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

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Sun Dec 2 01:30:01 UTC 2007

Erik Moeller <erik at wikimedia.org> wrote:
> As far as I can tell it's pretty clear: The copyright holder
> determines whether or not they want to designate someone else for the
> purpose of attribution -- and a participatory website like a wiki can
> _require_ such designation. Wikinews actually does: On the edit
> screen, it states that you agree that your edits will be attributed
> "to Wikinews".

If the designation can only be made by the *original author* of the
work then this feature is useless for its stated purpose.

For example, say I upload some text to Wikipedia under attribution
terms that allow attribution to FurryWiki.  Someone else submits some
content to Wikinews, someone else submits content to planetmath, etc.
Eventually someone takes from all of these sources and combines them
into a Wikipedia article.

Your attribution line now becomes a long list of COMPANIES (none of
whom were the actual authors of any of the content) rather than a
somewhat longer long list of PEOPLE.   You haven't solved the problem.

You've also created a new problem:  imagine if Wikipedia turns evil
and screws over the FurryWiki(tm) users.  The FurryWiki(tm) community
and 'forks' (really, they all leave to another wiki run by someone
else).  The content they take from FurryWiki now must always bring
attribution back to the site that screwed them over, which had little
to nothing to do with the creation of the actual content (because the
content authors all moved).

This is a lot like a webcaster's right and its existence removes the
right to make an equitable fork.

I'm not so sure that this reading of the license text is the only
reasonable one. Alternatively, you could argue that downstream
reuploaders were the licensors of 'the work' when they submitted a
derivative to a new site.  Under this reading the above issues are
gone, and they are replaced by a new issue: anyone could create a site
and take away attribution at any time.   Neither outcome is good.

I've proposed alternative terms in the past, basically allowing
attribution for collective works (and only collective works) to be
cited to any party (for example, Wikimedia's Wikipedia) who meets
certain criteria, one of which would be that they provide the entire
list of actual contributors.   I.e. "For authorship information see

More details on that proposed language over at:

> Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Creative Commons added this
> option specifically to _help_ wiki communities in making attribution
> more manageable. They originally wanted to create a CC-WIKI license
> for this purpose, but instead modified their existing licenses to be
> more flexible.

If you'll recall,  back when this was added there was some dispute
about this.  I contacted Creative Commons and said that the CC-Wiki
terms produced the problems above, and that they probably wouldn't be
acceptable for Wikipedia, for example.

Creative Commons replied with something along the lines of "What do
you mean? Wikipedia told us to create this" ...   And I received this
response after folks at Wikimedia had disavowed involvement.

I never was able to get straight answers about this exchange, and it
resulted in my distrust of both you and Angela.   Ultimately it looked
to me like this was probably one of the earliest cases of someone
negotiating with Wikia who believed they were talking to Wikimedia.

> It seems to me that CC has a history of addressing stakeholder needs.
> If we were to adopt one of their licenses, we would instantly become
> one of the most significant, if not the most significant, stakeholders
> -- and I do believe our concerns would be taken very seriously, as I
> think they already are.

And my first hand experience is different.  My experience is Creative
Commons will perform actions for the benefit of private parties for
the sake of promoting their brand name.    You might call this
'addressing stakeholder needs' but I'm not sure I would.

While they've been responsive to PR-harming events, I have not found
them to be at all responsive to carefully considered arguments in
polite private conversation.

Most concerning to me is that Creative Commons doesn't appear to have
an underlying philosophy driving their actions, at least not one
beyond self-promotion.  Yes, they are aggressive about making
*changes* but that doesn't translate into making good changes which
are in the public's interest.   I'd describe it as a policy of
appeasement (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeasement),  but that
would imply that Creative Commons takes a position on the rightness or
wrongness of any particular change to an extent which I do not believe
they do.

It seems your position is that no one in a position to sway the public
perception of the Creative Commons brand has to fear that they will
find themselves in a disagreement with the Creative Commons. Thats
exactly NOT the sort of organization which I believe should be in a
position of stewardship over the content licenses.

Even if I don't define 'stakeholder' in a cynical way, their needs
shouldn't be the primary concern. The public's interest should be.

Principled decision making can be difficult to navigate, because it
can be impossible to find ideal solutions for everyone without
abandoning those principles.

While avoiding the complexity caused by principled reasoning might be
good for the parties that control groups like Wikimedia and Wikia, I
don't think it is in the public's long term interest.

It's very likely that currently standing copyright will be perpetual
and it would certainly be difficult to overstate the potential impacts
of free licensing decisions made today.  We're cheating our
descendants if we carelessly put expedience in front of careful
reasoning and principles.

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