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[Comments] (3) Sensible Defaults: I need some feedback on this. I'm adding a feature to NewsBruiser that makes it easy for you to specify a license for what you write on your weblog. There will be the generic full-copyright license, where only 'fair use' is allowed; a public domain license, where everything is allowed; the in-between spectrum of Creative Commons licenses, and a 'custom' license that's whatever you want to type in. Possibly others. There are UI issues with this that I haven't figured out yet, but they needn't concern you. What need concern you is the question of what the default license should be.

The current law is that if you don't do anything special to something you right, it's under the generic copyright license. Therefore, making the generic copyright license the default would be the safest option, but I don't like the current law. I think it's too restrictive, and I don't really want to ratify it by making it the default license for a weblog.

What's more, NewsBruiser already embodies my assumption that anybody who writes a weblog is willing to give more latitude to readers than they'd get from fair use. It makes the full text of entries available in various syndication formats, which is more or less an open invitation for people to cache, archive, and mangle your entries using their own programs. I do this because syndication feeds that aren't full-text feeds are nearly useless. I figure that reasonable people writing weblogs won't mind giving a little more leeway than copyright law in its full scope allows..

My current thinking is to have the default for a public weblog to be the most restrictive Creative Commons license (attribution required, no derivative works, no commercial use), and the default for a private weblog to be regular copyright law. Does this make any sense? My guiding principles are: I don't want to imply to people that full copyright is the best thing for their weblogs (I think it's not). I don't want stuff to be under full copyright when the author wouldn't mind a less restrictive license. I don't want someone to give away something they thought they weren't giving away.

The last two are in conflict, and I feel I must tread carefully lest I become a sort of copyright Opt-Out River Weasel. Looking at that old entry, maybe the way to do it is to "Tell people about [the licensing options]" rather than hoping they go to the configure screen and find them. What do you think?

Update: Man, this entry is a big mess. But people seem to understand what I'm talking about, so it's doing its job.


Posted by Brendan at Mon May 17 2004 08:44

That was my first thought: is there a way to make the license choice a required step in installation? Or at least new notebook creation? Maybe you could do something like what happens whenever you get a new email account, where the default first post in any notebook says "here's some nonprivate information you might need, this is how it's configured now, delete me when you're done."

Posted by Nick Moffitt at Mon May 17 2004 03:26

Actually, there is precedent. If you use automake with your autoconf, it will complain unless there is a LICENSE or COPYING file. It advises you to run "automake --add-missing", which installs (you guessed it!) the GPL.

Every so often you get some kid railing on the automake lists about how UNFAIR this is, and the reply is always "uh, so why didn't you just put the license you WANTED in?"

I'm with Brendan in that you should make the license step part of installation with a drop-down or something. Make it clear up front what is going on, and say "If you don't do anything, you're cool -- folks will just be able to build on what you write in FURTHERANCE OF THE CREATION OF TEH BLARGOSPHERE!!!!!"

Posted by Leonard at Mon May 17 2004 04:25

I have some help text that's displayed for an empty notebook which tells you to go configure your notebook and that if you switched from another package or service, you might be able to automatically import your old entries.

The simplest thing to do would be to add to that. If the license hasn't been changed from the default, put in some text that tells you about the default license and gives a link to change the license.

The problem with doing it at notebook creation time is that it's really complicated. There are 4 or 5 non-CC licenses, a custom license, and either 12 or 24 CC licenses, or 3 or 4 radio button sets that combine to give you all the combinations of CC licenses. (12 or 24 CC licenses, 3 or 4 button sets, depending on whether or not I include the ones for Japan.) At the same time, doing it at notebook creation time is the only way to guarantee that the user makes a decision about it, even if the decision is to ratify my eminently sensible default.

Here's a possible synthesis: at notebook creation time, let them select from the 4 or 5 most common licenses. Full copyright, public domain, Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial, and Attribution-Sharealike seem like the most sensible choices for weblog text. Maybe CC-GPL as well. Also let them choose "Other license/I'll decide later".

If they choose "Other license/I'll decide later", put something in the empty-notebook help text that reminds them to go choose a license. Until they decide, either put the license under full copyright or don't mention anything about licensing at all.

Are there any other licenses that make a lot of sense for weblogs, such that I'd want to put them on the notebook creation screen? I want to allow any of the CC license combinations, but I can't see anyone wanting to do, eg. NoDerivs-NonCommercial.


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