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cc-licenses - Re: [cc-licenses] cc-by-sa and gpl

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Subject: Development of Creative Commons licenses

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  • From: Terry Hancock <hancock AT>
  • To: Discussion on the Creative Commons license drafts <cc-licenses AT>
  • Subject: Re: [cc-licenses] cc-by-sa and gpl
  • Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 17:49:12 -0500

adam hyde wrote:
> Sorry to be a stick in the mud, but what exactly is the problem with
> 'source code requirements' which make the GPL 'incompatible'?

Paul Keller has already given the technical answer, but let me add a
rationale to that:

For the GPL, which was designed with program source code in mind,
distributing the work in compiled binary form only is a way to thwart
the free distribution of the real IP which composes the work (which is
the human-readable source code). Thus, the GPL contains special language
to preclude this kind of attack -- it requires that "source code" is
always made available.

Even for software, this can get sticky. For example, a program may have
been originally written in C, but then patched in assembler to make it
more efficient. Is the original C source code the "source", or is the
patched assembly code? (or both?). A program may have a piece of
firmware contained as a data blob (i.e. an undifferentiated stream of
binary numbers) which it (a "free" program) simply sticks into the flash
memory of a hardware device to make it operable. The blob itself is
(probably?) non-free software (it could also just be viewed as a crypt
key or somesuch thing, which is required to unlock the hardware --
although the distinction exists in practice, there's no strict line
between the two concepts).

And there are other edge cases.

In the arts, however, this isn't an "edge case", it's the usual case.
MOST asthetic works that are distributed electronically have a great
deal of ambiguity about what constitutes the "preferred form for
modification" of a given work.

Even when it reasonably can be defined, it is often impractical to
distribute -- in the extreme example of live action film with actors who
would have to be available for reshoots, it would involve slavery! ;-)

Less extremely, it might involve gigabytes of raw captured sound or
video which was used in the production of a 2 or 3 megabyte audiovisual
work. Thus the burden of distributing source code becomes extreme.

Perhaps more importantly, such works often allow significant uses which
do not require such "source" material to do. In fact, most users would
rather just work with the final result, and this is what is freely

So CC made what I consider to be a wise decision and simply side-stepped
the source code issue: it's still a polite thing to release as much
"source" material as possible, but there is no strict legal definition
to worry about because no strict legal requirements exist.

Except one: the CC licenses don't allow DRM-based distribution. DRM, it
is felt, is nothing but an intentional obstacle to reuse of works, and
is therefore forbidden. This is the clause in the By-SA that substitutes
for the source code protection of the GPL.

Ironically, there are some folks -- especially within the Debian project
-- who feel that even this is an excessive limitation. However, I have
to add that, after following some of these arguments, I am convinced
that were it not for the historical precedent, these same people
would've argued against the GPL because of its source-code requirements.
Certainly their arguments apply equally well to the GPL (e.g. "the
provision of source code 'can be regarded as a fee'" <sigh>).

Law is a blunt and rigid instrument, not well suited to the flexibility
and ambiguity of real life. But then, what's the alternative?



Terry Hancock (hancock AT
Anansi Spaceworks

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