October 7, 2003

License to Blog

by Nick Montfort · , 5:12 pm

Recently, we drivers have been discussing how to make the things we write on Grand Text Auto available under a Creative Commons license. I believe we all agree that things we write for the blog (and photos we take and images we create for the blog) should be available under the Attribution-NonCommercial 1.0 license. However, checking the checkbox and putting that license statement on the main page would suggest that we’re licensing content to which we don’t own the rights. That’s why I chose to indicate individually that particular entries by me are licensed. It’s clunky, but a broader, incorrect offer of a license throws those legitimately licensed items into suspicion.

Just putting a license on the front page might be a good solution for one person who has a blog that doesn’t allow comments and never includes any content (text or images) from other sources, but that doesn’t describe any blog I know of. On Grand Text Auto, we often have lengthy comments from others, and we like this. I don’t claim to own these, and without claiming to own these, I can’t offer them under a license. I very much oppose requiring that people who comment sign over any rights. You shouldn’t have to agree to anything (except, obviously, to allow your comment to be posted on Grand Text Auto) if you want to join the discussion here. The point of a Creative Commons license is to allow people to choose to freely make their work available to the commons, not to force people to either surrender their rights or not speak in a forum like this.

Personally, I’ve included a photo from another site in a post; I can’t offer that under any sort of license, since I don’t own it and it doesn’t even reside on the Grand Text Auto server. Some of us have posted the comments of other people under our own name, with attribution and with permission to post them on the blog. But it’s not clear that we have the right to offer this writing by other people under a license that we select. Even in the case of some of my own writing (e.g., drafts of articles) I may have the right to post something on Grand Text Auto but may not be allowed to offer it under a Creative Commons license, because of another agreement I’ve made.

So, unfortunately, “This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License” doesn’t seem like a blanket statement that we as drivers can make. I think we should offer our own writing under a Creative Commons license, as I have started to do, and I think we should figure out a way to do this that is as easy as possible, with minimum clutter on the blog and minimum effort from drivers. But what is that way? I don’t know…


Creative Commons License The text of this blog entry is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

15 Responses to “License to Blog”


  1. noah Says:

    If we want to offer all the things we contribute under a CC license, couldn’t we say, “All contributions by [the GTxA drivers] are offered under [the CC license] unless otherwise noted”? Then we can mark a few places where we’ve contributed things that we can’t offer this way, instead of having to mark almost everything we contribute with the fact it can be licensed this way.

    Comments are an interesting issue. Could we easily put in a opt in/out interface element for a CC license is part of the comment form? I’m sure many commenters would like to make their comments available CC as well. Have other blogs already done this? Someone got an MT shim ready to share with us?

  2. nick Says:

    That seems like a good approach, Noah. I’m also curious about whether there is a way to alter MT in this way to allow commenters to contribute to the commons. Interestingly, the “Writers’ and Bloggers’ Corner” at the CC site doesn’t say much about these issues, and seems to mention monolithic works of writing as examples.

    I like the idea of offering our writing under a CC license, but we should probably keep it in perspective: it doesn’t really seem to be of tremendous importance to the “commons” or to the blog that we do make such an offer. I’ve yet to get an email from anyone that bears a CC license, after all, and to me, Grand Text Auto sits a bit closer to email than do the core creative works (songs, novels, photos) that Creative Commons seems to address. Which isn’t to say we shouldn’t license our on-blog writing … I think it’s worthwhile just for the sake of advertising Creative Commons, if for no other reason. But using the blog to communicate effectively seems most important here.

  3. noah Says:

    I agree that a CC license is largely advertising (and a political statement) at the moment. But, if these licenses are widely adopted, it could become more meaningful in a few years.

    Which brings me to reconsider my previous comment. One of the scenarios that people talk about with the CC licenses is searching for material that is licensed in a particular way. Which is only going to work well if people deploy CC licenses in a way that a search engine can understand automatically. So maybe your strategy of attaching the license to each post makes more sense.

    Is there a good, unobtrusive, low-bandwidth way to do that? Should we perhaps make it part of the template for each entry?

  4. andrew Says:

    I agree with Noah’s suggestion (an idea derived from our email discussions). The alternative of licensing each blog post or each comment on an individual basis would be pretty cumbersome. Unless there’s a simple little icon or something that’s unnoticable unless you’re really looking for it, adding licenses to individual blocks of text is going to make them seem awfully self-important. There’d have to be a way to do it without us coming off as pompous asses (any more than we already do :-)

    Hmm, well, actually… could we have a single linked word “license” on the by-line of each post and comment, that links to a license screen? That might not be too obtrusive. i.e.,

    Posted by: joe at October 7, 2003 08:12 PM license

    Does a link to a license count, or do you have to literally spell it out right there with the text?

  5. scott Says:

    I’m for adopting a blanket CC: License, after asking for input from the community of commenters. I think we should ask for input from people who regularly comment — if there’s a lot of opposition to requiring a CC: license (such as noncommercial use, attribution required), then we should take a couple steps back. But I think a blanket license, allowing for exceptions (and the only ones I’ve run across for GTA have been things intended for later publication) and requiring commenters to contribute their comments to the commons, makes the most sense.

    I’m interested in what the people who comment in this blog regularly think. Would allowing your comments to be in a restricted public domain bother you?

  6. noah Says:

    Andrew, I like that layout suggestion. While the suggestions on the CC site all contain a graphic (and so does the license line for Nick’s post) it seems to me that we could just link directly to the Commons Deed for one of the licenses (which is what the graphic does when you click on it). If you view source, you’ll see Nick’s included RDF metadata with his link, which is also recommended, and wouldn’t take up any more visual space on the page — so it would work perfectly with your suggestion.

  7. nick Says:

    Noah and Andrew, yes, we could link with just text, as I have done once. I think we should say what license it is, not just “license,” since the point of these licenses is to be human-readable.

    Scott, I think your view is anti-commons. As I said above, the point of Creative Commons is to let individuals choose to license their work so that people can republish and remix it. The point is not to stifle comments on blogs in any way, or to compel people to license the writing that they post in some special way in order to have a voice.

    What you’re suggesting is that we make a decision for all people who post comments here – present or future members of the “community of commenters” – perhaps based on what people post on this thread. I don’t want for the drivers to make that decision for other people. Future community members will not be able to have a voice in this, and current commenters may not care to comment or may be away this week and not be able to post. The only right you should have to grant is the right to have your words appear on Grand Text Auto – nothing else. “You own your own words” has worked very well for The Well and it can work here.

    The suggestion that everyone who comments must offer their work under a license that we specify is not liberating, it’s authoritarian.

  8. scott Says:

    I disagree with you, Nick, that establishing GTA as a commons space, while allowing for explicit exceptions, would be anti-commons or authoritarian. Right now, there is no clear policy. Would you ask someone’s permission to quote their comment from GTA? Would you ask their permission if you showed it during a talk? Right now, under your construction of the rules, do you have a legal right to do so? Where does that right stop?

    I’ve not suggested that we take ownership of other people’s words, just that we establish GTA as a commons space. If we’re able to work out a check box system, I think that people will choose their own licenses. If it’s arduous to do so, however, the questions of what people may do with what post will default to copyright. I certainly wouldn’t be offended by contributing to a site that had a clear and explicit licensing policy, and i don’t think many other people would be.

    If you take responsibility for working the technical aspects of your plan, in a way that makes it easy for us and for commenters to spell out the rights we’re claiming/giving away, then sure, that’ll be better than a blanket policy. If you don’t, then you’ve left things to an uncertain default.

  9. nick Says:

    Hmm, I suppose you could call it “exclusionary” rather than “authoritarian” to say that you have to license your writing to be able to post things on Grand Text Auto, but it’s definitely one or the other. As I said, I don’t object to you and I making our comments available to the commons; I just don’t want to tell other people that they have to as a condition of participating here. I would prefer an open community where people can post what they like. People can be (legitimately) nervous enough about posting something to the Web; they shouldn’t also have to worry about making everything that they say available for noncommercial reprinting later on.

    Would you ask someone’s permission to quote their comment from GTA?

    Yes. If I want to print someone’s comment as a stand-alone essay in a book that I’m editing, I would certainly ask permission. If I want to quote a sentence someone posted, say on my own site, I probably wouldn’t ask – although in some cases I would, since it might be polite to do so. Generally, I’d use the same standards I do with other writing that belongs to other people. That isn’t an “uncertain default.” That’s copyright residing with the writer – the basis of the Creative Commons licenses, the GNU Public License, etc.

    I don’t have any sort of plan with technical aspects to it. I prefer to let everyone own their own words and to choose, individually, if they want to license them. If you want to take away people’s choice, I will continue to object. If you want to make it easier for people to voluntarily contribute to commons, we might formulate a plan with technical aspects.

  10. noah Says:

    Nick writes, I think we should say what license it is, not just “license,” since the point of these licenses is to be human-readable.

    So, how about if we add to our template:

    Posted by: joe at October 7, 2003 08:12 PM cc noncommercial reuse

  11. scott Says:

    I think you’re actually misinterpreting the basis of CC and GNU licenses — I’ll post at length about it after recovery from recent travels. For my part, I’d like to indicate on the front page of the site that all writing on the site by me is licensed not by copyright but by a noncommercial attribution required CC license. I’d rather do that than in each individual post. As far as having a policy, however, I think that we should have some clear policy that is explicitly stated. For instance, right now commentors can’t (technically) delete their comments from the site. That, in effect, is a policy, though it is not stated, but coded by the way the site works. If everyones’ comment on the blog is copyrighted by them, as the default copyright defines it, then are they required to leave their comments on the site? Legally, no. Technologically, functionally, yes. I do think it’s important to state a policy about what we, as “publishers,” do with other people’s writing. My preference, as stated, is that this be an explicitly common space (the best analogy here would be open-source software projects that allow modification of code but only by those who then keep the modified code open). I suppose that that may be exclusionary — but it’s an inclusionary form of exclusion — one that would make explicit what the code (in blog context) does anyway.

    More later more cogently.

  12. nick Says:

    Before you post about whether or not copyright is the basis for the Creative Commons license, I suggest you at least read the FAQ:

    Is Creative Commons against copyright?

    Not at all. Our licenses help you retain your copyright while allowing certain exceptions to it, upon certain conditions. In fact, our licenses rely upon copyright for their enforcement – just like the GNU General Public License.

    The fact that commenters can’t delete their comments creates no legal problems. They still own the rights to their comments and can republish them later however they like. By typing them in and clicking “post,” they’ve granted us permission to have those comments appear on Grand Text Auto, and we can (legally) choose to keep the comments there as long as we like or, if we like, delete them.

    There are no real mysteries. We can’t go make a TV commerical using the text of someone’s post, because we don’t have that right; a commenter can ask us to delete something he or she wrote – and we should, from an editorial perspective – but can’t assert the legal right to administer our blog for us and demand that we delete a post that was freely submitted.

  13. torill Says:

    This is such a very American discussion! In Norway, quoting others is permitted in a public context as long as you make it clear where you found what you quote, and it’s not a significant part of the whole. Common sense is at play here: you can’t just cut and paste an article, but a short blogpost in a blog that’s been running for years is no problem at all, for instance.

    In Norway, you also have the rule that letters sent belongs to the person who receive them. That includes email, and it would be reasonable to include comments in a blog. So as soon as somebody have chosen to comment on your blog, it’s no longer their words, it’s yours. And as such they can be licensed under any license you guys prefer.

    I am however not sure how that works in the United States, where I understand that quotation traditions are quite complicated and alien for us unsophisticated Scandinavians. Or perhaps you should put Grand Text Auto on a Scandinavian server?

  14. nick Says:

    As if putting Grand Text Auto on a Scandanavian server would somehow endow us with common sense.

    Letters belong to the people who receive them in the United States, also, but that doesn’t mean that the recipient owns the copyright on what is written in those letters and has the right to republish the letters. If that were the case, my sending a manuscript to a publisher would automatically give that publisher the right to publish it without paying me anything. And for that matter, I could go and buy a book and suddently – because of the rule that a book belongs to the purchaser – I’d be able to license that book to other people however I like.

  15. andrew Says:

    Terra Nova is wrangling with this issue as well.

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