Artists: Read Licenses!

There is a set of icons that just got posted to deviantArt and it got me thinking about the problems with artists understanding licenses:

The icons are great and these works are awesome and I love that artists are playing with the creative works that are shared in the greater commons available from the Ubuntu community. The problem of course is that ubuntu-mono is licensed as CC-BY-SA, in ubuntu-mono/debian/copyright:

(c) Canonical Ltd 2004- 2009

Unless otherwise indicated, artwork is available under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license v3.0 or any later version.

The artist has published his work under a CC-BY-SA-NC license, it turns out that the work is inspired by but not a derivative work, bit if this new work had been based on the original ubuntu-mono icons, then they should be licensed CC-BY-SA as the share-alike terms specify.

Most of the time it’s just confusion and ignorance about the rights and requirements of various licenses and the need to check the licenses when creating derivative works. See the comments below for examples of confusion over the creative commons website text and what issues it can come up with.

This is actually quite hard to manage on the desktop since we don’t express license terms per file in any way on the desktop, it’d be on my wishlist to have some kind of indication on files when they have license terms marked in their meta-data. For SVG files this is quite easy as the terms are normally in the meta headers.

What are your thoughts? Do we do enough to help artists understanding licenses?

19 thoughts on “Artists: Read Licenses!

  1. While I agree it’s unfortunate the artist chose to license their derivative more narrowly than the original work, they are certainly entitled to do so. The original license is the rights passed by the owner of the original work to them. They are under no obligation to pass them all on when they create a derivative.

  2. ShareAlike (sa) Licensees may distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work. (See also copyleft.)

    ScottK – No they really are under an obligation to pass them on when creating a derivative. It’s the same kind of terms as all copyleft software licenses. Unless you can cite something I’ve missed in my research.

  3. I would like to hear the disadvantages of having the license info in the meta-data because I can only think of advantages right now.

  4. Creative Commons is partially to blame. They don’t make a clear separation between their licenses. A source of annoyance (for RMS, for example) is that they don’t differentiate clearly between free and non-free licenses, so people end up using NC and ND licenses and then wondering why their works cannot be included in free software, or on Wikipedia.

  5. You missed one thing:

    90% of people don’t care about copyright or licencing (or the law in general), that includes artists.

  6. As an architecture student I’d say that licenses and copying isn’t a topic at the creative schools that I know. All creative work gets inspiration from other work, no matter if the author and others are aware of it, and if it is obvious or not.

    There is a saying in architecture that “you should not copy, you should steal”. meaning that an improvement of something others have made is better than a bad copy where you didn’t understand the original work.

    On the other hand, I think all artists have to be taught this at school and in places for learning, because it will be an important part of everything that will be released into public. If taught right, more artists can understand how the licensing can work to their benefit a not just be a nuisance.

  7. I think he means Inspired by ubuntu-mono rather than based on since caffeine is a standalone app.

  8. Akshat: And yes, if it’s just inspired then it’s fine, nothing to worry about, but language is also a problem.

  9. 90% of people don’t care about falling rocks, but they still get their heads smashed in when one lands on them.

    So pay attention to falling rock signs.

  10. Jason: Not in any concept of copyleft I’ve ever seen has it been acceptable to add extra terms and conditions. By similar I interpret that as ‘gives the same rights and controls as’ not ‘any creative commons type license’, of course IANAL and only reading the license in detail will say which it means.

  11. Doctormo,

    You asked “What are your thoughts? Do we do enough to help artists understanding licenses?”

    Its obvious that the CC license site doesn’t do enough – the excerpt mentioned above just says similar license – which most people don’t understand – I didn’t.

    While the CC site is trying to make things easier, that part about “or a similar license” is enough to confuse anyone who doesn’t have experience with these licenses.

  12. The explanation about CC-BY-SA on their license page [1] is quite explicit, especially the last sentence:

    “This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This license is often compared to open source software licenses. All new works based on yours will carry the same license, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use.”

    Also note the sentence that says that this license is the one often compared to open source software licenses. This confirms what LucidFox says: if you want your work used in open source projects, CC-BY-SA is the license to use rather than any of the NC or ND ones.


  13. @doctormo, IANAL either, but I would say many people (rightly or wrongly) would read those two licenses and call them similar. The confusion for me arises because of what CC say, I think CC need to be more explicit and drop the use of the word “similar”

  14. I guess the word “similar” is present because CC have different licenses for different countries. For example I use a UK license for my own work as I’m not clear what the legal implications would be if I used the “normal” CC license for a work wholly created in England.

    I’d prefer to use the “normal” license, as there’s already a radio-button for it in Inkscape, and if Google ever get round to indexing by license it wouldn’t put me and my fellow Royal Subjects into our own separate class.

    Perhaps CC should lose the country-specific licenses and address any differences in the legalese (“The following section applies when the licence is interpreted under UK law…”). That way we all use the same licenses with the same URLs, and there’s no need for any mention of “similar”.

  15. Another similar problem that I see quite a bit on dA is the release of artwork under a CC license with a contradicting ‘do not use, steal, etc’ message in the author’s comments (something that gets me much too irritated to leave a rational comment).

    I haven’t done my part in trying to correct this. But I’ll certainly start now.

  16. Ishara, most of those messages seem to be “Don’t take my work and say you made it” it’s a reminder for attribution which is one of the most violated terms in my experience when making derivative works.

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