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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeDec 4th 2009

    The issue of rights is bidirectional (at least). There's the issue of using stuff on the n-lab elsewhere, and there's the issue of using stuff from elsewhere on the n-lab. We don't do a lot of the latter, I know, but the point is that stuff we take from elsewhere will be covered by its own license and we have to ensure that our use is compliant with that.

    I would like us first to sort out what we want as a license for our stuff. At this stage, I don't think we should be discussing the merits or otherwise of particular off-the-shelf licenses but should decide what we want and then try to find one that matches.

    I also think that there is a division between content and presentation. I feel that there is an unofficial "Maths Public License" in the community that basically says: "Please, please do make use of the mathematics; just do your best to attribute it correctly.". However, simply copying content is less acceptable. Where this gets blurred is in things like definitions and theorems where one does want cut-and-pasting so that the person reading the second document can be absolutely sure that the two articles are referring to the same thing. (Imagine if every mathematician had to come up with their own phrasing of, say, the definition of a 2-category ... bad example: they already did.)

    There's also a subtlety between 'copyright' and 'license'. I think others (Toby?) know much more about this than I do, but from what I understand we should focus more on the license here. I suspect that the copyright stuff is fairly simple and will be covered by a simple "Everyone has copyright of their own edits, but licenses them to the n-lab for use in whatever manner the n-lab sees fit.".

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2009
    • (edited Dec 5th 2009)

    The term ‘license’ (or ‘licence’) has at least two meanings in the world of computer software, relevant to the proper legal use of that software, and it's easy to get these confused. One of them has to do with copyright law, while the other does not. Both could potentially be applied to simple text or images (rather than programs), but usually only the first one is.

    The first concept is a licence to do what copyright law by default forbids: simply to copy and distribute (possibly with modifications). In nearly every country of the world (including the United States, the European Union, and the Commonwealth of Nations, which I believe covers all of the regulars), the Berne Convention applies, which says that (under normal circumstances) anything is copyrighted by its author once it is put into ‘final form’. On Wikipedia, they pretend that each individual revision is a separate document in final form written by the last editor; although this has not been tested in court, wiki licences tend to go along with that. If that reasoning is valid, then anybody who wants to copy something from the Lab is forbidden to do so by copyright law, unless they get permission from the last editor (who can't offer this permission unless they get permission from the previous editor, etc). That is why you need a licence, to give this permission.

    The second concept, usually called an ‘end-user license agreement’ (EULA) is not actually a licence at all, but instead a contract. The idea is that, having bought (or otherwise legitimately aquired) a piece of software, you are presented with this EULA (originally on the wrapping of the package in the mail, now usually in the configuration settings), which is a contract that you must agree to in order to use the software. If you don't wish to comply, then you return the software for a refund; by using the software, you accept the contract. This is all very fishy under contract law (at least in law derived from English common law), since you have already made the purchase, which is itself a contract, and you have no input on this new contract (no ‘meeting of the minds’). You own this copy of the software (although not the copyright, which is a different matter) and are free to do with it what you like (unless that would be illegal for some general reason, such as infringing a copyright); just because something is written on the package does not change this, or at least so I would argue. (However, if you have to agree to something on a web site before you complete the purchase or the download, then that is a different matter; unlike EULAs afer the fact, agreements made before the purchase have been tested and held valid in U.S. and UK courts.)

    The second concept has nothing to do with us, but they get confused because even authors of open-source software like to stick the GNU General Public License in where Microsoft would stick the End-User License Agreement, even thought the GPL is a licence in the first sense but the EULA is a ‘license’ in the second sense. I have seen software that says ‘Read the following license. If you agree to be bound by its terms, then click “I agree.” If you click “I disagree,” then you may not use this software.’ and then present the GPL, which is complete nonsense. Whether or not you think Microsoft's EULA is a valid contract, the GPL doesn't even pretend to be a contract; there is nothing to agree to, and you have every right to use the software in any case. Another reason that they get confused is that people talk about ‘violating’ the GPL (by not giving proper credit, not offering source code, etc). It is possible to violate a contract, such as a EULA (if that really is a valid contract), but doesn't make sense to violate an actual licence (such as the GPL); at best you could violate the conditions of the licence so that it no longer applies. So what people really mean when they say that you are ‘violating’ the GPL is that you are violating copyright law, just as you would have been doing had there been no GPL. You might think that the GPL gives you a licence to do what you are doing (distributing a modified version, say), but it gives that licence only under certain conditions; if you don't meet those conditions, then the GPL does not apply, and ordinary copyright law does. This is completely backwards from how you might violate Microsoft's EULA (say, by letting somebody else use your copy of the program); under ordinary law, that is a perfectly legal thing to do, but it becomes illegal if you are bound by a contract (the EULA) that forbids it.

    Sorry, that is a lot of stuff, maybe not all very relevant. What I really wanted to say I will put in a separate post, just so it will get read.

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorTobyBartels
    • CommentTimeDec 5th 2009

    Sorry, that was a lot of stuff, maybe not all very relevant. What I really wanted to say is this:

    There are not two things to deal with: the copyright and the license. A licence is how we deal with copyright issues. So if we say "Everyone has copyright of their own edits, but licenses them to the n-lab for use in whatever manner the n-lab sees fit.", then that is a licence which deals with copyright.

    Maybe what you mean is that there are two ends on which we need a licence for copyright. The above example only deals with one end: whether the Lab can use submissions. The other end is whether other people can use what they find on the Lab. When Wikipedia tells you (before you submit, so it's valid) ‘You irrevocably agree to release your contributions under the CC-BY-SA 3.0 License and the GFDL.’, that takes care of both ends, because CC-by-sa and GFDL are both designed to be used repeatedly. So although there are two ends, we may not want to deal with them separately.