Choosing Copyright Terms

23:44 Sun 25 Mar 2007
[, , , ]

It’s worth spending the time to consider what licensing/copyright/usage terms to apply to one’s output, whether creative or otherwise. The default is copyright, which applies (at least in the US and the EU) as soon as one creates something. This means that the work is given the full range of legal copyright protections—regardless of whether they’re wanted or not.

Practically speaking, this might not be that relevant, in that the audience either might not want to copy work, or might decide that legal action against them is unlikely if they do. However, this leaves the intent of the creator very unclear, and may put off a lot of those who might wish to redistribute it or create derivative works.

Creative Commons licenses and the Free Art License are possibilities that I’m considering for my own work. I’m leaning towards a Creative Commons license for most things, because I’m concerned about commercial use. Also, which licensing terms I’m concerned about depends on the kind of content I’m talking about. I intend all of my code to use the GPL, but have been lax in making that clear. My other posts, however, are different.

I am aware that it’s entirely possible that nobody wants to copy or re-use my work, but think I should make it possible for people to do so anyway.

In general, I don’t mind people sharing my work, in fact would want to encourage that. But I don’t like the idea of it being out there without attribution, and I don’t like the idea that someone else might sell it without cutting me in. The former bothers me more than the latter (and is also a more likely scenario than the latter).

This inclines me towards a license that allows: sharing if that sharing is mandated also for any copies, as with the GPL; derivative works if they must also use the same license (again as with the GPL); requires proper attribution; and restricts commercial use. This is the Creative Commons “Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike” license (“by-nc-sa”).

I’m not sure about the restriction to non-commercial use, partly because it’s not always clear-cut what “commercial use” really means. On the other hand, it seems reasonable to me that anyone who wishes to use my work in a work that might be considered commercial can consult with me first (the downside here being that the hassle for them of doing so might preclude them from using my work in some way that would be good publicity for me).

Note that I consider the non-commercial restriction to be different for code, because running a program doesn’t really have an analog for something like writing.

With all this in mind, I’ll need to add licensing info to my posts, and move away from the generic copyright notice that I have right now (which implies that no-one can use any of it for anything). I think that code will go under the GPL, most non-creative writing will be “Share Alike + Attribution” (I won’t worry about commercial use there) and most creative writing will be “Attribution + Noncommercial + ShareAlike”—I’m still a little paranoid there, but I’ll consider it further over time. (I’m also paranoid that this might cause trouble in a hypothetical publishing situation in future, but I think that if someone’s actually interested in publishing something of mine, it should be possible to work around that.)

Leave a Reply