I think it’s safe to say that Creative Commons is one of the best things that happened to the culture in the past few decades. Creative Commons licences and the creative and informative projects that use those licences have fundamentally changed the way we participate and contribute to the culture. While it’s difficult to get everyone to see why free culture - that is to say, free in the “Free Software” sense - is a great thing, at least they’ve gotten everyone to used to the idea that there are people out there who make great content and allow this content to be reused by everyone else.

Which is all the more frustrating when people don’t actually get the ideas behind CC licenses start using them, and have some rather odd ideas.

Virality of Creative Commons

It’s safe to also say that the Creative Commons licences don’t solve all licencing cases. I’ve had hard time choosing what licences should be used for the Avarthrel project, because obviously CC is better suited for individual works, not whole fictional milieus. CC licenses don’t fare well when the idea is to protect a higher-level idea while granting broad, permissive rights to individual derived works. In other words, CC licenses either protect the whole work and all things based on it, or don’t protect the work at all nor the derivative works. There’s no real option for “protect the work, but allow making derivative works with more latitude.” In Free Software/Open Source movement, this is the drawback of “viral” licences: if you as much as breathe to its general direction, the licence will haunt you, when this is neither desirable nor practical.

Aside of fictional worlds (like Avarthrel), the same problem can be seen in fonts: Since the international intellectual property rights regarding fonts are very complicated, and fonts are highly utilitarian in nature, it should be best if the font creators could explicitly say “the font files are covered by our licence, but the graphical use of the fonts is unrestricted and aren’t subject to a viral licence”. This is the reason why OFL is a preferrable licence for fonts, compared to Creative Commons, because it addresses this issue specifically. As Creative Commons is not designed with fonts in mind, depending on jurisdiction, mere use of Creative Commons font in a work might make the work a derivative work. Or not. Whether the licence applies and whether the licence has to be referenced or attributed is another matter.

The Avarthrel licencing question

I’ve chosen that Avarthrel’s canonical world description is under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike licence. There’s no reason to use other licences for text data in my opinion, and CC BY-SA is very unproblematic and well-established) for wikis (ignoring the fact that Avarthrel Encyclopædia only has one editor at the moment, of course).

I’ve also previously used Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works for my stories. While I was always against the Non-Commercial clause of Creative Commons licencing, I still thought that it was appropriate to use a No Derivative Works licence for works of art to preserve the artistic integrity of the work. After all, Free Software Foundation and Richard Stallman have never had any qualms of using similar licence for some works: many essays have copyright notice along the lines of “verbatim copying is permitted provided this copyright notice is retained”. It permits copying, but not significant modifications.

Yet, it’s important to note that there’s quite a practical difference between the terms “verbatim” and “no derivative works”. The former does not rule out certain kinds of derivative works that do not modify the contents in a significant way, such as format conversions and formatting changes — FSF and Stallman have, after all, been very supportive of format-shifting, and I don’t think any of that does any harm.

So, perhaps No Derivative Works is a little bit too restrictive. My primary concern was the artistic integrity of the work, and as the CC blog post points out, it’s always appropriate to ensure the work is properly attributed and try to ensure that people can refer to the original.

So, I might as well make an official stance here: I’m completely in support of efforts to remove non-free clauses from future versions of CC licences, and I’m considering how to best change the licences of my prevous stories to Share-Alike. I also need to make it clearer for reusers on how to properly Attribute the works.

The brand new Avarthrel Licence - witness hypocricy in motion!

In October 29, 2012, I released Avarthrel Licence v2.0.

I think the licence is kind of an annoying thing, but unfortunately it has to be done.

I’m usually against modifying existing Creative Commons licences. I’ve seen wayyyyy too often people releasing artwork in deviantART under a permissive CC licence, then adding a picture description along the lines of “don’t distribute this or I’ll gut you”. This sort of modifications to the licence are always problematic, because they usually show that the licensor has no idea what the license is supposed to give out.

For example, here’s Open Dyslexic font licence. I’m glad that the licence of the font has been changed since I last checked it out - the licence was CC Attribution, but it specifically forbade use of the fonts in commercial applications. Now, the font is plain CC-BY, which is much better. No strange contradictory licence terms.

So, it’s obviously odd that I’d choose to use an “Avarthrel Licence” which modifies CC terms.

However, I think this is justified for one reason only: I’m giving people additional rights - I’m not cutting rights that CC licence explicitly allows. The only real problem is that people might assume that the stories are solely under CC licence. But if they behave as if the stories were solely under CC licence, there would be no problem. If they believe the current state of things that creating derivative works of the stories is not allowed, they will not create derivative works. If they believe the future state of things that the stories are under Share Alike, they will create derivative works under Share Alike conditions.

But my licence terms add an additional freedom: If you create derivative works which only reference facts, not use substantive copying, you’re free to use another licence. However, in turn, you’re not permitted to keep any new facts as your own property - individual facts from your stories are everyone’s property.

The future

I think it’d be cool to have an actual, commonly used, highly lawyer-reviewed licence for situations like this - a commonly usable licence for fictional worlds, kind of like what OFL does for fonts. If such a licence ever exists, perhaps Avarthrel will move on to that.