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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthora3nm
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2023

    Apologies if this is a common question -- I have looked around but did not find reelvant discussions. I'm a theoretical computer scientist who just discovered nLab, and I find it very interesting, but I was confused about the copyright status of the content on nLab and about long-term preservation plans.

    From the homepage ( it seems that contributors to nLab did not agree to any license on their content, so it is unclear what can be done with it (or you have to check contributor-by-contributor).

    This makes me worry about the long-term viability of the nLab content. If someone wanted to mirror the content, e.g., for long-term preservation, or to fork the project in case it becomes inactive, then they would need permission from all people who ever contributed to nLab -- which would be essentially impossible to obtain.

    I was under the impression that most prominent wikis and crowdsourced databases (Openstreetmaps, etc.) used an explicit permissive copyright license (e.g., Creative Commons BY-SA, Open Database License, etc.), in particular to ensure that the content could be redistributed and re-hosted in the long term.

    I was curious to know whether there had been any thoughts about this for nLab and why the absence of an explicit copyright license was not perceived as problematic?

    Thanks for your insights!
    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 28th 2023

    This is dealt with in the section “Making use of materian from the nLab”.

    In short, free use of everything, if accompanied with proper attribution.

    In particular, mirroring the nLab is clearly permitted. If you are looking into this concretely, which would be appreciated, I’ll bring you in contact with our technical team members for further details.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthora3nm
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2023
    Hi Urs, thanks!

    I had seen that section you are mentioning (I'm mentioning it in my question). I agree that reading it gives the impression that every kind of reuse is allowed provided it's attributed. I was just wondering whether this is "sufficient" to reassure future potential reusers about the copyright status of the material, in particular because apparently editors do not need to agree to these terms when submitting an edit... (Compare Wikipedia, where there is a message when submitting an edit indicating that the author is releasing the work under CC-BY-SA.)

    In any case, I don't have immediate plans to mirror the nLab -- thanks for asking, though, and thanks for your answer!
    • CommentRowNumber4.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2023
    • (edited Oct 31st 2023)

    10 years ago I tried to make us state a copyright license, but the so-called “steering committee”, at that time, prevented it (thread here).

    Since then, at least all my edits are licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 here.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorRodMcGuire
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2023

    Urs - a3nm seems to make a lot of corrections or clarifications to fairly random Wikipedia articles.

    He made the last 2 changes to the nLab article there involving the Journal and copyright.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeOct 31st 2023

    Thanks, I see.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthora3nm
    • CommentTimeNov 14th 2023
    Thanks for the pointer to the earlier discussion. I see that what I had in mind had been discussed before in that thread.

    In my humble opinion I think it's a bit regrettable that there is not a CC-BY disclaimer shown to users when editing a page (indeed the home page disclaimer is not enough, a user may edit a page without seeing it and thus without "agreeing to it"). Doing so would have indeed ensured that the content could be reused, e.g., on Wikipedia, without having to worry about who contributed and which individual licenses people agreed to. But of course I'm not contributing to nLab (yet?) so that's up to you all. :)

    Sorry also if my Wikipedia edits lead to some confusion. The Wikipedia article about nLab is where I had first gone to understand the licensing situation, so I added the info now that I have it.

    Many thanks again for your clarifications.
    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
    • CommentTimeNov 14th 2023

    @Urs Please don’t refer to it as the scare-quote-steering-committee. You were also member at the time, and for whatever reason, unimportant now (and I can’t remember and I don’t have time to go read the thread), no consensus was reached. The steering committee was a necessary body in the early days on the nLab due to various troubles. If now you have found it unfit for purpose and moved on, then that’s no reason to publicly disparage its actions before what led you to decide to leave it.

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorUrs
    • CommentTimeNov 15th 2023

    Re #7: Thanks for getting back to me.

    So in your opinion, best practice would be that the nLab states a copyright statement at the bottom of each page?

    And maybe, from what you say, it should also be stated prominently around the edit pane where users make their edits?

    Is there available some website or document of some authority, which would discuss best practice for copyright issues of this kind?

    Some source to support the point that you are implying?

    (Not that I am doubting it, but just so that I have more in hand than a quote by an anonymous handle.)

  1. A quick search of the nForum leads to these two discussions from 2011, which may be relevant: