FOSS Open Content/Characteristics of Open Content Licenses

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Most Open Content licenses share a few common features that distinguish them from traditional copyright licenses. These can be understood in the following ways:

Basis of the License/Validity of the License[edit | edit source]

While being a form of license that allows end users freedom, it is important to remember that the Open Content licenses, like Free Software licenses, are based on the author of a work having valid copyright. It is on the basis of this copyright and the exclusive rights that it grants him / her that the author can structure a license that allows him / her to impose the kinds of rights and obligations involved in using the work. Every Open Content license therefore asserts the copyright of the author and states that without a license from the author, any user using the work be in violation of copyright.

Put negatively, such licenses cannot be used to violate copyright. Thus, the usage of the work is subject to all the terms and conditions imposed by the license. Using this right, the Open Content licenses can then impose restrictions that ensure that the work is not used to create a derivative work which has restrictive conditions imposed on it. Most Open Content licenses also assert that an acceptance of the terms and conditions of the license need not be explicit and may arise from the conduct of a user. Thus, in the case of a song, the moment you download the song, you are bound by the terms of the Open Content license. The user cannot, at a later date claim that s/he did not agree to the terms of the license.

Rights Granted[edit | edit source]

The premise of an Open Content license is that, unlike most copyright licenses, which impose stringent conditions on the usage of the work, the Open Content licenses enable users to have certain freedoms by granting them rights. Some of these rights are usually common to all Open Content licenses, such as the right to copy the work and the right to distribute the work. Depending on the particular license, the user may also have the right to modify the work, create derivative works, perform the work, display the work and distribute the derivative works.

When choosing a license, the first thing that you will have to decide is the extent to which you are willing to grant someone rights over your work. For instance, let us suppose you have created a font. If you do not have a problem if people create other versions of it, then you can choose a license that grants the user all rights. If, on the other hand, you are willing to allow people to copy the font and distribute it, but you do not want them to change the typeface or create versions of it, then you can choose a more restrictive license that only grants them the first two rights.

Derivative Works[edit | edit source]

Any work that is based on an original work created by you is a derivative work. The key difference between different kinds of Open Content licenses is the method that they adopt to deal with the question of derivative works. This issue is an inheritance from the licensing issues in the Free Software environment. The GNU GPL, for instance, makes it mandatory that any derivative work created from a work licensed under the GNU GPL must also be licensed under the GNU GPL. This is a means of ensuring that no one can create a derivative work from a free work which can then be licensed with restrictive terms and conditions. In other words, it ensures that a work that has been made available in the public domain cannot be taken outside of the public domain.

On the other hand, you may have a license like the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) software license that may allow a person who creates a derivative work to license that derivative work under a proprietary or closed source license. This ability to control a derivative work through a license is perhaps the most important aspect of the Open Content licenses. They ensure, in a sense, a self perpetuity. Since a person cannot make a derivative work without your permission, your permission is granted on the condition that s/he also allows others to use the derivative work freely. In Open Content licenses, the right to create a derivative work normally includes the right to create it in all media. Thus, if I license a story under an Open Content license, I also grant the user the right to create an audio rendition of it. The obligation to ensure that the derivative work is also licensed under the terms and conditions of the Open Content license is not applicable, however, in cases where the work is merely aggregated into a collection / anthology / compilation. For instance, suppose that I have drawn and written a comic called X, which is being included in a general anthology. In such a case, the other comics in the anthology may be licensed under different terms, and the Open Content license is not applicable to them and will only be applicable to my comic X in the anthology.

Commercial / Non-Commercial Usage[edit | edit source]

Another important aspect of Open Content licenses is the question of commercial / non-commercial usages. For instance, I may license a piece of video that I have made, but only as long as the user is using it for non-commercial purposes. On the other hand, a very liberal license may grant the person all rights, including the right to commercially exploit the work.

Procedural Requirements Imposed[edit | edit source]

Most Open Content licenses require a very strict adherence to procedures that have to be followed by the end user if s/he wants to distribute the work, and this holds true even for derivative works. The licenses normally demand that a copy of the license accompanies the work, or the inclusion of some sign or symbol which indicates the nature of the license that the work is being distributed under, for instance, and information about where this license may be obtained. This procedure is critical to ensure that all the rights granted and all the obligations imposed under the license are also passed onto third parties who acquire the work.

Appropriate Credits[edit | edit source]

The next procedural requirement that has to be strictly followed is that there should be appropriate credits given to the author of the work. This procedure applies in two scenarios. In the first scenario, when the end user distributes the work to a third party, then s/he should ensure that the original author is duly acknowledged and credited. The procedure also applies when the end user wants to modify the work or create a derivative work. Then, the derivative work should clearly mention the author of the original and also mention where the original can be found.

The importance of this clause arises from the fact that, while Open Content licenses seek to create an alternative ethos of sharing and collaboration, it also understands the importance of crediting the author. Very often, in the absence of monetary incentive, other motivating factors such as recognition, reputation and honour become very important. Open Content licenses, far from ignoring the rights of the author, insist on strict procedures so that these authorial rights are respected. You may copy and distribute the Document in any medium, either commercially or non-commercially, provided that this License, the copyright notices, and the license notice saying this License applies to he Document are reproduced in all copies, and that you add no other conditions whatsover to those of this License. You may not use technical measures to obstruct or control the reading or further copying of the copies you make or distribute.

Creative Commons Licenses

One of the most significant initiatives in the relatively young domain of Open Content licensing, the Creative Commons has in a short span of time created a buzz around the idea of Open Content. Backed by solid licenses and highly user-friendly interface, as a way of navigating the site on which their licenses are presented, Creative Commons has emerged as the premier destination for people interested in licensing different kinds of content on an Open Content basis. The website has a lot of information for a range of users, from the first-time user to a list of advanced readings for scholars and researchers. The Creative Commons is also creating a set of international licenses that are customized for different jurisdictions.

Philosophy of Creative Commons
Inspired by the Free Software movement, the Creative Commons believes that a large, vibrant public domain of information and content is a pre-requisite to sustained creativity, and there is a need to proactively enrich this public domain by creating a positive-rights copyright discourse. It does this by creating a set of licenses to enable Open Content and collaboration, as well as acting as a database of Open Content. Creative Commons also serves to educate the public about issues of copyright, freedom of speech and expression and the public domain.

How does it work?
Creative Commons has a set of licenses which are created through a licenses wizard. The wizard offers the end user the ability to make their choices on three key concepts. The combination chosen by the end user determines the final license. The three key concepts are: a. Attribution
Attribution is the right to be identified as the author of the work. It is to be noted that this is a default choice in Creative Commons licenses.
b. Commercial Use
This choice basically determines whether you will allow any person to make a commercial use of your work, or if it will only be allowed for non-commercial purposes.
c. Modification/Creation of Derivative Works
This choice determines the ability for people to create derivative works from your work. By choosing ‘no’ to this option, you allow people to access, make copies, distribute, display and perform your works verbatim. But they are not allowed to make derivative works based upon it.
You may allow‘yes’ to this option, without any conditions, in which case people are free to make derivative works without any restrictions.You may also choose yes, but impose a condition that the derivative work will have to be licensed under the same terms and conditions that govern your work. In other words, a person making a derivative work from your work will not be allowed to add any additional restrictions on other people using the work of making derivatives of that work.
For more on Creative Commons, see For a detailed survey of other licenses, see Lawrence Liang, Guide to Open Content Licenses, available at: