Thursday, October 20, 2011

Creative Commons - BY (Attribution)

Have you ever wondered whether Anonymous can use an Creative Commons attribution license? The Answer is YES, Attribution licenses ARE useful, even for Anonymous.

In the process of developing the Unglue.it service, we've had to study licenses and decide which ones are best for ungluing ebooks. Since supporters will be putting up real money to relicense the books (making them free to the world), the details of the license need to be spelled out clearly, upfront.

It's a big topic with lots of considerations, so I'm going to write about our choices in three pieces. We'll be using the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND) License for most of the books that we unglue. This post will focus on the easiest choice- the attribution part. Even with attribution, there are some tricky bits.

Here is the text, or "legal code" of the attribution requirement in the CC BY-NC-ND License:
If You Distribute, or Publicly Perform the Work or Collections, You must [...] provide, reasonable to the medium or means You are utilizing:
  1. the name of the Original Author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied, and/or if the Original Author and/or Licensor designate another party or parties (e.g., a sponsor institute, publishing entity, journal) for attribution ("Attribution Parties") in Licensor's copyright notice, terms of service or by other reasonable means, the name of such party or parties;
  2. the title of the Work if supplied;
  3. to the extent reasonably practicable, the URI, if any, that Licensor specifies to be associated with the Work, unless such URI does not refer to the copyright notice or licensing information for the Work.
The credit required by this Section may be implemented in any reasonable manner; provided, however, that in the case of a Collection, at a minimum such credit will appear, if a credit for all contributing authors of Collection appears, then as part of these credits and in a manner at least as prominent as the credits for the other contributing authors. For the avoidance of doubt, You may only use the credit required by this Section for the purpose of attribution in the manner set out above and, by exercising Your rights under this License, You may not implicitly or explicitly assert or imply any connection with, sponsorship or endorsement by the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties, as appropriate, of You or Your use of the Work, without the separate, express prior written permission of the Original Author, Licensor and/or Attribution Parties.
In the case of Anonymous, you can't distribute a CC BY licensed work owned by Anonymous unless you provide attribution to anonymous. You can't say that you wrote it, for example.

For Public Domain works, there's no attribution requirement. It would be perfectly legal for me to take Moby Dick, for example, change the title to Moby Duck, attribute it "the Gluejar Collective" (me and Herm), and sell it on Amazon for $100 per copy (if I get an ISBN!). It might not be legal in France, though. Unlike the United States, most European countries, and especially France, have strong protections for authors' "moral rights". In France, even if an author had released work under a non-attribution license, I wouldn't be able to use the work in a way that abused the author's name and reputation.

Non-attribution licenses (i.e. CC0) are particularly useful when many people contribute to a work, as in the case of Wikipedia, and the use of the work would be inhibited if attribution of all the contributors was required. CC0 (technically a waiver, not a license) tries to address possible conflict with laws assuring moral rights.

For Unglue.it, we expect that most creators will insist on the attribution requirement. Come to think of it, most readers and supporters would insist on it as well. You wouldn't want to read Primary Colors by Herman Melville, would you?

Note: I'm an engineer, not a lawyer, so please don't use this article as a substitute for legal advice. If you want to build nuclear weapons with it, or generate superluminal neutrinos based on the information it contains, you have my explicit permission to do so.
Update 10/20/2011: Corrected CC0 info. The "NC" option is discussed in another post.
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