Wednesday 26 February 2003

What does irrevocable mean, again?

Burningbird pointed to Tim Hadley’s “careful analysis of the Creative Commons license from the perspective of webloggers in general, Movable Type specifically.”

As well as doing an absolutely first-rate job of untangling the ambiguity surrounding the Creative Commons licenses, Tim has elucidated several aspects of the licenses which are disturbing, one extremely so. Tim summarizes his findings thus:

First, putting a Creative Commons license graphic and link on the main page of one’s weblog, without any kind of express limitation, probably licenses all of the content of the weblog whenever it was written. Second, the Creative Commons license does not magically change the nature of the work, nor is it tantamount to a public domain dedication. But for one provision, removing the Creative Commons license from one’s website would still allow people who have already copied the work to keep copying it, but others would be prevented from copying it. However, all Creative Commons licenses possess a provision designed to pass the license on to everyone who receives a copy from someone who obtained the work under a Creative Commons license. That provision will apply even when the author stops offering the work under the Creative Commons license. [my italics]

I always assumed, unlike many others, that a Creative Commons license graphic and link on the main page means the entire contents of the weblog are up for grabs.

What I didn’t realize—and I doubt that one in a thousand CC licensors would be aware of this either—is that, even if you change your mind and remove the license, anyone who has licensed your work before your change of mind can legitimately pass his or her license on to third parties who agree to its terms.

Remembering that every Creative Commons license

this means that if a single person takes you up on your offer of a Creative Commons license then you’ve effectively licensed it to as many people as your initial licensee wishes—whether you change your mind or not.

I’ve been using Movable Type for nearly a year now and I have the greatest admiration for Ben and Mena Trott and their marvellous software. But I believe that they made a grievous error in making it so easy for naive, uninformed users to give away the content of their weblogs without understanding the full implications of their action.

Liz Lane Lawley points out in the comments on Tim’s post that:

No, the CC license is not on by default. You have to specifically select the terms of the license you want, and enable it. They also provide an explicit link to the Creative Commons site, which, I think, does an excellent job of explaining why people might choose to use their license.

To which I would add: for an organization whose headquarters occupies a prime plot on the High Moral Ground, Creative Commons also does a shithouse job of explaining why people might choose not to use their license.

But that’s less of an issue, now that Tim Hadley has done the job properly.

Even so, isn’t it reasonable to assume that giving away your work, irrevocably, to anyone in the world, for the duration of its copyright, whether your change your mind or not, should require more than flicking a couple of switches?

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This irrevokability is the main reason why I haven't followed the stampede towards CC. My weblog has a whole lot of stuff, and some of it I might want to remove from the site in the future. The idea of giving express permission for someone to take it and use it against me in the future I dislike.

(Cue Googlecache discussion, I suppose)

Posted by: Aquarion on 25 February 2003 at 11:59 PM

The fair use aspect of copyright already allows for the citation of work that you've removed from your site.

I've responded to this post in more detail on my site, but trackback doesn't seem to be working. <sigh>

Posted by: Liz on 26 February 2003 at 12:10 AM

All I can say is thank goodness I've gone for the Imaginative Pastures license instead....

Posted by: stavrosthewonderchicken on 26 February 2003 at 01:00 AM

Jonathon, while it is extremely easy to turn on CC licensing in MT you still have to make the decision to do so. Trying to protect people from their own stupidity is what has made usability the bear it is with most software today.

Posted by: Larry Burton on 1 March 2003 at 03:00 PM

Analogy: For an organization whose headquarters occupies a prime plot on the High Moral Ground, Google also fails to explain why people might choose not to use their search engine.

Posted by: Aaron Swartz on 8 March 2003 at 05:20 AM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour