[Foundation-l] What's wrong with CC-BY-SA?

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Sat Dec 1 20:50:38 UTC 2007

On Dec 1, 2007 3:03 PM, Anthony <wikimail at inbox.org> wrote:
> What problem do you have with CC-BY-SA?

My reasons for deciding not to use the CC-By-Sa licenses are fairly
long and complicated.  I don't have the time right now to really dive
into it as I'm rather busy.  For the purpose of the Foundation's
announcement it was enough to say that I have explicitly rejected
those terms.

Your question is interesting and deserves a response. So I will
provide some quick examples now, but by no means is this my complete
position on the reasons I have decided to not use those licenses for
my work.

1)  Laurence Lessig has posted multiple times claiming that it is
acceptable to take illustrations licensed under CC-By-SA and produce
combined works which are not freely licensed. For example, if I wrote
a since instruction book and created illustrations on how to safely
use a bunsen burner a commercial textbook publisher could use my
illustrations in their textbook without giving anything back the the
world of free content.

I use a copyleft license for my content because copyleft licenses
create an incentive to release works under a free license. I see this
both as the 'payment' for my works and a way of ensuring that my
contribution stays free and isn't captured for the sole profit of
another party. With my works copylefted someone creating a new work
could choose to purchase commercial stock photography, or they could
choose to freely license their work and build off mine.

When someone is really unwilling or unable to freely license their
derivative I am willing to license my rates under typical commercial
stock photography rates. This provides me with, well, lets just say
that I make enough doing this that I report it to the IRS.

Some people are happy with using very liberal licenses (e.g. releasing
their work as 'public domain') for all their work and I support their
decision, but I've seen first hand how the small friction of copyleft
increases the pool of content that is freely available for all, and I
wouldn't want to lose that for my illustrations. (For my own works of
trivial merit, I 'PD' them because I don't expect any copyleft gains)

Mr. Lessig's position on "share alike" and illustrations isn't well
supported by the text of the license, but his position naturally
carries a lot of weight.

2) The Creative Commons licenses come with misleading front cover
text. If I released my work under these licenses I would be at
constant risk of suffering disputes resulting from reusers
misunderstanding their rights and obligations.   We've experienced the
reverse of that  numerous times at Wikimedia when people using CC-By-*
expect to be able to exactly stipulate how attribution is provided.

3) Speaking of 'attribution', the Creative Commons cc-by and by-sa
licenses at version 2.5 and beyond contain a serious issue with their
attribution.  The attribution clauses in these licenses reads, in

"If you distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, or publicly
digitally perform the Work or any Derivative Works or Collective
Works, You must (...) provide, reasonable to the medium or means You
are utilizing: (i) the name of the Original Author (...), and/or (ii)
if the Original Author and/or Licensor designate another party or
parties" (...) (through) terms of service or by other reasonable

So these by-attribution licenses don't actually provide attribution if
a service provider specifies  so in their terms of service.  Jamesday
(en User:Jamesday), a Wikimedian old-schooler, wrote a lot about this
back when these terms came out.

Obviously the issue of attribution for collective works in a space
limited medium is important, but it can be addressed without giving
service providers the ability to take attribution for  all freely
licensed content distributed through their systems.

The exact implications of that text aren't entirely clear: If the
clause only takes effect at the first point of submission it breaks
the right to fork, and fails to resolve the collective attribution
problem (i.e. you end up with "This article contains material by
Wikia(tm), WikiHow(tm), Wikipedia(tm), GregPedia, Planet Math ...").
Or, alternatively, if any down stream service provider can invoke it
.. it allows anyone who could claim to be a service provider to remove
attribution at any time... which many consider to be morally
offensive, and which present practical problems for people trying to
keep works free.

Years ago when these terms were first released I was seriously
concerned with the implications of giving an author's service provider
a special rights in free content licenses. In these days of real
concern over net-neutrality my worries on these matter are even

And from here, we could go into the issues with the Creative Commons
branding,  which many people feel is exploitative, and which Creates
Confusion with respect to the licenses. ... which is a matter of great
concern to anyone who thinks Free Content should be more than
CC-NC-ND.... but I've run out of time.

Thanks for enduring my verbosity,

> Personally, I like the basic
> concept (do what you want as long as you attribute others, derivatives
> must be under the same license), but I'm not familiar with the
> nitty-gritty details.  There were some complaints in particular with
> the newer versions of CC-BY-SA, which I don't recall, but which
> possibly could be addressed before the compatibility is put into
> place.
> But, in order to have any chance of this, we need to get a list of
> complaints.  What problems do people have with CC-BY-SA?  I'm asking
> this of everyone on the list.
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