[Foundation-l] [cc-licenses] [Commons-l] Requirements for a strong copyleft license

Gregory Maxwell gmaxwell at gmail.com
Tue Dec 4 05:04:14 UTC 2007

On Dec 3, 2007 11:53 AM, Jimmy Wales <jwales at wikia.com> wrote:
> If you take my cc-by-sa image and modify it, I insist that your modified
> version be made available under cc-by-sa.  If you merely use my image
> *near* something else, then I do not insist that your entire work be
> made available under cc-by-sa, because I do not believe that your
> newspaper article is a "derivative work" of my photograph.
> (There can be edge cases, of course, but they are a bit difficult to
> construct.)
> A desire for "strong copyleft" should not lead us into overly expansive
> claims of copyright on interactions that do not actually constitute the
> making of a derivative work.

Jimmy, intentionally or not you're addressing a strawman.   No one
*here* has advocated that any copyleft license would only permit you
to use a covered work if everything 'near' it is freely licensed, as
such it's not helpful to refute that position.

The reason that we in the world of free content group should tolerate
its imposition at all is because when used correctly copyleft has a
substantial pay-off. Copyleft can create that little bit of friction
needed to move people into the realm of freely licensing their own

For example, a programmer is making a command line app and he wants
command history and line editing ... if he freely licenses his work he
can use GNU READLINE, saving himself about 30,000 lines of tricky
programming.   If he doesn't freely license his work, he can write his
own or find some other alternative, perhaps one that costs a bit of

Likewise, consider a teacher writing a supplemental guide for a class.
The teacher needs illustrations for the guide. They (or their
institution) could pay a fee to use an image library, they could
create their own images, or hire a photographer, or perhaps they could
choose to freely license their work and gain access to copyleft
illustrations which they can use to build their guide.

In either of these cases, programming or educational materials, the
majority of the copyrighted works created are never intended to be
sold as a product. Freely licensing them is harmless. But because of
the weak possibility of future income from these works, and simply
because of the power of the default people usually do not choose to
freely release these works.  Copyleft can create the needed incentive,
and at the same time allow everyone feel like they are getting a fair

It's true that many copyleft licenses have additional characteristics.
For example, they might help ensure that the original unmodified work
doesn't somehow fall out of the free world.  But these effects can be
achieved without copyleft.

The exact functionality needed to make copyleft work the best differs
from work to work. People use software applications in different ways
from scientific illustrations or poetry.

It's been my position, and that of at least several others here, that
in the case of illustrations that copyleft somehow bound to the image
borders doesn't accomplish much -- because the normal way the people
build new works out of images is through synchronization, not internal
modification.    Our experience on Wikimedia Commons is that, even for
images taken from outside sources like flickr, we seldom make
modifications to images themselves... and that the modifications which
do get made are generally trivial (cropping, rotation, perhaps color

A copyleft that doesn't substantially encourage people to make more
freely licensed works is just another copyright related imposition,
it's harmful and without public or even private benefit and should be

[quoting the part I removed from the top]
> For many of us, we want to use cc-by-sa because we want the copyleft
> provision, while at the same time, we do not intend to "overreach" by
> claiming an expansive vision of "derivative work".

I have no doubt that there are many people and companies who will
profit greatly from the effective removal or substantial reduction of
the copyleft status of many works in wikis currently under the GFDL.
However, that isn't how the authors choose to license their works.

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