberty of enjoying commercial use of your copies or derivatives of my work. Otherwise…

However, the moment Bill gets anywhere near commercial use, he can no longer withhold this from anyone to whom he’s distributed derivatives of Albert’s work.

There may be some whacky artists who believe their art should forever remain unsullied by commerce. I don’t think they’ll get very far, nevertheless.

The ConciseCopyleft as it stands at the moment isn’t a copyright nullification license (cf GPL), nor is it a copyright neutralisation license (cf BSD).
Neither is it a pick&mix variety of licenses of varying amounts of liberty/constraint (cf Creative Commons).

It’s a very compatible license, a sort of ‘take what you want, but do as you would be done by’ deal. Whatever liberties you would enjoy, you should let others enjoy too.

Not as prescriptive as we might like, but then at least it’s then more appealing to those who can stomach quid pro quos where they may baulk at dictum.

Crosbie Fitch said 3830 days ago :

Incidentally, it should probably have its name changed as the abbreviation ‘CC’ could cause confusion.

How about ‘Libertarian License’?

Charles Iliya Krempeaux said 3830 days ago :

I’ve wanted a license kind of like this.

But the tricky part comes in the “combined/derivative work” part. At least when I was talking to legal types. Seems “combined” and “derivative” have different meanings in legalese than in normal English.

Consider if I create a video, an put it under this license. And someone uses an HTML “embed” element to make that video show up inline in their webpage… then I’d like that webpage to also go under this license. (Effectively removing copyright, trademarks, and patents.)

Not sure if this is what you’re going for or not. But I’ve wanted a license like this for a while.

Oh… and one other thing… you may need to be particular with what you mean by “liberty”. There seems that there has been some political objective to redefine the word “liberty”. I’ve seen people talking about “positive liberty” and “negative liberty”.

drew Roberts said 3828 days ago :

“On the commercial aspect, yes, Bill could say for another work:

I am not enjoying any commercial use from my copy or derivative of Albert’s work, and thus withhold from you the liberty of enjoying commercial use of your copies or derivatives of my work. Otherwise…

However, the moment Bill gets anywhere near commercial use, he can no longer withhold this from anyone to whom he’s distributed derivatives of Albert’s work.”

My original response to thisseems to have gone missing.

Basically, couldn’t people/entities try and cut it finer than this?

One example. Couldn’t a non-profit make a derivative and use it for fundraising (a commercial activity) while still trying to prevent that derivative or a derivative of it from being used in a for profit way?

all the best,

drew

Crosbie Fitch said 3827 days ago :

Charles, I don’t actually think embedding/framing is a copyright infringement, but we can consider things either way.

If it’s not an infringement, then it’s not a liberty that any copyright license can restore. However, irrespective of copyright law, if a framer is taking a liberty by framing your work, then they cannot (without opprobrium) deny that liberty to anyone else.

If it is an infringement, then this license restores their liberty to do so with authorisation. However, if as you imply, framing is not included in the definition of ‘the giving of a combined/derivative work’ then I presume you’re suggesting that perhaps they could claim that consequently there is no-one from whom this liberty may not be withheld?

I think the strength of this license is in being concise. It should not attempt to itemise and enumerate every possible way in which it applies simply to avoid weasel cracks in the definition of terms as defined by copyright law. Either most people will consider that a webpage that frames another’s work is a combined work, or they will not. The court that arbitrates this license is that of the people, not that of the commercial infringer’s expensive lawyers.

There are two ways in which a new work is created:

  1. Combination: the work is unaltered, but is attached, appended, framed, included, collected, mixed, or subsumed with one or more other works, into a new work, AND/OR
  2. Derivation: the work is transformed, modifed, edited, translated, etc.

So, I don’t think framing warrants being addressed explicitly, and I don’t think the license can easily be reworded to better address it.

As for the meaning of liberty, a single word suffices. Qualifiers are specious. Determining the liberty that men should enjoy is another matter. It should be defined by the natural contraints of the environment and the ethical constraints of human rights, rather than socialist aspiration. Liberty is the ‘freedom’ in ‘freedom of choice’, whereas one’s standard of living determines the extent of one’s choice. One cannot twist individual prosperity into a form of emancipation by corrupting the definition of liberty – no matter how well intentioned.

For example, you might aspire to study another artist’s unpublished source materials, but you have no right to them. Redefining your aspirations as freedoms does not make them rights by induction, nor does it indicate that your liberty is unjustly constrained.

Crosbie Fitch said 3827 days ago :

My original response to this seems to have gone missing.

Sorry about that. I presume it’s down to some flakiness somewhere in the comment form submission process.

Basically, couldn’t people/entities try and cut it finer than this?

One example. Couldn’t a non-profit make a derivative and use it for fundraising (a commercial activity) while still trying to prevent that derivative or a derivative of it from being used in a for profit way?

What, like: “I am only using Albert’s work to raise funds for a non-profit organisation, therefore I withhold from you the liberty of using my derivative to raise funds for a profit based organisation.”

Someone could do this, yes.

However, such straining of liberty has a cost to those engaging in it. Moreover, the more ‘finely’ people attempt to ‘cut’ this license, the more likely they require it to be legally watertight, and therefore the less likely they will consider this license gives them sufficiently unambiguous authorisation to meet their needs.

There is this ‘Libertarian License’ about which everyone understands, and then there are its qualified strainings, for which propagation will be short lived.

Every artist who so explicitly strains the liberty of their audience and the artists among them must therefore do so in the expectation of a commensurate reward, i.e. that this earns them respect, or disrespect, accordingly.

The ‘Libertarian License’ sets the standard by granting FULL liberty. This is the guideline. There is no ethical abdication. Effort must be expended, and visibly so, by anyone who wishes to dilute the license’s full restoration of liberty. However, at least they may not withhold liberties from others that they have enjoyed for themselves.

drew Roberts said 3826 days ago :

“The ‘Libertarian License’ sets the standard by granting FULL liberty.”

Hmmm, I guess we could go all META here…

You had the liberty to excercise any of the freedoms granted to you in the “Libertarian License” that you judged were needed to make your project go.

You need to grant others the same liberty.

all the best,

drew

Crosbie Fitch said 3826 days ago :

The problem is, full liberty needs constraint.

You can’t mandate full liberty, primarily because you wouldn’t want to, or rather, you’d have to write a lot of words specifying precisely what liberties can and cannot be taken (with ethical justification).

The beauty of this licence is it lets each licensee constrain the liberty granted by the licence according to the liberties they require and the liberties they expect anyone else will require.

The user of this licence can be comfortable in the knowledge that if any extreme liberty is taken, that the licensee is similarly comfortable about anyone else taking the same extreme liberty with their work. In other words if there are liberties I’m uncomfortable about anyone else taking, it’s likely that they’d be uncomfortable too (given they’d also have to grant them).

So, it’s not the BSD’s “take any liberty you want and be free to grant none in return”, nor is it the GPL’s prescriptive “4 freedoms are restored to you, you must restore them similarly”.

This licence moderates the liberties it restores democratically.

No liberties will be taken by anyone uncomfortable about granting the same liberties to anyone else.

The user of this licence may appear to be granting full liberty without constraint, but they aren’t – they are effectively constraining it by saying “I’m confident that whatever liberties you’d be prepared to grant anyone else, are liberties that I’d also be prepared to grant to you”



 

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