[cc-licenses] CC-BY-SA-4.0 to [A]GPL, FLOSS games and multimedia software.

Maciej Pendolski beholder0x100 at gmail.com
Mon Dec 12 21:40:29 EST 2011

GPL-licenced games (game code) with CC-BY-SA game content are a bit of a
problem right now. A "functional" CC-BY-SA game content might be
incompatible with GPL. Bellow is my [lousy] attempt at division of game
content into functional and non-functional:

Non-functional game content:
Meshes, textures, sounds, animations, ... used only to visually/...
represent objects in a virtual world don't really have a function (at least
most of the time). They could be replaced with [nearly] no effect on
BUT even those types of content can be used in a functional way.
E.g. in a game with "positive" and "negative" targets, those target types
could be represented in a clearly different way (colour, sound, ...) so
game mechanics would require player to perform visual pattern matching
which could be done from a long distance and then player would select
positive targets.
Let's change visual appearance of "positive" and "negative" targets to make
them look identically and let's modify sounds so that they are very very
quiet. These changes of game content will significantly change game
mechanics as player will have to navigate between targets at a close range
in order to determine which are "positive" and which are "negative" and if
there would be some danger for a player due to proximity then game
mechanics would differ even more from "original" game mechanics.
Let's have identical targets and then use 2 animated textures (2 frames,
"positive" texture: green frame, then red frame; "negative" texture: red
frame, then green frame) and run those animations at a rate of say 1 frame
per 5 seconds (sorry for complexity of this example). Then the player will
have to keep track of colour changes and count in head when there are no
targets around as a reference.
Through some changes of seemingly non-interactive/non-functional elements
game mechanics can be changed significantly. With a "weak" code-driven game
mechanics, content-driven game mechanics could be more

Functional game content:
Virtual world (a map/level/...) has some function as it, along with game
mechanics, defines what the gameplay will be like. If a map would be
replaced with another map the gameplay would be different. Player choices
are dependent upon a combination/interaction_of game mechanics and virtual
In physics-driven games function could be even more prominent. Objects
could be placed and connected in a virtual world in a way that new
mechanics could emerge. Here a different object mesh (a dedicated physical
meshes of or physical mesh same as a visual mesh) would alter this emergent
mechanics. And of course even if objects would be fixed in place, the
player moving in the world could be getting a very different experience. A
different mesh could turn an object into a trap or could be a bridge to
some location.
Objects like switches linked to gates, elevators, ... would also have a
pretty clear functional role forcing a player to perform sequences of
action much like a gameplay mechanics.
And in some games textures, sounds, animations, ... could also be used to
drive gameplay. For example a texture/image could be used as a terrain
height map and another texture/image could be used to determine (e.g. by
colour) where there is water, where there is deadly lava, ...

Those are just some quick (and a bit ugly) examples of functionality of
game content and they are in no way exhaustive. A lot better examples could
surely be constructed. Sorry for turning this post into a mess of random
ideas. My point is that it is better (for game developers) to have an
ability to create and enhance a content under CC-BY-SA 4.0 so that it could
be used with other CC-BY-SA 4.0 media on the net (film, music, fanart, ...)
and at the same time have an ability to "export" content to GPL making it
100% compatible with game engine/code. And there are some games which are
already using GPL-licenced content which means that they can't mix it with
CC-BY-SA content.

Another problem is if game content is mixed with game scripts (a code used
to control game mechanics at a high level) if scripts use functions
provided by game engine/code ("standard library" functions). If there is no
exception added to GPL and developers can't get all contributors to agree
on licencing under GPL with an exception then scripts licenced under
CC-BY-SA can't be used (this problem would probably impact only those
people who are less technical / less interested in licencing issues and
have simple chosen CC-BY-SA because they use it for content as well and are
not aware about consequences (a problems will be biggest when there will
later be many contributors and then it could be hard to make them all
licence under another licence)).

And of course version number could be a problem. New versions of CC-BY-SA
and GPL are not being released at the same time (at least right now). A lot
of software relies on GPL version 3 "or later" and if a content under
CC-BY-SA 4.0 would be "exported" to GPL version 3 (without "or later"),
then if there would be GPL v4 released then developers would be restricted
by what CC-BY-SA 4.0 allows (could not switch to latest GPL). Even if newer
CC-BY-SA version would add support of GPLv4 then if developers would
"export" CC-BY-SA 4.0 to GPLv3 (without "or later") and would be modifying
content, they would need an approval of all contributors in order to be
able to licence under GPLv4 (which could be problematic). And if they would
be improving content under CC-BY-SA instead, they would have to hope that
there will be a new version of CC-BY-SA released which will be compatible
in order to be able to use latest version of GPL. If I understand correctly
an "or later" clause is not part of a GPL licence text (unlike CC-BY-SA?
(at 4.b.)) but is rather written in a README file while a regular GPL text
is in LICENCE file. Would it be legal to make CC-BY-SA 4.0 to be one-way
"interoperable" with GPL version 3 "or later" instead of just GPL version 3?

There is also something not related to stuff above but still related to
games and interactive multimedia. If I understand correctly if a work is
licenced under CC-BY-SA and is presented somewhere (in a open show) then a
person/... who is presenting a work (author or not) does not have release
that work (unlike GPL-licenced work (if publicly available)) but any person
can still record a work (e.g. using a camera) and it will be legal and
can't be restricted by DRM?
If so then this only really help works which are non-interactive / which
are "linear" (a single "frame" (image) or a non-interactive "stream" (film,
sounds, music)) BUT it does not really help much if work is
interactive/"non-linear" (games, interactive multimedia) because during a
game/... only portion of content could be recorded and in a "hard to
reverse" way (a recording of a game can't be released as game content. game
content must be rebuild and only a portion of it will be recorder during a
course of game). This could be a problem when someone releases a work under
CC-BY-SA, then someone transforms it and puts it on a system to which there
is no direct access so that game content based upon some Else's content
cannot be extracted (in a directly usable form).
Recently there have been a "gaming console" developed where "user
interaction" is sent to server(s) and a recording of a games (in a form of
a film) is streamed back to player and is displayed so it is technically
impossible to get content out in a directly-usable form.
It is a problem at least to me personally. If someone would release
modification in that way I would have to play to be able to use a service
(which would be fine),  then record a portion of a game presented to me and
then convert it back in order to be able to create some new game content
based on it while that other person could simply add some more content and
it would be restricted again.
I don't think that such system (where game is streamed as a film) could be
considered to be a DRM (or "effective technological measures" as it is
written in CC-BY-SA) because it is how a device is supposed to work so I
personally think CC-BY-SA does not offer enough "protection" for
"non-linear content" creators.
To some extent a AGPL version 3 (Affero GPL version 3) licence offers some
protection in such situation (for code) as it requires that an
AGPL-licenced code running on a remote machine / on a server side must be
disclosed while GPL version 3 code does not have to be and AGPLv3 is
compatible with GPLv3.
I'm not exactly sure what clauses in CC-BY-SA (and other licences?) could
be used for this (and I'm quite sure that some/many people will not want
it) but current state of CC-BY-SA (or my misunderstanding of it) is pretty
much the reason why I am considering releasing (in future) my game content
under a custom licence.
If some measures regarding this matter would be implemented in CC-BY-SA
(and other CC licences) and if there would still be a plan to have
CC-BY-SA-4.0 "exportable" to GPL then it would only makes sense if to have
it "exportable" to AGPL (version 3 or later) rather than GPL because GPL
would be "removing" requirement of disclosure (when everything would be
happening remotely).
Even if I would have my game engine/code licenced under AGPLv3+ someone
could still re-implement it or use another engine and use my CC-BY-SA in a
way I have described above and currently only a custom licence (or AGPLv3+)
would be a good solution for me.

Sorry if this post is hard to read. It is 3:39 am right now so I have
probably written a lot of stupid non-sense but I wanted to write this post
down and send it before I forget what I wanted to write. And sorry for bad
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