mfioretti: licensing*

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  1. The No-Derivatives option, frankly, is not very popular. People can tell it’s self-defeating.

    The Share-Alike option, on the other hand, is quite popular. And it’s the one that kept me using CC the longest. Even those of us who are OK with others using our content for commercial purposes find it repellent to think that those others could wall off their derived works from the commons, refusing to pass on the benefit they themselves had received. It’s such a compelling argument that the P2P Foundation is promoting a whole new license to prohibit exactly that. But, as discussed by Dave Wiley more than eight years ago, Share-Alike-licensed content can only be combined with other content with an identical CC license, which is very limiting—and that’s really just a subset of the general compatibility problems with CC-licensed content (updated various times and still complicated). This really defeats the purpose of the commons, as Wiley illustrates with another graphic. As the saying goes, the great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.

    In essence, the problem is that Creative Commons allows people to grant others freedom, but with very specific and often mutually exclusive conditions. And that’s only sort of freedom. Does that mean people who use CC are evil, and that I’m boycotting their content? Certainly not. It simply means I find it simplest and most effective to use the public domain (with a fallback to CC0 in jurisdictions that don’t recognize the public domain) to build the commons.

    That leaves the question of free riders, meaning those who would copyright their derived works. At this point, I don’t believe that a further fragmentation of licenses that are complicated to apply and almost impossible to enforce will serve to both build the commons and prevent this problem. Of the two, my priority is the former, but I do still want to keep corporations from strip-mining the commons.

    One way might be to simply ignore them and keep doing our own thing. It’s important to remember that they cannot remove anything from the public domain, nor can they copyright an idea in the public domain itself, only a work derived from it. So, if future iterations of an idea in the public domain are better than those derived works, then the gamble of having produced them will not pay off. Similarly, if small workshops make and sell the products in short runs, not bothering to copyright them, large corporations simply won’t be able to compete. Copyrights take a minimum of three months to register, and that’s enough time for P2P production to move on to something better. In fact, the threat of a copyright might actually spur innovation.

    Another consideration is that corporations creating derived works doesn’t have to result from content being in the public domain or in the commons. They repeat each others’ ideas all the time, in spite of trademarks and copyrights. It’s the idea that attracts attention, not how it’s licensed.
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  2. Indeed, the last paragraph of Klint Finley's (@klintron) otherwise excellent article gets it wrong when it says, "But by moving programming languages and other core developer technology into the realm of open source, companies like Apple can provide some assurances that developers will be able to adopt these tools to their own needs without facing legal action." Not even a little bit true. The risks are all still there. Another company could still happily sue the living daylights out of anyone they believe to be infringing their property.

    And it's not simply the community and legal basics people continue to misunderstand. There's still a surprising lack of understanding in companies big and small about the business and economic basics. John Mark Walker (@johnmark) recently completed a brilliant four part series of posts outlining the basic ways for "how to make money" with open source. The opening paragraph to the series begins:

    "I never thought I’d have to write this article in 2015. By now, I thought it would be self-evident how to derive revenue from open source software platforms. But alas, no. Despite the fact that the success of open source software is unparalleled and dominates the global software industry, there are still far too many startups repeating the same mistakes from a thousand startups past. And there are still far too many larger companies that simply don't understand what it means to participate in, much less lead, an open source community."
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  3. Weinberg penned several important, eminently accessible papers and posts on copyright and 3D printing for Public Knowledge: It Will Be Awesome if They Don't Screw it Up: 3D Printing, Intellectual Property, and the Fight Over the Next Great Disruptive Technology; Is it legal to print Settlers of Catan tiles on a 3D printer?; and What's the Deal with Copyright and 3D Printing?.

    Copyright as it relates to a printed object’s digital files is where 3D printing really starts to feel different from a more traditional copyright analysis. Normally, we do not spend very much time trying to make distinctions between a digital photograph and a file that contains a digital photograph; in that case copyright can be thought of as protecting the entire bundle, which means that the distinction is not particularly meaningful. In large part, this is because the photograph itself is well within the scope of copyright protection.

    However, the distinction between a digital file and the work that it represents can become meaningful if the work in question is a non-copyrightable object.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-03-27)
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  4. Al fine di facilitare l’adozione degli standard, i partecipanti si mettono d’accordo su formare un solo centro al quale rivolgersi per licenziare tutti i brevetti, in un’unica soluzione, sotto condizioni Frand, assegnando il ruolo di amministrare questo sistema a un ente specializzato (dunque formano un pool di brevetti). Per gli standard Mpeg, per esempio, questo ruolo viene svolto nella maggior parte dei casi da Mpeg-La, ma anche da terzi (Via Licensing, Thomson Licensing). Così invece di negoziare con n titolari di brevetto, l’implementatore ha un solo interlocutore.

    Il nostro malcapitato imprenditore si è appunto rivolto a uno di questi, diciamo Mpeg-La. Tuttavia, non vi è nessuna garanzia che tutti i titolari di brevetti siano parte di questo pool. Vi potrebbero essere entità che hanno contribuito a formare lo standard e che non hanno ritenuto di aderire al pool. Le condizioni di partecipazione ai lavori di formazione dello standard non impongono affatto alle società di aderire (e probabilmente una regola siffatta avrebbe risvolti antitrust), né è obbligatorio che un pool si formi del tutto.
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  5. Summary:The GPL is still the world's most popular open-source license but it's declining in use, while permissive licenses are gaining more fans, and some developers are choosing to release code without any license at all.
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  6. In the Web of Data, licenses specifying the terms of use and reuse are
    associated not only to datasets but also to vocabularies. However, even less support
    is provided for taking the licenses of vocabularies into account than for datasets,
    which says it all. In particular, this paper addresses the following issue: checking
    the compatibility among the set of licenses assigned to the vocabularies used to
    constitute a dataset, and the license that is intended to be associated to the dataset
    itself. We provide a framework called LIVE able to support data publishers in such
    compatibility checking step, taking into consideration both the licenses associated
    to the vocabularies and those assigned to the data
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  7. Project Gado has created an open source robotic scanner that small archives can use to digitize their photographic collections. Gado means inheritance in the West African language Hausa, reflecting the project’s historical preservation goal.

    He has always wanted to be an inventor, and I spoke with him about what it's like to work as a technology consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this interview, Thomas tells me more about how Project Gado came to life, how the Gado community evolved, and how open source is applied to everything.

    I was working on an oral history project in East Baltimore. One day, I tagged along with a colleague to visit the Afro American Newspapers in Baltimore, looking for photos of the community I was studying. What I found was an archive of 1.5 million historical photos dating back to 1892. In included never-published photos of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Eleanor Roosevelt.

    The photos were largely hidden, because of the high cost of doing hand-scanning, editing the scans, and adding metadata. In the whole history of the paper, they had only digitized about 5,000 photos. I realized that if I could use technology to radically automate digitization and photo processing, millions of photos from organizations like the Afro could be available to the historical record.

    Today, we’ve scanned 125,000 images at the Afro. Using technologies including our open source Gado 2 robot, we can digitize archives at little to no upfront cost, and we can even help archives monetize their photos through licensing.
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  8. There is unfortunately no license to straddle the business-friendly vs. copyleft divide. As a result, projects that need a revenue stream to sustain them but opt for a business-friendly license to develop a community face significant difficulties. This was the case with OpenSSL. The team chose an Apache/BSD-style license. This successfully built community but, it turns out, communities simply do not pay for their tools. Even well-heeled users, such as Cisco and Google, don't pay. In the OSS community, this is viewed as no accident, but a matter of policy.

    For example, I recently attended Black Duck's Open Source Think Tank, where OSS cognoscenti gather once a year to discuss the business of open source. Among the many discussions was one regarding Google's steadfast refusal to pay for OSS software it uses. Several participants reiterated their experience in this regard, all of which were consistent. While the search giant open sources some of its tools and garners considerable marketing value from sending summer interns to high-visibility projects, the company won't do the one thing projects most need: support them monetarily. It's policy.

    It seems that the projects caught in the community vs. revenue bind could find alternate source of funding: paid support, consulting, etc. If you look at the OpenSSL blog post I linked to earlier, though, you'll see the project did all these things and still garnered only insignificant revenue. The service/support model, which appears to be so widespread, is in fact a meager revenue stream. (To wit, VCs long ago stopped funding start-ups based on this model, although the occasional exception occurs.)

    Unless there is some seismic shift due to Heartbleed, the problem is going to get worse. There is now a distinct strain in the OSS market that advocates loudly for non-viral licenses. The growing view is, amazingly, that the viral licenses are somehow less in the spirit of open source ("not 100% open source"). This is a rather imaginative perspective, as copyleft licenses (a much better term than "viral") were purposely designed to increase the amount of free, open-source software.

    My concern is that if this view becomes widespread and copyleft licenses are heavily disfavored, the fundamental nature of open source will change. Small teams of innovators, à la OpenSSL, will no longer be able to create value and be sustained by skill and innovation. And so, one of the most important feeder streams to the open-source ecosystem will disappear — a victim of corporate users' unreasonable refusal to help pay to support projects from which they derive substantial revenue.
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  9. Open hardware, like open source, has its share of ideologues and sceptics; here we are interested in the sceptics’ view. Sceptics of open hardware have made a number of points that could also potentially be applied to open source biotechnology. These are listed here in order to highlight some of the differences between software and biotechnology research tools with respect to the feasibility of open source development that may be associated with the non-digital nature of many biotechnology research tools.

    The first point is that no generally accepted open hardware licences yet exist. As noted in an earlier section, copyleft licences (and other forms of open source software licence) rely on copyright: the copyright owner uses his or her exclusive rights to guarantee certain freedoms for users of the software program covered by the licence. However, as with biotechnology research tools, computer hardware is mostly protected by patent. In contrast to copyright protection, which is quick, cheap and simple, obtaining a patent is a costly, time-consuming process; moreover, maintaining a patent requires the payment of substantial renewal fees. (There may be other relevant differences between patent protection and copyright protection besides cost — if so, they will be explored as part of this project.) The costs of obtaining patent protection may make patent owners less willing than copyright owners to give up the income stream associated with standard proprietary licensing, and/or it may discourage otherwise willing contributors to an open source biotechnology project who are not in a position to obtain patent protection for their contributions. The question of how to translate open source licences into the context of patent protection (and other types of protection that may apply to biotechnology research tools) is an important one for open hardware, and also for open source biotechnology. Licensing experiments in the open hardware context continue: for example, the Indian Simputer is subject to a lawyer-drafted GPL-like licence.

    The second point made by open hardware sceptics that may also apply to open source biotechnology is that hardware is not as modular and compartmentalised as software.
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  10. I love the spring. Not, of course, because of the glorious weather, since we don't have any. But because it's time for the annual BSA report on piracy, which is guaranteed to provide me with hours of innocent fun as I go through finding its methodological errors and dodgy data.
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