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• CommentRowNumber1.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 15th 2011

New stub copyright both about copyright attitude of the $n$Community and as a place to collect links to interesting analysis of copyright, free literature, protection from plagiarism and similar issues. It also links to citations (zoranskoda).

• CommentRowNumber2.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeMay 16th 2011

I edited, principally for grammar. But everybody should look at this to see if we agree.

• CommentRowNumber3.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 16th 2011

By the way, I used to think that some Wikipedia entries, such as that on toposes, were lacking a lot of information. Last time that I wanted to demonstrate this to somebody, the experiment failed, because there was now lots of information, along the lines we have on the $n$Lab.

Now, I might be hallucinating and this information has always been there (I was too lazy to go through the histories, which takes time). Also, this information contains nothing that is not in “well known” literature. Still, it made me think: “Hm, maybe somebody could say on the Wikipedia page: see also the $n$Lab entry.”

• CommentRowNumber4.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 16th 2011

Urs, you never edit wikipedia ?

• CommentRowNumber5.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 16th 2011

No.

• CommentRowNumber6.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 17th 2011

What is the intended purpose of such a statement? While I don’t disagree with it, I’m not sure it is in the best interests of the nLab to make a public political declaration of this sort. If nothing else, it might discourage potential contributors who do not share that view. My initial inclination is to be more in favor of just a collection of informational links on the main nLab, and of anyone who feels strongly posting their own feelings on their personal web sites (or personal webs).

• CommentRowNumber7.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 17th 2011
• (edited May 17th 2011)

Mike, the entry has two sections. My intention was to write the second section: pointers to various sources about copyright. We in $n$Lab do an effort toward disemination of mathematics so it is useful to have such pointers.

I added the first section about the $n$Lab copyright issues just because I assume if people stumble into title copyright in $n$Lab that they might expect such statements. I did not want to make political declaration, but a conservative summary of the discussions elsewhere in $n$Forum, pointer to the General Discussion etc.

If you like, the first part can become effectively a part of the second part. In other words, I can archive the first part into the $n$Forum as my own summary and make a link to $n$Forum as one of the links on literature on copyright with remark that it comes from a member of $n$Community ?

• CommentRowNumber8.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 17th 2011

That sounds good to me. But I’d be interested to hear other people’s reactions.

• CommentRowNumber9.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 17th 2011
• (edited May 17th 2011)

Yes, at least any part which is disagreed should be moved to an archived passage at $n$Forum, and maybe the feedback from others can decide if some minimal part is considered still useful to stay there. The thoughtful contributors like Toby, Mike, Urs, Todd are invited to do other improvements before and after such a decision…

• CommentRowNumber10.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 17th 2011
• (edited May 17th 2011)

Just two quick reactions:

1. my nature is that I’d rather ignore such issues. I understand that they can be important, but I tend to feel that too many formalities burden my life. I appreciate it if you invest energy into this, but I may not even have the energy to have strong opinions about it.

2. Whatever we do, I find it risky to say anywhere sentences that start with “We on the $n$Lab do or think suchandsuch”. Because who knows if that is actually true now (maybe) and in all future that the sentence will stay there (unlikely!).

Better would be, I’d think, if we make statements about a more concretely defined set of people, and then in a manner that indicates intention more than fact. Such as, for instance “A group of $n$Lab regulars and/or the steering committe has decided that the following stance on copyright issues should please be followed by every contributor: …”

• CommentRowNumber11.
• CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011

Minor spelling/grammatical fixes to copyright. I’m certainly in broad agreement with the sentiments at the page, but I don’t have the mental energy at the moment to think out a detailed position. Essentially how the nlab has been run and is running, I agree with that. And also the various posts at the cafe about publishing etc - I support those ideals in general.

Would it be advisable to link to some of the discussions on the cafe about these issues? Or is that opening up a can of worms, because there are contributors there who don’t contribute to the nlab, and one might not want to confuse (views of) the two.

• CommentRowNumber12.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011

I would agree with moving the first part to the Forum or elsewhere, linking to it as (say) Zoran’s opinion. I left it in such a state that I agree with it, although it’s not really how I would write it (different emphasis, etc).

• CommentRowNumber13.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011
• (edited May 18th 2011)

There is not much of “opinion” there. Then the second paragraph has a bit of description which has nothing to do with $n$Lab.

Urs says that it is about formalities, No it is like a description of a content of a movie, from a person close to the film industry. I said that we follow general practices on citation and that we do not make revolution against the law. This is NOT a formal statement, I wrote a social description of the state of the matter. It is DESCRIPTIVE, not PRESCRIPTIVE. Like saying that there is no simple proof of Poincare hypothesis known. Perelman might disagree with that as he might understand his proof to the level of being obvious to him, and it is not a mathematical statement and it is not abiding anybody. I am of course exaggerating a bit.

In particular, I find irrelevant possible discussion on cafe about describing $n$Lab practices. We need contributors who will improve with their observations various entries. Being that about copyright, or about fibered categories. Of course, if I wrote some paragraphs which are doubtful or have strong and suspicious statements I will be happy to archive them as my own opinion in archived passages at $n$Forum. Let me hear what is of such nature to move it that way and the general description stayint there. And please do not tell me that it is a formal statement, as it is just a topic page.

• CommentRowNumber14.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011

And please do not tell me that it is a formal statement

Well, sorry. What is “copyright” if not a formalization of being honest about using other people’s work?

• CommentRowNumber15.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011
• (edited May 18th 2011)

Copyrigth is a formalization, but this entry is not a copyright, it is a $n$Lab survey of the topic of copyright. Like an entry on coherent topos is not a topos at all. Like a book about faraohs is not a faraoh.

• CommentRowNumber16.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011
• (edited May 18th 2011)

this entry is not a copyright, it is a nLab survey of the topic of copyright

Yes, and I said: I won’t even have the energy to have much of an opinion about that topic. I’d rather assume that we as scientists know how to behave decently on a wiki than discuss laws for how to do it. But that’s just me. I am glad that you are looking into this.

• CommentRowNumber17.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011

Well this is a side-product. I just wanted to have a place to record external references about copyright and discussions about it, including ours. I remember we had some online which are already kind of lost somewhere…

• CommentRowNumber18.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeMay 18th 2011

@ Zoran #13: You’re reporting on the ideology of the principal contributors. Your report may be factual, but you’re reporting on people’s opinions, and I don’t think that you’ve actually canvassed those opinions either. Your report is accurate as far it pertains to me (although it somewhat understates my real opinions), but have you really checked that (say) Urs agrees that 75-year copyright terms are too long? This is much more than a description of practice on the $n$Lab.

@ Urs #14: Copyright is a monopoly granted by a state and enforced by a legal structure. It’s proper citation which formalises being honest about using other people’s work. They have almost nothing to do with each other: music file sharers are perfectly honest about whose work they’re using, although they’re violating the copyright monopoly; conversely, film companies who remove a screenwriter’s name after buying the script are dishonest about who wrote the film, although their actions are perfectly legal. Sometimes copyright law can be used to enforce proper citation, but that’s not what it’s about.

• CommentRowNumber19.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 19th 2011

If I can violate it, it must have been formalized. There is some law saying: you may do this, you may not do that. That’s a formalization. It may differ from other formalizations of the same idea, of course.

But now I will really try not to further follow up on this ;-=)

• CommentRowNumber20.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 19th 2011

I would feel happier if the page named copyright in the nLab contained information regarding copyright of the nLab itself and not an expression of opinion (much as I agree with the sentiment - though I haven’t read it all carefully yet). Purely because an outsider coming to that page would expect to find an explanation of what they can and cannot do with the material presented on the nLab. I don’t know what the legal situation is. As we have no formal statement that people have to agree to when they post material then I would guess that legally:

1. Copyright is retained by the poster, but
2. By placing it on the nLab, they place it in the public domain

If I’m right about 2, we can always decide to relicense the nLab material, but such relicensing would be legally worthless as once material is in the public domain it can be repackaged and remixed at will. But then I don’t see what we would gain from any such relicensing. The only thing that I can think of that could worry us would be proper attribution, but then the best defence against that is having the nLab in the first place where people can see that material first appeared here. Anyone who wants to steal material without proper attribution will do so whether we legally require attribution or not, and if they do then we don’t have the resources to pursue them in the courts, and finally the people we would wish to convince are our fellow mathematicians, not lawyers and the like.

In conclusion, I would have on the copyright page something like (assuming the legal status is correct):

1. A section outlining the legal status of material on the nLab
2. A section containing links to sources of information on copyright and Mathematics
3. A section containing links to personal statements

The point about the last two is that they are links, not the information itself. This is a very important issue for mathematicians and mathematics, and one where the wiki software doesn’t serve us perfectly as it is something where people have individual opinions and where it is important to have sensible discussion. In fact, the forum software seems more suited to this. I would also support a move to craft a more general statement that people could sign (or not sign) as they wish. This would need some discussion and careful consideration to craft it well. We could start by taking the statement of the Banff Protocol and extending it beyond journals.

Lastly,

I’d rather assume that we as scientists know how to behave decently on a wiki than discuss laws for how to do it.

So would I, and I would be broadly optimistic (at least within mathematics) if it weren’t for the fact that we aren’t a closed system. The Big Bad Wolves are just outside the pen, waiting to fleece us for all they can. That’s the point of things like the GPL. They formalise “decent behaviour” in order to protect it.

• CommentRowNumber21.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 19th 2011
• (edited May 19th 2011)

but have you really checked that (say) Urs agrees that 75-year copyright terms are too long

This is in the mentioned second paragraph, which I already suggested to scrap off, this is not the first passage which I was talking about.

I would feel happier if the page named copyright in the nLab

Then such a different page called copyright of the nLab, and please do it without me. I am absolutely not interested in contributing to FORMAL statements nor support the ideology of existence of formal statements. I am opposition here. I will also not subscribe to any formal license you can suggest. I just folow common sense and will act according to it. I am happy to contribute to content pages and that was my intention, not contributing to anything of legal kind.

in particular,

• By placing it on the nLab, they place it in the public domain

requires the definition of “public domain” and the levels here apply like free to copy with a citation of original work, free to copy without citation of original work etc. So once you start making formal statements you are doomed to disagree with many others.

• CommentRowNumber22.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 19th 2011

Actually, I’m wrong about my “public domain” claim. About as wrong as one can be! When someone contributes to the nLab then there will be an implied licence. This implied licence will grant us the bare minimum of rights. I’d guess that we have the right to display the content, and to form derivative works based on that contributed content (ie to edit it) that are themselves part of the nLab. We would not have the right to take any work contributed here and use it elsewhere (except in so far as “fair use” grants).

This means that preparing an article on the nLab is a highly dubious activity since someone can make a contribution to the text of that article and then effectively block its publication. Of course, all that would be needed would be to remove their contributions, but still that’s an annoyance that could be avoided.

The point, such as it is, is that not making a “formal statement” does not “not make a formal statement”, it just accepts the “default formal statement” which is weighted in favour of the original author. The problem with that is that we (or rather, I - as I’m the legal owner of the nlab) are not the sole authors. If we ever decided to make a book of the nLab …

So what we really want is a licence that enables “the nLab” to do whatever it wants with the contributions. Attribution is provided via the history so that’s covered. Whether or not we want to specifically relicense the material is a second question.

Let me make this clear: I agree with your sentiments. The purpose of a “formal statement” would be to protect them and to ensure that your desires to make your work known worldwide could not be curtailed by the malicious acts of others.

• CommentRowNumber23.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

We’ve discussed choosing a copyright license for all of the nLab before, and I think it would be a very good thing to do. The only problem is how we would back-apply it to content written in the past by people who might be hard (or impossible, in the case of anonymous cowards), to contact to ask for permission.

• CommentRowNumber24.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

We can probably get away with a presumption that anyone posting material to the nLab did so knowing that it would be used and edited freely. If we also post a message offering to remove material then that should suffice. I strongly doubt that anyone would take us up on that offer - since our aims in hosting the nLab are fairly clearly to be as open as possible.

• CommentRowNumber25.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

I would also say that anyone using “Anonymous Coward” or other anonymous name (anonymous not pseudonymous) can be presumed to have placed their material in the public domain. Since we don’t gather email addresses, we have no way of verifying a claim. The person would have to prove that they were using the computer with that specific IP address at the specific time, which I imagine would be quite difficult.

• CommentRowNumber26.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011
• (edited May 20th 2011)

I do not accept to suscribe to any formal license. Period. I just follow common sense and established practices like for material presented in conference slides. I have never seen a conference which posts slides to do a copyright statement and I am against any practice which starts introducing such formal copyright statements and abandons the usual and infromal fair usage practice which is for usual speaches, talks, bulletin boards, open notebooks, blogs on the net and so on. If you guys CHOOSE a definite formal license, I will probably stop being a member of this community or reduce my activity by a large margin. I write for enhancing the common sense and not reducing it to the formal discourse subject to imperfect human laws. This would be an offense to my intellect and common sense.

• CommentRowNumber27.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

it just accepts the “default formal statement” which is weighted in favour of the original author

You see, you have a theory of your own. What tells you that the usual informal practice is identical to your theory ? If it is not you are forcing informal practice to change.

• CommentRowNumber28.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

No, Zoran, I don’t have a “theory of my own”. I’m trying to make sense of what the actual legal position is. It’s not about “usual practice” but about what is defendable in court. I want to have a legal safety net that says that we can continue as we have been doing without the fear that someone can come along later and cause trouble for us.

So I don’t want anyone’s informal practice to change, least of all yours, but I want to safeguard it to ensure that no-one else can force it to change.

• CommentRowNumber29.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

Andrew, the more you say formally the less you are safe. If there is nothing, the usual practices would be used in the court, if there is something someone can hold you for word. So with all your good intention the best is not to make formal statements. There are other ways to play safe. For example, if you decide to write some book which overlap with nLab than you ask as many people whose entries intersected with your material if they agree with this. This site is not that different from hundreds of others. I have nothing against discussing such issues and recommending each other, but to entering Kafkian world by making truly formal statements.

• CommentRowNumber30.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

the more you say formally the less you are safe

This is patently false. Content protected by an explicit license is much more defensible in court than content with no license at all. This is the whole reason for existence for the Gnu GPL and other open-source licenses, along with all the Creative Commons licenses.

• CommentRowNumber31.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

@Andrew: Think of the Wee Free Men! They detested writing their names in case a lawyer should get hold of them (other than a toad). (To the non-initiated this is a reference to the Nac Mac Feegles (for whom see the Wikiedia article of the same name.))

If you use the nLab (and I do occasionally give a reference to it, then my trick is to give the author as the nLab team. That way anyone who has written (even outdoor fountains) is mentioned and thanked. In contributing to the nLab, I think that the copyright is pooled, and quoting from it should be handled in much the same way as from a book.

• CommentRowNumber32.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

This is patently false. Content protected by an explicit license is much more defensible in court than content with no license at all.

Who can prove that everybody who contributed agreed to a license ? By licensing something what contrubutors are not necessarily aware $n$Lab already does some harm. You can not make so many people abide. On the other hand, I had a case which almost ended in court and where I was advised by lawyer NOT to make any disclaimers, even the innocent sounding ones, as they make my moves later harder, as my position gets fixed. But I did, and then I was advised that my position is now much harder.

I do not know which kind of protection you need, Mike. Protecting content ?? Scientific plagiarism is not a matter of copyright, but matter of feeling of intellectual authorship. Not having copyright does not make you author any less. Academic miscounduct is proved by prove of revamping authorship, not by any copyright. I do not think we want copyright at all. We just want to keep authorship, and this is kept by proving the facts, by versions for the heaven’s sake.

Some are afraid of somebody selling some content and some publisher registering copyright on some published version and then forbidding us to keep the original. But factual priority of work makes later copyright acts by any stealers automatically invalid. Copyright registration is just to facilitate proving it, but it is not necessary, and it is just a legal backup. But we have version system and there are all kinds of internet caches, it is not that difficult in our case. The only problem is if the sole author of some entry sells the copy to someone. If that happens, then I would not mind loosing the battle of keeping few clean entries by some changing-mind contributor of that kind. Being aware of practices in such cases, that is making the entry copyright descriptive resource as I suggested would make us more informed and much more protected than from not-generally-accepted formal statements of very limited size and content and nobody could hold us for some uncareful word there. That is what I meant.

On the other hand, maybe you worry of other way around, some contributor putting something into $n$Lab what can not be by somebody’s else’s copyright. This also does not need formal statements. We can describe again what can happen to warn somebody, but without formal statements limiting the future reaction. If we see somebody’s contribution goes beyond reasonable in any sense, including attacking a third party stearing committee or even others can feel to remove spams, distasteful stuff and offenses, without needing to have the list of all imagineable tasteless acts in the world.

It is really hard to imagine for me something what works better by normalization.

• CommentRowNumber33.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

I agree with Zoran. Just a gut feeling.

Apart from the fact that the word “license” maybe makes sense in conjunction with “software”, but not with either of the words “math, physics and philosophy”, I don’t understand how a public wiki can have a copyright declaration. Can we assign copyright to a bulletin board?

But then, I have spent almost no thoughts about this and am not going to. So maybe I am just all wrong.

• CommentRowNumber34.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 20th 2011

Besides the fact that I do not find it difficult to make some chanegs required by third parties in extreme cases, I think that by not going too strictly along the practices of formalization and protection which many do even on their homepages, we do one of our basic social jobs of bringing and stretching new standards of openess. I am not afraid of being at cutting edge of such a goal.

• CommentRowNumber35.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 21st 2011

Who can prove that everybody who contributed agreed to a license?

That’s a serious question, which requires discussion, but it is a separate question from the value of having a license. Once a license was in place, all future contributors would be informed of it and would be presumed to have agreed to it by the act of contribution. I think Wikipedia works like that (which is proof that it is possible and maybe desirable to have a copyright license on a public wiki. Anything written (not ideas) is, I believe, already copyrighted by the mere act of being written, unless placed in the public domain, and a license only serves to make explicit what permissions are granted to others by the copyright holder.)

On the other hand, I had a case which almost ended in court and where I was advised by lawyer NOT to make any disclaimers, even the innocent sounding ones, as they make my moves later harder, as my position gets fixed. But I did, and then I was advised that my position is now much harder.

Obviously, there are some situations in law where saying something is harmful. But there are plenty of situations in law where not saying something is harmful. Why do you think people write down contracts? A non-written contract is much harder to enforce. Same with copyright.

I do not know which kind of protection you need

The only kind of licenses which anyone has proposed for the nLab are of Gnu and creative-commons type, which are designed not to restrict people’s rights, but rather mostly to do things like (1) ensure citation of the original source and (2) prevent inclusion of the text into derivative works which are then copyrighted separately and licensed under much more restrictive terms. I am fully aware that academic plaigarism is not a copyright issue, thank you. But it seems like the nLab might conceivably benefit from ensuring that anyone who reads text taken from it elsewhere is informed that the text comes from the nLab and that a potentially newer and editable version of the page is always available there.

Additionally, Andrew #22 points out what I think is a very good reason why we might want to require all contributors to the nLab to agree to such a license. I don’t understand your vehement opposition to a license of this sort, whose purpose is to ensure the freedom (ours, and others’) to copy and distribute.

• CommentRowNumber36.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 21st 2011

I think Wikipedia works like that (which is proof that it is possible and maybe desirable to have a copyright license on a public wiki.

This is very different – they do not allow original material, just known facts for which there are references.

Why do you think people write down contracts?

Because they accept a life with fight for their own advantage. The philosophy of open contributions is orthogonal to that psychology. Those who make standard make others into worse position by raising the expectations of the court practices in the cases of dispute.

ensure citation of the original source

I hate this Every copy of work has the RESTRICTION of spending effort and space with crap, that is copies of the license. I prefer that people cite in the cases and amount they prefer by their own feeling of fairness not by a standard format one-fits-all.

prevent inclusion of the text into derivative works which are then copyrighted separately

It is their free right to have their changed version restricted if they want. It only does not apply for our original version as we have precedence.

So the only formal statement I would sign is that authors of the $n$Lab do not consider legitimate those usages of people which involve their acts (say their legal statement or contracts) which would limit our freedom to use the original text; with the exception of sole authors of some passages, whom we can not forbid from changing their mind and sell and remove their passage. Wikipedia is not respecting that right of the authors of clean text, Most of our text is mixed so this rule does not apply and there is no danger.

• CommentRowNumber37.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 21st 2011

But it seems like the nLab might conceivably benefit from ensuring that anyone who reads text taken from it elsewhere is informed that the text comes from the nLab

I would leave this to the feeling of the user. Those users who used some standard definition or something of the sort, it would be nuisance to quote $n$Lab for such things. I will be first not to respect lab when it is about such minor and standard issues. And even if it is major issue I would ask for permissions and do acknowledgments but never copy formal statements. We are to bring the standards of openess and not to make it standard to require explicit protective mechanisms. If everybody in village keeps gun for protection except people in one street, all thieves will go to hat one street. So the majority increased insecurity for a group of normal people in a street not supporting guns.

• CommentRowNumber38.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 21st 2011

One point that I think is getting a little lost in this discussion is that there are two places where the issue of copyright/licences comes in. The first is with our use of the material. The second is with others’ use of our material.

When someone contributes to the nLab, they retain the copyright of their contribution. However, the fact that they contribute it to our wiki (rather than writing it on their webpage) implies that they licence it to us for certain use. I am not a lawyer, but I would expect that the law would make that licence the minimum possible; namely, that we have an implied licence to be able to display their contribution and to edit it within the nLab. This implied licence would not allow us to use that material anywhere else off the nLab, and it could almost certainly be revoked by the person who made the original contribution.

So when someone contributes to the nLab, we do not have full freedom to use their contribution as we wish. Requiring people to agree to a licence when they contribute would give us the freedom to use their material as we wish without having to ask their permission each time, and without fearing that they could turn around and ask us to remove it.

The second is with others’ use of the nLab material. Here, we would like to be as open as possible, it seems (something I am in complete agreement with). The issue of attribution is somewhat orthogonal (though is often combined with licensing) so let’s leave that for the moment. So we would like to ensure that the material on the nLab can be taken and used and reworked as people like and to whatever purposes they like. But at the moment, they can’t because we don’t allow that. We would have to make a “formal statement” allowing it because otherwise the presumption in law is that we are not allowing our material to be used elsewhere. But we cannot make such a statement unless we have the right to do so for all contributions, and without requiring contributors to release their material to us under a sufficiently relaxed licence, we can’t do that.

It is also important to distinguish between the text which is copyrightable, and the ideas which aren’t. For myself, I don’t care if someone copies my text, but I do care if someone copies my ideas. If they copy my ideas, I want attribution. But beyond that, I would actively encourage them to copy my ideas! So long as it is clear that they were mine, then please … take them!

Here’s what I wrote on the n-Cafe as my propose “Maths Public Licence”. This was intended for articles, not wiki pages.

1. You are free (indeed, encouraged!) to take the mathematical ideas and modify them as much as you like. This includes verbatim copying of theorems, definitions, and proofs. But you are required to refer to the original article.
2. You are free to distribute the article as a whole, providing its content is unchanged. You may modify the formatting or presentation style to suit. In particular, you may convert it to another format (for example, an accessible format). Any modified version should contain a reference to an unmodified version.
3. Any modification must be released under a likewise licence.
• CommentRowNumber39.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

Thanks, Andrew, for a very clear explanation; I agree entirely (although I need to think a bit more about the specific license terms). The point is that with laws the way they are, in order for a style of open contributions and free sharing to work fully, you need licenses in order to make such activity legal.

Also, it bears pointing out specifically that Wikipedia is not a different situation legally, because copyright is about text and not about ideas. For purposes of copyright, there is no difference between writing about your own original research and writing about facts you discovered in verifiable external sources, as long as the text is written by you.

• CommentRowNumber40.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011
• (edited May 22nd 2011)

It is also important to distinguish between the text which is copyrightable, and the ideas which aren’t. For myself, I don’t care if someone copies my text, but I do care if someone copies my ideas. If they copy my ideas, I want attribution.

This has always been the case in academia, whether wiki-based or paper-based. But nobody issues a license with the theorems in their published papers. What’s different on a wiki?

So we would like to ensure that the material on the nLab can be taken and used and reworked as people like and to whatever purposes they like. But at the moment, they can’t because we don’t allow that.

I am not following this. Of course I allow others to use the material. That’s part of the whole point of having it on a wiki: make information accessible and useable.

And of course I want anyone who benefits from the $n$Lab to publically acknowledge this fact. But this is no different from any other way of publishing in academia. If anyone in academia misbehaves and uses results without proper attribution, his punishment is not to be found in court, but in the bad reputation he gathers in the community.

• CommentRowNumber41.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

Urs, that’s why I wanted to mention the second side of the copyright/licence issue. The important bit (for me) is not the licence that allows others to do things with our stuff, but the licence that allows us to do what we like with whatever is on our wiki.

An article published in a journal is still copyrighted and you can’t reproduce that article without their permission. You can acknowledge it, and you can take the ideas in it and reproduce them, and you can copy reasonable sections if your country has a concept of “Fair Use” (not all countries do - the UK, for example). But with a published article, then the issues we’re talking about don’t usually come in to play because publishing is usually the last thing that happens to an article. Moreover, the copyright on an article is held by a single entity (usually, sadly, the publisher) so if you did want to include in, say, a collection then there is only one entity to ask permission of, and it’s easy to do.

We’re in a different situation. We aren’t dealing with finished products, we’re changing, editing, and generally mixing stuff with contributions from here, there, and everywhere. If all we ever want to do with material on the nLab is keep it on the nLab, then we’re probably okay. But if we ever want to take material out of the nLab and, say, put it in to an article then we’re in difficulties.

Attribution, and particularly academic attribution, is almost not an issue here at all. That’s already in the system, so to speak. If I cite an nLab page, then that page itself (via the history) lists its authors with clear information as to who contributed what. So in that respect we’re better than the standard academic citation system.

So this is purely and simply about saying that if someone contributes something to the nLab, then “we” can decide to use that contribution however we like.

If we got a real internet-hating judge, then it could be argued that taking a contribution from one page to another page was illegal without all of the original authors’ permission.

Over on TeX-SX we had this recently when a few of us decided to take some of the answers given and turn them in to LaTeX packages. The standard licence on TeX-SX did not look compatible with the standard LaTeX licence, so we could not do that without express permission from the authors of each answer involved. In the end, I and most of the others involved released all our code in to the public domain as the simplest way of getting round this annoyance. Those of us making the packages still have to be careful that we only use material from those who have re-released their code under an acceptable licence.

So whilst it is important that the results of our work be free, before that then the actual process of our work has to be free from the restrictions that others could place on it. Things like the GPL are designed to ensure that freedom.

• CommentRowNumber42.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

After Andrew’s clear explanation and additional Mike’s clarification I am now even far more against the license proposals. I much more agree with Urs in 40.

Things like the GPL are designed to ensure that freedom.

GPL has created a lot of problem. For example, I recall discussions 10 years ago when software industry was n bad position that if a commercial product uses something with GPL licence they must make it open source and so on. So this prevents those with different protection models to incorporote such works. Second, GPL has to be included in every copy. This is nuisance which is also making inclusion less desriable,

When $n$Lab was created it was intended

1. to be our open labbook

2. to be interoperable with other wikis, online or offline. Everybody could include the material in their wikis and make it usable. Imagine now this second lab call it checkLab changes the material there substantially. Now if it were something like GPL the user of checkLab should quote checkLab and all their licenses plus $n$Lab and their licenses even in the case when the definition in checkLab is wrong and the original in $n$Lab was correct. This is mess which would further propagate for centuries and it woudl not be clear how many generations. Bible has sins for 40 generations, copyright laws or 75 years or 25 after he death of the author. How about nLabGPL crap ? Technological life of humanity plus 25 years ?

Now about open labbook. You would like to require somebody who writes in $n$Lab to be obliged to give it forever and not change mind. If the work is together with others and this is true on page by page basis then I agree with that. Cooperating in a free project makes it a contract, like every other collaboration. If the rules are not formally written what is my preference, then if I and Mike build a house on the land of Andrew Stacey then Stacey cn simply shut the door, well you withdraw from a party in my garden, what do you want. However in the cases when the situation is clean, say there is a single author of some entry, and one decides after a couple of days, well I would like this removed, I think we should be fair and allow such things even if motivated by commercial reason of an author. We can not punish someone from his right to sell his work, because he pressed single enter button, but if the work becomes mixed of several authors then it is the only reasonable thing to do.

I disagree with all three points of proposed license in 38 and especially the third one.

• CommentRowNumber43.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

Besides the usual mechanisms in academia like the ones mentioned in Urs’s post above are much better than the ones in “software industry”, which you seem to like to mimic. Imagine the “worst” possible offense. Somebody copies the whole $n$Lab and dedicates a server to it with changed names of contributors and makes their private company financing the bandwidth and servers to keep their false propaganda open for 24 hours a day and pays Google ads about their site. In our math community they would be simultaneously ridiculed and used, and math would only benefit. Or you are afraid if someone publishes somebody’s work ? It is so easy to prove the precedence and ask the journal to write the errata with proper attribution or While Andrew distinguished copyright of work used in $n$Lab and work produced in $n$Lab clarification of authorship unless someone write it as anonymous and we do not know the IP number. We are not making money on the text but on the research ideas. And the primacy in the latter is proved by non-court methods. We can also remove stuff which some changing mind and troublesome rare contributor with strange attitude may require. Nothing catastrophic in that.

Plus if we write explicit requirements in license, then it will be assumed that we all thought it through and agreed that’s it. And that’s it means that there are no more assumed requirements. That is, once you give up the habitual law you take that the formalized one is exhaustive. And I do not want it exhaustive. There are things common sense and good academic practice assumes and we do not want someone looking for loopholes in our phrasing of it. Let us not get into this nightmare, this would be far worse than if someone copies the whole $n$Lab or strange spammer who created 7 pages asks to remove those 7 and we have no time or energy to fight his strange and probably illegitimate request.

• CommentRowNumber44.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

Finally I find 1 and 3 from the proposed license in 38 in contradiction. In 1 it says you can copy and entire theorem with entire proof verbatim with just citing it. But one theorem with a proof can be an entire entry. Now 3 says if you copy the whole entry and change one letter you should include the whole license. But 1 says the citation is enough as this is mathematical content.

Now if you resolve this by asking that 1 also needs inclusion of license then imagine all papers coming with such license and then publications will have tens of licenses required by various authors, papers, wikis and so on.

You really want to go into this ??

• CommentRowNumber45.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 22nd 2011

Zoran, please read what I write before you attack it. I specifically said in #38:

This was intended for articles, not wiki pages.

so please don’t call it a “proposal”. It is not.

I’m only going to address one part of what you wrote:

You would like to require somebody who writes in nLab to be obliged to give it forever and not change mind.

Yes, I would.

Of course I would remove material if asked and if given a reason. But the onus would be on the person asking to justify the removal. If someone says, “I want all my contributions removed from the nLab just because I’m in a bad mood.” then I would like to be able to say, “Sorry, I’m not going to do that.”. But if someone says, “I’d like this bit removed because … some reason that sounds quite reasonable but which I can’t think of right now” then I’d be alright with that. I want to make sure that our rights are not restricted when it comes to the material on the nLab.

• CommentRowNumber46.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

This was intended for articles, not wiki pages.

Sorry, if I did not notice that statement but the amount of text above is huge and amount of sleep I have recently too small due duties. Whatever is about “articles” is not of much of my concern so far.

I would like to be able to say, “Sorry, I’m not going to do that.”

Of course, if somebody else writes something what was not overwritten by somebody else, you have nothing to do with it. it is his act so he can not ask you to do work for him on removing his page and even many pages. However, if the person decides his text should not be there and it is an entry or a theorem which is only his contribution, and he decides to remove it, he will do it by creating a version without his theorem. This is still reasonable, unless one is starting repeating this cycle over what will be handled I guess as a problem. Vandals can be banned, no problem. I would not question a guy who was bona fide contributor and wants to remove something. Why this intimidation. Even commercial companies allow people to try a product and return it with no question asked. Are we worse than that ? If someone becomes a problem, he will be recognized, otherwise a contributor is not guilty until apparently selfprove the opposite, a contributor is considered an angel, unless he falls to become a devil (the latter process could hardly happen).

I want to make sure that our rights are not restricted when it comes to the material on the nLab.

Who is restricting them ? Jee, I can not understand anglosaxon obsession with creating law…

• CommentRowNumber47.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

This implied licence would not allow us to use that material anywhere else off the nLab, and it could almost certainly be revoked by the person who made the original contribution.

Could you explain this ? Which usage could be revoked ? What is the difference from Max Planck Preprint Series ? I am thinking in terms of examples, and I gave lots of examples in this thread and neither one to me (in the case of extreme trouble in the example) I would consider serious (it is either so rare to be easy to handle or so non-harmful). I would like to see examples which are simultaneously

• likely
• which I could consider serious
• which need different handling than the standard handle in academic community (cf. the handling of preprints, lecture notes, citation practices, handling of academic misconduct)

So far I heard lots of proposals/calls of (need for) rules and lots of abstracies and also few examples all of which do not satisfy at least one of the above criteria. So the amount of call into direction which I do not find needed and with tools which I find restrictive is so far making me (for the first time in a year or two) to think not any more of which adaptation we may want but rather of splitting off.

Notice also that in 36 I wrote

So the only formal statement I would sign is that authors of the nLab do not consider legitimate those usages of people which involve their acts (say their legal statement or contracts) which would limit our freedom to use the original text; with the exception of sole authors of some passages, whom we can not forbid from changing their mind and sell and remove their passage. Wikipedia is not respecting that right of the authors of clean text, Most of our text is mixed so this rule does not apply and there is no danger.

In my opinion this is far less than I see in other opinions above and I think still enough (of course, phrased in a better way) for some of the concerns which I may understand. No inclusion of license in derivative work and other heavy weight stuff. Of course, my minimal (and imprecise) suggestion in that passage (which is radically different in character than the license approach) handles (I think efficently) only the troubles produced by users. Academic plagiarism is not handled by legal means anyway and the cause by retracting authors is, as I said, only sporadically possible. I would handle members of the nCommunity with trust and not with law and only warn end users as above only to use it in a way that will not limit our freedom to use “our” material. The warning may be a formal statement I can accept that, but not a license which needs to be included or cited in a specific and formal way and propagate. If the user opens a chain which will eventually lead to a troublemaker, this was by definition and the text of warning illegitimate usage, hence illegitimate chain. This is maybe indeed the minimum and I perceive it as much less than the license approach.

(In addition the host of the site can say that he may also limit authors who seem to be troublesome to the community.)

• CommentRowNumber48.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

To summarize (the division of 2 groups of issues like in Andrew’s clarification):

1. possible careless users of $n$Lab can not hurt me in a way which is not handled by standard means by academic community (without court). Edit: user is the one who uses the material outside of the $n$Lab.

2. the authors I trust (that they will not troublemake). Edit: author is anybody adding genuine material to $n$Lab. Spam and nonsense does not count.

The first point is the matter of attitude, and if accepted by us with open heart, the quasiproblem is solved; a warning to users not to limit our freedom with their way of usage is however acceptable to me.

The cost/exceptions of the second point reduce either to some legitimate exceptions where the author withdraws some clear cut contributions with reason, or we are getting beyond reasonable and deal with vandalism (or bull in a china shop) of a sort. No formal statements will save us from all sorts of vandalism and partial solutions in heavy weight licensing agreements are inappropriate in my opinion for the latter.

P.S. If the $n$Community worsens to the point that these cases of bad authors are not rare any more then we are anyway out of business, or need to make the community less open. This is radically a different phase of discussion.

(So far well over 95 percent of material originate from about a dozen people and almost all of the rest to another dozen or two. The recognizable dozen or two are easily recognizable nonvandals. Let us see how well we know each other once we have 200 substantial contributors,)

• CommentRowNumber49.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011

Zoran,

I actually think we’re converging here! I’d not thought through your statement in 36 properly. Let me quote the first part of it again:

So the only formal statement I would sign is that authors of the nLab do not consider legitimate those usages of people which involve their acts (say their legal statement or contracts) which would limit our freedom to use the original text.

Absolutely! All I am trying to say is that that needs to be a formal statement because it is not covered by the “default” (as far as I know). And that is all that I am trying to say. I have not made a proposal, nor a “call” to anything. All I have been trying to do is to show that there needs to be something. What that something is, should be decided by consensus. I certainly will not impose my preferences on anyone, least of all you!

Let me continue with the second part:

with the exception of sole authors of some passages, whom we can not forbid from changing their mind and sell and remove their passage.

If, by this, you mean what you say in #46:

Of course, if somebody else writes something what was not overwritten by somebody else, you have nothing to do with it. it is his act so he can not ask you to do work for him on removing his page and even many pages. However, if the person decides his text should not be there and it is an entry or a theorem which is only his contribution, and he decides to remove it, he will do it by creating a version without his theorem.

then we’re talking at cross-purposes. What you describe there is the usual daily round of wiki-editing. We don’t need licences, or other agreements, for that. That is all covered by the implied licence. Of course someone can simply create a new version of a page without their contribution. However, their contribution will still be in the history and so still visible on the web to anyone sufficiently determined to track it down. The sort of action I am talking about when I say that someone could create a lot of hassle by asking us to remove material would require us (me!) to go in to the database and actually remove all the history and everything else corresponding to that user. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. (The pointlessness of such requests is obvious, but doesn’t stop them being made.) We don’t even delete spam! We just remove it from the last version.

I’m a little reluctant to make this last point, but I will. Please do not take this the wrong way! With our current set-up then if we were asked to remove any material in this manner then the person who would have to do it would be me, and the person on whom the consequences would fall if it were not done would also be me. I’m not saying that to mean that my opinion should be given more weight, I’m saying it to explain partially why I’m pushing this a little. Not having a licence in place does make me a little nervous and since this topic was brought up, if we can finally (since we have discussed this before) reach a consensus that we are all okay with then I would be able to relax a little!

• CommentRowNumber50.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

Hi.

since I am on vacation I have trouble following all the discussion, but it seems to me that instead of further discussion with all the misunderstandings it brings with it, we should simply take action and state simply and briefly what the “terms of use” of the $n$Lab are.

Everything I say there is supposed to be essentially tautological, but please check if you all agree.

• CommentRowNumber51.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

Urs, I think that Andrew and I basically agreed about the usage part. I like your Terms of use proposal in the sense that it does not require formal licenses and their propagation but that it only asks for “proper acknowledging” the source, though I would like to be softer there than you said. It seems that you require the citation even from teachers reminding themselves the standard material from $n$Lab and teaching it in a class or alike. I disagree with that. I disagree that EVERY usage of $n$Lab has to acknolwedge the source, I would rather say that this is an author work of $n$Lab community and that its usages, especially when pertaining to an original material, pertain to usual academic ethiquette. I do not mind inclusion of standard non-research passages into other wikis without acknowledging in every single entry and article. Let us not require that.

I also do not mind that somebody does not cite $n$Lab page which he has written by his own hand in a process of his own research. Let us not require that and similar cases either.

Urs, Andrew and I had a little more trouble in being completely happy with each other perception of limitation on authors. Your terms of use is addressing just the end users, not the authors possible troublesome rights of removal. Andrew is listing a problem what about the back versions in the case someone wants to remove his/her material. I think this is a log of somebody’s usage and not the “official” representation of the $n$Lab. If an external author is doing edits he should be only warned that $n$Lab is making the logs public and that this non-typical usage will never be removed. I think that nobody would not object if there is a theoretical way of getting some intenet cache or $n$Lab back version with some retracted passage. I want to protect author rights to change mind on the front page end but going deeply to the trouble of unweaving the database for old versions, that would be too much to care; author can be given right to reedit his contribution including cancellation but not to mess with internal works of a database and log record. I would however be happy that once per several years we do delete some spam pages, but I can not ask for that action (e.g. Toby would disagree as he likes to keep track of the history of spam!).

Also I think Urs’s terms of use is a bit imprecise. He says that people are free if they cite. Urs, main problems which we were discussing are not of citation nature, but of the nature that some user may sell some passages to some publisher and the publisher than asks us to remove it. This is illegal usage. As I said in 36 it is important to warn that any end-usage enabling limitation of $n$Lab community for future usage of $n$Lab material is not an authorized usage. I hope we do not need propagating license to state that.

• CommentRowNumber52.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011

Okay, I have added a parenthetical remark to the HomePage in a paragraph which now reads like this:

Conversely, if you contribute material to the $n$Lab, you are making it publically available and should be aware that others may use it (whatever you decide to do with it elsewhere) or, in fact, edit it.

But I don’t think we need to say that we do not require citations to the $n$Lab for material that is better or more traditionally discussed elsewhere. This is clear: you don’t cite somebody if you don’t use his material! Let’s not be more papal than the pope.

• CommentRowNumber53.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011
• (edited May 23rd 2011)

But I don’t think we need to say that we do not require citations to the nLab for material that is better or more traditionally discussed elsewhere. This is clear: you don’t cite somebody if you don’t use his material!

Am I talking Korean ? Who said that they do not use $n$Lab ?? Who said that it is better outside $n$Lab ? I just do not consider the usage of convenience (wikipedia and $n$Lab are more convenient for quick lookup than reading some original book from 1960s). The fact that somebody saw it most recently in nLab and quotes a definition as few months before learned in nLab does not oblige him to cite nLab. Did you cite nLab for every item which you learn in nLab ? Come on, people cite the substantial stuff and original stuff, not the last perturbation to their math routine.

I do not want to require people who are using nLab in those points where nLab contributes anything essential new to cite that everywhere, nor in fact want to oblige people to cite EVER besides when they find it approrpiate by suual standards in academic community. Textbook results are usuallz not cited in paper, though in preparation of papers we consult tens of tetxbooks hundred of times. I fI spend six months preparing a apepr I will cite those 20-30 references which have significant original material which I used, not countless wikipeduia, textbook pages and other resources of ephemeral importance. TH eimportance have to be judged by common taste, common feeling and not by strict rule “if you used it you cite it” (in any extent and regardless the level of oruiginality). Then an avergae paper would have in internet pagfe 1000 references at least (most of which are, if the usage is the sole criterion, secondary sources where you looked up and not the originals where the results are discovered).

Even I myself won’t follow such strict citation which you require (in here I do not provilege $n$Lab with respect to thousand of other internet resources, and do not ask me to make a distinction). One cites what is essential to help the reader and what was essential usage and essential predessecor ideas, in the balanced judgement of the author. Period.

• CommentRowNumber54.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 23rd 2011

Besides why do you care about citations of nLab unless it is about citing original scientific contribution ? Only scientific advances needs to be cited, not mere exposition. If you understand $n$Lab as a source of oofficial praise for exposition, then I feel uncomfortable working toward that goal and will split off frm the project.

• CommentRowNumber55.
• CommentAuthorTobyBartels
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011
• (edited May 24th 2011)

@ Urs #19: Yes, of course it’s a formalisation, but it doesn’t formalise what you said it formalises.

(And I haven’t read anything after this yet.)

• CommentRowNumber56.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011
• (edited May 24th 2011)

Zoran you say at 54

Besides why do you care about citations of nLab unless it is about citing original scientific contribution ? Only scientific advances needs to be cited, not mere exposition.

I do think that exposition is important and so object to the ’mere’ to some extent. There are people who have published an idea that is new, but have ‘made a pig’s ear’ out of it, and a later exposition, possibly, is the one that gets cited. I think that the nLab as it hopefully converges to clear exposition of ideas would be worth citing in addition to the original source. It is important that the idea of a Lab book that was the original motivation are still there even if it gets used for other things as well. I often spend a lot of time in my research trying to see what on earth is going on in a particular topic by taking it apart and writing an exposition of it, filling in some details, and looking at bits of the theory that the author(s) of the sources have perhaps laid aside as being not central to their project, but look interesting and perhaps are relevant to something else. I hope that the resulting exposition would be used and useful and by sharing it either via the Menagerie (or whatever) or in the nLab, that I will learn more about the topic by interacting with the views of other people who have been struggling with the source where the new ideas are put forward for the first time. I agree that the nLab is much more than a place for exposition, as we work out new ideas on the screen, but also by noting that there are some parts of a theory that look interesting but have not yet been explored (in public at least). Exposition is one of the useful tools in the research, not as an end in itself, but as an aid to understanding by the writer or writers.

It is also very pleasant when someone praises an exposition, survey article, or the introduction of a paper, and refers others to it as being a useful insight into the theory and a place to start learning about the area, so please do not downgrade exposition as an activity, and do cite good exposés when you find one (as I know you do).

• CommentRowNumber57.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011
• (edited May 24th 2011)

Tim, I agree with you, I am not that stupid not to be aware of all what you write. But my statment is exclusively about nLab needs and requests. It is a very big problem if a researcher has some research “stolen” and published by someone else before the author got recognition for his result. If someone finds that $n$Lab has worked out some new details or has some striking imrpovements over conventional point of view one will cite by their own taste.

But other blogs on the internet do not REQUIRE such citations by “Terms of use”. I was proud that $n$Lab effort was not selfish and was open and useful to the community, and the mere use of it is a bigger reward in my view than citation. It gives us opportunity to influence the balance in the community in the opinion toward what is a worthy mathematics. This is more important (together with our own use), than the official credit of the project. Now with this Terms of use, I am much LESS proud of $n$Lab and much less motivated to contribute to $n$Lab. I was thinking before that we are a better part of blogosphere, but now with force toward the license crap, I feel we are a worse part of a blogosphere reminding commercial industry. I never seen that the papers in journals or preprints have terms of use written, why would $n$Lab be different from a preprint from Max Planck ? I asked this question above.

By not citing “mere” exposition, I explained above what I meant: I did not mean superb exposition with new details but mere exposition, just making things easy to find online rather than burrie in the original sources which are en grosse better than their refelction in $n$Lab. Most often, someone just takes a theorem from some source and rewrites it in a bit changed form here in $n$Lab. This makes a large part of the $n$Lab a compilation and its usages are often like a handbook use. Or dictionary use. Do you cite all dictionaries used when preparing your paper ?? It should stay the decision of the user weather he considers his usage of $n$Lab to have an added value and if his usage is essential from the point of view of his derivative work; and then he will (himself decide to) cite. We can not say cite for every possible and minor use, like lookup or checkup for a well known terms. That is why I do NOT want to normalize the citation part but just call for normal academic standards. In academic standards people feel when they found new essential details of importance for them and fror the reader to be cited. Usually this are

new facts, new points of view, new details, substantially different point of view, striking insights, and very systematic blocks of ordered knowledge.

We can not take less important usages like when someone takes a definition from say Lurie, $n$Labify it and then request that if this was just online and easier to access than to browse through a 900 page book of Lurie that such a copied definition should cite $n$Lab. The reader should have the freedom to decide. If he is given so, I will be again proud of $n$Lab involvement as I was when $n$Lab was entirely free to use, without restrictions.

I agree that the nLab is much more than a place for exposition

Tim, $n$Lab as a whole yes, is more than that. So if someone copies the whole $n$Lab we should ask him to cite. Yes, no doubt. But not every instance of something in $n$Lab is deep, novel, superb and not every usage is substantial that it would correspond to usual standard of citation. We can not ask for anything more than the usual standards are, only less than that.

• CommentRowNumber58.
• CommentAuthorTim_Porter
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011

I agree wholeheartedly with:

just call for normal academic standards

and

The reader should have the freedom to decide.

I think the aim of the terms of use is more a request for the normal academic standards to apply than anything else, but perhaps the wording will need adjustment as no one pretends to be perfect.

Perhaps ’The reader should have the freedom and the responsibility to decide’, but I would not want that set in stone!

• CommentRowNumber59.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011

My sympathies are with Zoran here. Things like “Terms of Use” and licences are about what must be done, not about what should be done. As far as academic citation is concerned, there’s no need for a licence or “terms of use” or any of that. We could include a “howto” for people so that they know how to cite an nLab page (and in particular, cite a specific version of it), and maybe a BibTeX template for such. But we should not require it.

But there is a difference between citing and copying. The “Terms of use” and licences should be directed more towards the latter than the former. At the moment, they are a bit confused on this issue. The difficulty is that the phrase “make use of” is ambiguous as it could refer to both mere reading and actual copying. Similarly, “while properly acknowledging/citing” is very unclear.

(Incidentally, I would love it if articles could have different types of references so that if I read and learnt about something from the nLab but didn’t explicitly use it, then I could still cite it as “supporting material”)

• CommentRowNumber60.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011
• (edited May 24th 2011)

I fully agree with the additional separation of issues (citing/copying, ought/should) and I think entire Andrew’s post of 59 (P.S. I have a bit redited 58 in the meantime). Very clearly said! Thanks, Andrew. Let us make careful choices to make the community happy and not intimidated and also $n$Lab safe not to get into few possibilities of legal trouble.

Incidentally, I would love it if articles could have different types of references so that if I read and learnt about something from the nLab but didn’t explicitly use it, then I could still cite it as “supporting material”

I think there are many levels of usages and many levels of citing. Unfortunately the funding agencies make them all equal by making only count statistics and not noting how substantial something is. Following deep ideas of Kontsevich in some work on mirror symmetry is put on the same footing as mentioning for completeness a reference for the reason that it has a different convention for some dimension than the one used in a paper. Say, shift by 1.

• CommentRowNumber61.
• CommentAuthorMike Shulman
• CommentTimeMay 24th 2011

Thanks Andrew, I agree also with #59.

• CommentRowNumber62.
• CommentAuthorDavidRoberts
• CommentTimeMay 25th 2011

+1 also from for #59 (Zoran) (and for #56 (Tim)!). If we treat the nLab as our idealised academic model as far as doing and writing research goes, we should do the same for its public release; that is, how it appears, is used and referenced. We trust people enough not to steal ideas so we are free to work in the complete open. The nLab is not some private project which someone can rip off and publish (and then sue us!) without a hue and cry from (our neighbourhood of) the mathematical community. If someone is quietly publishing in some obscure Patagonian journal original research they read here and thereby furthering their career, there is not much we can do about it, but it doesn’t much affect us, and we would have prior claim if it became public.

Obviously these examples are not a very complete picture of the nefarious uses people could put the material here. But the lengths to which someone would have to go to ’get at us’ would be quite extraordinary, and they would have to have some incredible drive to do so. I can think of one mathematician who might fit this profile, but I will not discuss this here.

It would be very nice if we could say: “This is the nLab, this is what it does and how you used it, and this is how you should [as opposed to must] treat it. Shame on you if you don’t.”

• CommentRowNumber63.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 26th 2011

The difficulty is that the phrase “make use of” is ambiguous as it could refer to both mere reading and actual copying.

So what’s the difference? Somebody makes use of a theorem and says “I got this from the $n$Lab.” Somebody else copies an $n$Lab page and says “I got this from the $n$Lab.”

Similarly, “while properly acknowledging/citing” is very unclear.

I think it is quite clear in academia when you ought to cite somebody and when not.

I tried to help sort out the issue, but it has become clear now that I am failing to understand what you and Mike are after. Why don’t you just write out the kind of text that you think is missing somewhere on the Homepage, so that we can see it? Feel free to erase my “terms of use”-paragraph if you think that is too tautological to be bothered with stating (with which I would agree).

• CommentRowNumber64.
• CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
• CommentTimeMay 26th 2011

Urs, I will have a go at writing something soon. I’m supposed to be listening to a talk right now so you’ll have to wait a bit. Of course, anyone else is welcome to have a go as well.

• CommentRowNumber65.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 26th 2011

Of course, anyone else is welcome to have a go as well.

I think you and/or Mike should write something. It seems that you two say that some action needs to be taken. I want to understand what that action would be and which problem it is supposed to solve.

• CommentRowNumber66.
• CommentAuthorUrs
• CommentTimeMay 26th 2011

If it helps we can also chat about it in person. I should be in Hamburg by Friday noon, I hope. Still in Venezia this moment.

• CommentRowNumber67.
• CommentAuthorzskoda
• CommentTimeMay 26th 2011
• (edited May 26th 2011)

Somebody makes use of a theorem and says “I got this from the nLab.” Somebody else copies an nLab page and says “I got this from the nLab.”

Simplyfying a bit, in the first case there are subcases in which it is not necessary, customary by academic standards or required-by-copyright to cite. In the second it is. Using a theorem or definition in the sense of looking up is sometimes just a reminder to something well known. The $n$Lab is here often used just because it is online easily accessible. If a chucnk is copied literally, than it is not just used as a paraphrase of a standard knowledge, but the whole structure of exposition is used, and there is clearly more subtleties of authorship there. Literal passage used by a user in a publication can be used in some copyright agreement of a user and HIS publisher, and then we can have a problem with a publisher who wants to prevent us from keeping the same passage. Of course, we are prior, and we can eventually defend the passage (but, will we ?), but it is already a troublesome situation. No publisher can say to somebody who just paraphrases a theorem in his own word, that we have to remove it from $n$Lab just because it is essentially the same theorem. And so on.