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cc-licenses - Re: [cc-licenses] How much "agreement" is needed about the meaning of a license?

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Subject: Development of Creative Commons licenses

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  • From: James Grimmelmann <james AT>
  • To: Development of Creative Commons licenses <cc-licenses AT>
  • Subject: Re: [cc-licenses] How much "agreement" is needed about the meaning of a license?
  • Date: Tue, 15 Sep 2009 10:21:53 -0400

On Sep 14, 2009, at 3:46 PM, Gregory Maxwell wrote:

Consider this kind of overwhelming majority: 90% think X, 10% think
!X. 18% of random pairings of creators and users will have conflicting
understandings of what the license means, or almost 1 in 5.

Even if an author is in the 90% majority—if that author has only 7
users, there is a 52% chance of at least one misunderstanding. With 29
users there is a 95% chance, and with 44 users there is a 99% chance.
If the author is in the minority, a 99% chance of having a
misunderstanding over allowable uses happens with only two users.

If an author only expects to have 7 users, why not just consider each
case on its own merits and permit uses individually? If an author
isn't concerned about license violations why don't they use the most
permissive licenses? Most authors reported that they have been
contacted. I am frequently contacted requesting permission for
activities which are unequivocally permitted by the licenses I use.

With only 90% agreeing on a particular criterion… I can only guess
that there aren't masses of disputes because people don't enforce,
even when they don't agree. People tolerate the 'misuse', or they are
not paying attention; sometimes they give up publishing. Nice guys
don't sue (or issue takedowns). But ifone off negotiations and "nice
guys don't sue" are what really keeps the system working, why bother
having a public license?

There are some other important reasons why we don't see more incidents:

(1) Misunderstandings are only a problem when the author's understanding is more restrictive than the user's. If the roles are flipped, then the user either goes away discouraged (and so one ever realizes there was a difference of opinions) or asks the author, in which case permission is readily granted. That happens even with licenses that are more permissive than NC.
(2) Misunderstandings are only a problem if there's disagreement that affects the particular use the user wants to make. If I and the author disagree about scenario A but I want to make a use that corresponds to scenario B, our misunderstanding is irrelevant.


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