Open Source Document Licensing

March 19th, 2009 by Ralf Schlatterbeck

I’m currently preparing a technical college lecture. The slides for the lecture should become open source. To reduce my overhead I want to use existing source (mainly pictures) from wikipedia.

Open source licensing should really make it easier to re-use material in other open source projects. As far as I can tell the current mess with different documentation licenses does not achieve that goal.

Sad fact: To understand what is possible with the current licensing is nearly as time-consuming as re-creating the material from scratch. So I’ve chosen to document what I’ve learned here, so others may have a faster learning curve and can contribute their experience.

In addition I hope for comments from people involved in the licensing jungle to comment on my views here.

Typically wikipedia pictures come in three license variants, see the Wikipedia Copyrights page, the german version Wikipedia Lizenzbestimmungen has specific sections on picture use:

Some pictures are dual-licensed under GFDL and CC-BY-SA.

Since the GFDL typically is used with a version-upgrade clause, e.g., "Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation", upgrade to a later version of the license by the user is possible. This is typically not the case with CC-BY-SA.

I’ve decided that CC-BY-SA version 3.0 best fits my license requirements. The GFDL with its front-cover, back-cover and invariant sections is too complicated and CC-BY-SA is much clearer concerning reuse and remix of the material.

One problem I’m having is that when "performing" my slides (thats the term CC-BY-SA is using for e.g. using the slides in a presentation) I want to use either my company logo or I’m forced to use the logo of the teaching institution I’m working for. So I’ve come up with the following addition to the pointer of the licensing terms:

When performing this work (e.g. teaching using these slides) you may use your company and/or teaching institution logo in the header of each slide without putting the logo under the license above. When distributing derived works, make sure you distribute the document without the company or teaching institution logo.

So I’m specifically allowing to use a logo in the header of each slide when performing. I hope this is compatible with the CC licensing terms.

The next problem I’m facing is reuse of pictures. Pictures licensed under a CC-BY-SA license (also earlier than 2.5) shouldn’t pose a problem, because CC-BY-SA explicitly distinguishes derivative work and collective work. Collective work is defined as (cited from version 2.5 of CC-BY-SA as that is the relevant version for most pictures on Wikipedia):

"Collective Work" means a work, such as a periodical issue, anthology or encyclopedia, in which the Work in its entirety in unmodified form, along with a number of other contributions, constituting separate and independent works in themselves, are assembled into a collective whole. A work that constitutes a Collective Work will not be considered a Derivative Work (as defined below) for the purposes of this License.

So I guess my use of the unmodified pictures in slides is collective work not derivative work. That means I can use CC-BY-SA pictures from wikipedia in a CC-BY-SA document that uses these pictures similar to the usage of pictures in Wikipedia articles, even if the version of the CC-BY-SA license is not the same.

The question if I can use pictures licensed unter GFDL in my slides licensed under CC-BY-SA is still not fully clear for me. Since the pictures typically contain the license-version upgrade clause mentioned above, I could use version 1.3 of the GFDL that includes permission to relicense the work under the CC-BY-SA license under specific circumstances — but my interpretation of that clause allows this only for Wikipedia, not for me as a user of the content on Wikipedia.

Putting my work under a dual-license (CC-BY-SA + GFDL) is also not a solution because this effectively constitutes relicensing of the used content.

So the question remains if I can use GFDL pictures in CC-BY-SA slides and if this is permitted by the GFDL. The GFDL has one paragraph (7) on "aggregation with independent works":

A compilation of the Document or its derivatives with other separate and independent documents or works, in or on a volume of a storage or distribution medium, is called an "aggregate" if the copyright resulting from the compilation is not used to limit the legal rights of the compilation’s users beyond what the individual works permit. When the Document is included in an aggregate, this License does not apply to the other works in the aggregate which are not themselves derivative works
of the Document.

So, hmm, are my slides a "compilation with other separate and independent documents or works" — probably yes. Are they in a "in or on a volume of a storage or distribution medium"? Hard to say. My "copyright resulting from the compilation [provided it is a compilation in the sense of GFDL] is not used to limit the legal rights of the compilation’s users beyond what the individual works permit". So I guess I can use these pictures without the GFDL applying to my document (I want to use the CC-BY-SA).

Thats my due diligence investigation before using this material.

But I’m not a lawyer.

One Response to “Open Source Document Licensing”

  1. Michael Franz Reinisch Says:

    So I can see that we have the same problems here like everywhere.
    There are several good solutions but they don’t go together means: Are not (easily) compatible.
    It seams to me that the challenge of our time is how we can bring all our unique and well loved solutions together.
    rotten ego :-)

    Once Albert Schweizer said something like: I don’t know why we have millions of laws while we have the 10 commandments?!
    To me, not even baptised, this is quite a point!

    Thanks for publishing!
    mfr


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