5 reasons not to choose a Creative Commons license for code 8

Posted by jay Tue, 28 Mar 2006 01:53:52 GMT

Although Creative Commons licenses are fine for many types of content, you should probably think twice before using it for code, and here are my top 5 reason why:

5. Creative Commons has summaries for actual software licenses as well. —It may only be GPL and LGPL, however, if the summary feature attracted you to Creative Commons and you liked the GPL or LGPL license but thought they were too long for the average person to read; it’s not a bad reason to switch from Creative Commons.

4. Creative Commons is pretty plainly GPL incompatible. —Even the least restrictive Creative Commons version has a clause that allows the original author to remove the original copyright notice from derivative works. This is a restriction beyond those offered in the GPL thus you can’t combine Creative Commons code with GPL. This shrinks your Open Source target audience in the area of code reuse and contributions, but that’s your decision. See also Debian-Legal Creative Commons Summary.

3. While the Creative Commons Attibution summary reads like the new BSD license, it’s a summary, not a license, read the actual license you may not like it.—If it turns out all you liked was the summary, you should have used the new BSD license, the MIT license, or the U of I license, they are all pretty much the same and you don’t have to worry about summaries (they are easy to read).

2. Not OSI approved, and for good reason.—Nothing in the license sounds remotely like it could apply to software, and it’s not very neutral in it’s description of covered works. Sure if you change a word here and there, maybe it could apply to software, but if you have to change words around to make it work, it’s a pretty poor choice for your open source software. See also Open Source Definition. See also list of OSI approved licenses.

1. The Creative Commons F.A.Q. tells you not to use it for software.—And I can’t think of a better reason than that.

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  1. Robert Chin about 20 hours later:

    People use creative commons license for software?

    Licenses being incompatible with the GPL shouldn’t be a reason for not choosing a license. Source code isn’t really free unless you can do whatever you want with it.

  2. Jay 1 day later:

    Yes they do sadly and I don’t understand why.

    GPL incompatible is a reason, whether you care or not is another question. Like it or not there are a TON of really good GPL projects, choosing an incompatible license means you or someone else can’t combine your code with GPL code. It’s a pretty practical reason, as long as you don’t get into semantics of what each person considers “free” software.

  3. [...] Creative Commons license for code

    April 19th, 2006
    [...]
    5 reasons not to choose a Creative Commons license for code
    Entry Filed under: miniblog, Programacion
  4. Dave Batton 9 months later:

    I went with a CC license because I really want something simple. But apparently I shouldn’t have done that.

    I don’t think I’m interested in making it open source if that might prevent somebody from using my code in a closed commercial application. And I don’t want to force somebody to share any modifications they might make to my code if they don’t want to. But I’d like a nod in the About box if an app uses my code.

    What license should I chose for this?

  5. Jay 9 months later:

    Yes, that’s easy, the MIT , the BSD, or the U of I license. They all require acknowledgment, and none of them require sharing modifications nor are they prohibitive for use when combined with proprietary applications.

    However, they don’t specifically require in the about box, but the copyright notice should be somewhere obvious. What I’ve seen the most is having the copyright notices show up like in safari (a menu item named “Acknowledgments” under the Help menu).

    I’ll even quote the MIT license below because it’s short and simple, and it’s only restriction it that you have a copyright notice in the software the uses such code (the BSD and U of I licenses are a little more detailed in language while still being pretty simple.)

    The MIT License

    Copyright© [year] [copyright holders]

    Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the “Software”), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

    The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

    THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED “AS IS”, WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.

  6. Dave Batton 9 months later:

    If somebody was to redistribute my code with an open source project then I might want them to reproduce the copyright information. But if they use it in a compiled application I’d just want something that says “Cool feature thingy by Dave Batton,” either in the About box, or in the docs, or somewhere on their web site.

    I chose the Creative Commons By Attribution license because that’s exactly what it appears to say. I’m only thinking of changing is because people are telling me I shouldn’t use this license. Yet it seems to be exactly what I want.

  7. Jay 9 months later:

    I’m not sure if you feel like a requirement of a copyright notice is too restrictive, or not restrictive enough.

    You have copyright ownership of your code, you wish to retain copyright ownership of your code, you license your code to allow others, who don’t have ownership of your code, permission to use it. The typically requires a redistribution of license terms, and attribution in the form of a copyright notice put somewhere obvious. This would be the case whether it’s an open source license or proprietary license and the CC Attribution Deed summarizes this too. The BSD-style license is pretty much the least restrictive license of any kind, while still maintaining ownership of the code, so it makes it really simple for anyone else to use that code, open source or proprietary.

    If what you really want is the extra restriction in the CC Deed

    You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

    That makes the license more restrictive, in the case of proprietary app want to use your code, it’s probably small potatoes, in the case of a GPL app wanting to use your code, it’s possible that the manner you want for attribution could be incompatible, and then they can’t use it without relicensing it to them by something more compatible. So it’ all depends on how simple you want it for other people to use (and share) your code for their purposes.

    A lot of people don’t like the GPL, so they wouldn’t care in such a case, but my feelings are that if i release something open source, GPL is pretty popular, and there are a lot of good GPL applications out there, so I don’t want to restrict my code from being used with them, but that’s just me and my code.

    You own your code, you can do anything you want with it, and you can license it to others anyway you want, and as many different ways as you want. It’s not that you can’t license it Creative Commons By Attribution, the problem is that if you read the actual license, it could only apply to software uses figuratively, and figuratively != legally, such that any due diligent person, open source or proprietary, is going to require you relicense it to them or they just won’t use it. So the question would be, is that a problem for you?

  8. Jay 10 months later:
    If what you really want is the extra restriction in the CC Deed
    You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

    Wow, so when i actually went back read the license again, the word “manner” is actually misleading in the Deed. What the license says is that you must attribute the work using the copyright notice specified by the author in a manner appropriate to medium. So ultimately as far as attribution goes this license is no different then main stream licenses.

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