Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

When writing my last entry, I remembered a question that some people ask me. Why choose the Creative Commons license that allows people to use content free for commercial use? I think people have some sort of instinctive reaction toward the notion that someone could "exploit" their work to make money. One question to ask is, will you make less money because of it or more? They have to give you attribution so more people will know about you and your work. I would rather have people copy and quote my blog without worrying about asking for permission. I would love to appear in commercial magazines, books, websites and newspapers. Yes, fair use allows these people to quote me without asking permission, but fair use must be defended in court and some countries don't even have fair use. As a practical matter, fair use really only gets you the right to hire a lawyer. The CC license allows people to use stuff from my blog without fear because they know my intention and it is clear legally as well.

The next question is, then why not make it completely free? A good way to understand this is to look at the differences between the GNU Free Document License that Wikipedia uses and the by-sa (attribution share-alike) Creative Commons license Wikitravel uses. There is some overlap and lots of nuances, but generally speaking the GNU license is more about creating an ever growing body of work which must remain free and allows commercial reprinting with limitations basically in order to allow people to charge for reprinting the document. The Wikipedia copyright page says:

The goal of Wikipedia is to create an information source in an encyclopedia format that is freely available. The license we use grants free access to our content in the same sense as free software is licensed freely. This principle is known as copyleft. That is to say, Wikipedia content can be copied, modified, and redistributed so long as the new version grants the same freedoms to others and acknowledges the authors of the Wikipedia article used (a direct link back to the article satisfies our author credit requirement). Wikipedia articles therefore will remain free forever and can be used by anybody subject to certain restrictions, most of which serve to ensure that freedom.
Wikitravel has a page on why they didn't choose the GNU Free Document License.
The GFDL was developed to support making Free Content versions of software manuals, textbooks, and other large references. Its requirements for what you have to distribute with a document under the GFDL -- such a copy of the GFDL and a changelog, as well as "transparent" (i.e. source) versions if you distribute over 100 copies -- aren't really all that onerous for large volumes of text.

But for Wikitravel, we really want to have each article redistributable on its own. Wikitravel articles can be as small as 1-2 printed pages. For such small documents, it just doesn't make sense to require people to pass out another 10 pages of legalese text, as well as floppy disks or CDs full of Wiki markup.

Consider these small "publishers" who would distribute stacks of photocopied printouts of Wikitravel articles:

• Local tourist offices
• Hotels or guesthouses
• Helpful travellers
• Teachers
• Exchange student programs
• Wedding or event planners

Burdening these publishers with restrictions meant for software documentation or textbooks would mean that they'd either ignore our license -- a bad precedent to set -- or, more likely, just not use our work.

We make our content Free so we can collaborate on this wiki, but also because we want it to be seen and used. We can't serve travellers with useful information if they can't get to that information in the first place.

A lightweight alternative

The license we've chosen, the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0, is much easier and more lightweight. We think that using the Attribution-ShareAlike 1.0 license (by-sa) meets our goal of having copyleft protection on Wikitravel content, without putting an excessive burden on small publishers. All that needs to be included are copyright notices and the URL of the license; this can be done in a short paragraph at the end of the article.

The big downside of not using the GFDL is that GFDL content -- like Wikipedia articles -- cannot be included in Wikitravel articles. This is a restriction of the GFDL -- you're not allowed to change the license for the content, unless you're the original copyright holder. This is kind of a pain for contributors, but we figured it was better to make it easy for users and distributors to comply with our license.

Creative Commons is planning to issue a new revision of their suite of licenses some time in the winter of 2003-2004. Compatibility with other Free licenses is "a top priority", and we can expect that some time after that version change, articles created on Wikitravel can be distributed under the GFDL. So, even though we can't include GFDL work into Wikitravel, other Free Content authors can include Wikitravel content into their work.

In Wikipedia's case, the main use case is having it available online and I think for that the GFDL works best. In the case of Wikitravel where they would like to see their work expand into the physical world in small bits, I think the CC by-sa works well. I think they both picked the right licenses.

They point out one of the biggest problems with many of these copyleft licenses. They usually require the creator of a derivative work or the distributor to use the same license and even if the work can be tampered with, the license can not. This makes it hard if not impossible to mix with other licenses. The "share-alike" attribute in the CC license the Wikitravel uses serves this function and is similar to GPL and GFDL licenses in this regard. This is important in keeping the "spirit" of the original intent going and in the case of Wikipedia and Wikitravel which are group efforts, this is quite important. In my case, I would rather allow people who use my works to have maximum freedom so I have not included "share-alike" to my license. This allows people to mix my content with other types of licenses.


Personally, I miss the version 1.0 ability to not require attribution (all the v2.0 licenses include attribution). "Freedom" is pretty nuanced and multi-valenced in these discussions: not requiring ShareAlike can make derivate works less free while making your original content more free ... and freedom from attribution makes a practical difference, especially in design work.

I didn't follow the discussion closely, but I assume that the v1 simple ShareAlike and NonCommercial-ShareAlice were axed because they were so similar to existing license types.

(... there was probably a really good reason to get rid of the ShareAlice license without respect to the older established licenses ...)

totally agree Stewart. Each of these decisions have many effects and people who choose licenses for a community should be particularly sensitive to what things are enabled/encouraged by particular decisions and what are disabled/hampered. I think the wikipedia/wikitravel choses are really interesting in this regard.

I think we got rid of attribution because statistically almost everyone required it and we are trying to keep the licenses as simple as possible.

Sorry, not sure what you mean about axing share alike?

See this post on the CC blog for a good explanation of all changes in 2.0 licenses. Note that ShareAlike 1.0 is still available (and will be forever) should one wish to use it.

Sorry - was a lame joke on my typo "ShareAlice".

Well, on a mundane label, having a good CC License on my blog makes me feel better/more secure about sending free content "out there".

But not all cartoonists feel the same way as me about the internet- here's the most Old-Media thing I've ever read in my life, from the great 'EIGHTIES cartoonist, Gary Larson:

"So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my "children," of sorts, and like a parent, I'm concerned about where they go at night without telling me...."

Frankly, I think it's a bit disingenuous, but he hit the big time pre-Cluetrain, so no surprises there...

Someone once told me that if a photo of mine is used by someone and that person is taken to court for their usage that it could come back to me and I'd be liable in the lawsuit. Even if my original intent for the image wasn't what it was used for or didn't violate any laws. Can you clarify this point? Since I'm in Hollywood I don't want some Paparazzi sleaze using my images and me getting sued for it. Loose example but any thoughts?

I wonder: if a blog author does not use something like a CC license on their blog, and sends out RSS/Atom feeds that could be used for making "copies" of the blog posts without permission, will the blog author be liable under the INDUCE act for inducing others to violate their own copyrights?

Thankyou so much for this post Joi, it gave me a great excuse to reevaluate my current licensing. I'm disallowing derivative works and commercial uses at the moment. The more I think about it, the more it seems I'm doing this with no good reason for the commercial use restriction at least. With derivative works I was sort of thinking I wouldn't want my opinions to be changed, but I don't know if that's a real concern.

Neat! I love seeing Wikitravel mentioned when I'm not expecting it.

Jason. Sorry about the delay, I asked Glenn over at CC about your question. Here's the answer:

If you worried about copyright liability, here's an answer: if the picture includes no other copyrighted images, then you're in the clear. If you had the rights to take/make/edit the original picture (that is, if it includes other copyrighted images in it, but you cleared the rights to them), then you have nothing to worry about. If you didn't have the rights and it is fair use (say you a work for a nonprofit and never charge for the photo and the photo only contains, say, a thumbnail of some other copyrighted image), then you're still in the clear -- even if a subsequent user makes an unfair use of the same image. Under the 2.0 licenses, which have no warranty, your liability is not extended to the bad-guy downstream user.

If you are worried about privacy rights or rights of publicity (which the paparrazzi point implies), then here's a (similar) answer: if you had the right to take the picture (a contract, say, or some newsworthy event including a public figure--politician), then you're in the clear. UNLESS, it's not a public figure (politician) but IS a celebrity whose image is being used in some non-fair use way, and if you signed a contract that says you can make no subsequent distributions -- in that case, you've violated your contract but that's probably the extent of the damages.

So the basic formula: if you had a baseline right to take the picture, it's yours and no downstream bad guy is going to get you in trouble. if you didn't have a baseline right to take the picture and contracted into that privilege, then you basically just have to do (or not do) whatever the contract says. does that help?

Thanks! I won't have that nagging me in the back of my head when I'm releasing my photos now. Much appreciated.

Bradbury: Lying about what you said has nothing to do with licensing -- why would they care if they lie anyway?

If someone would like to use parts of what you said in their own writings, and credit you for inspiration, wouldn't that be fair.

I think both commercial use and use in derivative works is extremely important for a live community. These insights are well implemented in the GPL and the GFDL.

Why a movement with so insightful people as CC has, I can not understand why they failed to see this. Now people blindy choose restrictive licenses without having taken part of the discussion about why freedoms are important.

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