Against BY-SA/FDL “Compatibility”

Arguments Against The BY-SA FDL Backdoor.

Creative Commons will soon be starting the final discussion on version 3.0 of their Attribution-Sharealike (BY-SA) license. This may include a clause that allows derivatives of BY-SA works to be re-licenced under the GNU Free Documentation License as used by Wikipedia.

There is no legal case against CC allowing BY-SA derivatives to be licensed under the FDL rather than under BY-SA. But I still believe that there are very strong reasons why it is a bad idea.

1. It is morally wrong.

• The current BY-SA 2.x licenses allow derivatives to be placed under future versions of the BY-SA license. This would include a BY-SA with the FDL cross-licensing clause. And this would allow derivatives of BY-SA derivatives to be placed under the FDL without the original licenser having given their consent.

• If the original BY-SA licensor wishes to use FDL derivatives of their work as part of a commons, they are forced to use the FDL rather than the licence they have chosen.

• The FDL allows un-editable, un-translateable, un-removable material expressing an opinion on the original work to be added to derivatives. This work does not form part of a “commons” and may interfere with the original user’s or other users’ ability to receive value from their contribution to the commons.

2. The licenses are too different to be considered “compatible”.

• The FDL allows un-editable, un-translateable, un-removable material expressing an opinion to be added in derivatives. These “invariant sections” interfere with the remix culture that BY-SA was written to enable.

• If the original licensor wishes to use derivatives of their work as part of a commons, they are forced to use the FDL. This “compatibility” is at best one-way. It will not reduce the fragmentation of the commons, quite the opposite: it will cause more work to end up under licenses that are not as well suited to remix culture as BY-SA with no hope of the work returning to BY-SA.

• The FDL is designed for computer software manuals and allows front and back covers to be specified, terms which may be meaningless for other media. BY-SA is designed to allow the free remixing of work and its translation between languages and media. The FDL can be (mis-)used to explicitly prevent this.

3. It will break business models.

• Revver is a website that allows you to upload videos under a CC license to have advertisements attached and displayed for money. But if derivatives of your work can be taken and placed under the FDL, they could have advertisements attached that you cannot remove (and that are under a license that you cannot use at Revver). If derivatives of existing BY-SA work can eventually be placed under the FDL, even existing work on Revver could suffer this exploit.

• Flickr allows photo hosting under Creative Commons licenses. Someone who posts (or has posted) work there under BY-SA would expect derivatives of their work to form part of a BY-SA commons of work. If derivatives of it can be placed under the FDL they

• Wikipedia is based on the FDL, but does not allow invariant sections. If the extra attribution URL from the 2.x licenses is kept as an invariant section in an FDL derivative, Wikipedia cannot use the work. If the URL is stripped, this destroys some of the original licensor’s intent and some of the value their use of the license gives them.

The alternative.

I believe that CC should focus on persuading projects to use BY-SA rather than coercing their own users into allowing the FDL to become a black hole for content. They should negotiate with the authors of minor licenses to deprecate them in favour of the CC licenses, as the EFF music licence and the original Open Content licences did. And they should produce the technological and legal tools to help projects and individuals re-licence. BY-SA is simply the best copyleft license for cultural works and the only one that genuinely creates and protects a commons, and it should not be reduced to being a proxy for licenses that do not afford the same freedoms.

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