Personal thoughts on licensing

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This page gives my personal views on content and software licensing.

I like almost everything I produce to be as remixable and reusable as possible. For instance, I’m pretty sure everything on this website is released under Creative Commons Attribution or is in the public domain (via CC0). For software, I’ve essentially used the BSD 2-clause license or (more recently) the Unlicense (which I prefer to the WTFPL).

If I was a content producer or programmer back when free content/free software was still a nonexistent or nascent movement, it might have made more sense to produce things under more restrictive licenses (such that all derivative works have to be licensed freely), since people may have been more motivated to take free content/software and improve it to sell it. However, as it is, these movements are fairly well-established: I use GNU/Linux as my primary operating system everywhere, and essentially have no need for proprietary software. In addition, many sites like LessWrong and the Effective Altruism Forum encourage people to publish posts under CC-BY, there are many famous books like SICP that are Creative Commons-licensed, and so on. In other words, I don’t see any danger that people will stop contributing free content/software; the movement can only get bigger as more people join! I think there are many benefits to be had when more people adopt an abundance mindset, which is partially achieved with GPL (i.e. you are no longer in competition with most people; you are only curbing potential competition with people who want to make proprietary software) but fully achieved with an attribution-only license or the public domain.

I often wonder if there is an important between CC-BY and CC0 (or BSD 2-clause/MIT and the Unlicense). One argument that there isn’t much difference is that any respectable person would give attribution anyway (e.g. it’s simply unthinkable for an academic to reuse a work without citing the source)—so even given the full privilege of public domain works, one would still essentially use it like CC-BY. One reason to prefer public domain/Unlicense is that (like myself) most people won’t go after others even if their copyright (or copyleft) claims are ignored by other parties: I dislike the threat of most licenses, which says that I can go after you and sue you if you violate the terms of the license. Non-public domain licenses are not an enticing invitation for collaboration because they are simultaneously a legal threat If I don’t intend to go after you, why make the threat in the first place? For creative works like fictional writing, there might be an even better case to be made for distinguishing between the two: it’s uncomfortable to feel an obligation to cite someone when writing fiction, and as far as I know, authors steal ideas from each other anyway (calling it “allusion” or being “well-read”), so why not remove the burden?

See also