Debian Creative Commons Workgroup report from Evan Prodromou

Originally posted on 3 Aug 2006 to an internal Debian mailing list, the following report is potentially useful for other readers, and so I am posting it here. Note that the CC 3.0 licenses were released for public review on 9 Aug 2006.

Hello, all. As the Debian Creative Commons Workgroup is wrapping up its tasks, I'm taking this opportunity to give a report on our work and what the results have been. There will be some public announcements soon about the work we've done, so I thought it would be a good idea to apprise Debian project members first.

For the impatient: we've spent more than 12 months negotiating changes to the Creative Commons license(s) to make at least some of them compatible with the Debian Free Software Guidelines. A new version of the Creative Commons licenses will soon be available for public review; it is a qualified success.

I'll post a public version of this summary "soon".

History of the Workgroup

Creative Commons ( ) is an organization for promoting the alternatives to full copyright. Among their activities was the creation of a number of licenses, including 11 (later 6) "parametrized" licenses, collectively known as the Creative Commons Public License (CCPL), as well as some other licenses such as the Founder's Copyright, Sampling Licenses, and Developing Nations Licenses. See for a more complete list.

The CCPL has received a lot of attention, and the "Some Rights Reserved" logo for CCPL-licensed works can be found on thousands of sites across the Web. Some of the variations are clearly incompatible with the DFSG (preventing derivative works or commercial distribution), but two in particular, the Attribution and Attribution-ShareAlike, look like they're at least intended to be compatible.

However, rough consensus among Debian developers on debian-legal and elsewhere held that details of the licenses made them incompatible with the DFSG. I wrote a summary of these incompatibilities in this document:

Please read the above summary for details. The key issues were:

In the spring of 2005, Lawrence Lessig, director of Creative Commons, asked that we work out the problems and come to some solution. Based on this request, I organized a Workgroup to keep communications streamlined. The members included myself, Don Armstrong, Mako, Brandon, MJ Ray, Andrew Suffield, and Matthew Garrett.

Workgroup work

In April of 2005, we received for review a copy of a memo from Mia Garlick, general counsel of Creative Commons, to Lawrence Lessig.

The upshot of the memo was that CC would change the license in several ways to be more compatible with the DFSG. However, they were reluctant to change the anti-DRM clause to allow more experimentation or private distribution, nor to make the attribution requirements clearer.

Based on discussions among the workgroup, we provided a response giving a more detailed explanation of the importance of clear and liberal anti-DRM clauses for Free Software, as well as the importance of fair attribution:

Given these responses, we received a first draft of a post-2.5 CCPL version that corrected most or all of the problems. We had some wording changes and suggestions for formatting, as well as an explanation of why the trademark restrictions were a problem for us:

By the end of 2005, we'd received a copy of a new version of the license that answered our requests. We sent a brief note to Creative Commons saying that the license was compatible with the DFSG and encouraging them to release the draft for public review.

Great job, Debian Creative Commons Workgroup! Yay us! High fives all around!

A tale of two votes

...sort of. After this point, we had a couple of external factors that threw up some roadblocks to the process. First, in a vote at the iCommons Summit in Rio in June, the representatives of the various countries that have Creative Commons organizations rejected the parallel distribution proviso change for the anti-DRM clause.

We had negotiated with Garlick and Lessig a way to allow developers to experiment with DRM-required platforms but still give recipients the freedoms required by the license terms. This tool, called "parallel distribution", makes an exception to the DRM prohibitions iff the licensee distributes the works in an unlocked form, also.

The iCommons Summit rejected this modification as a) too complicated and b) too "soft on DRM". The modification we'd negotiated was pretty complicated. They also felt that saying it was "OK" to distribute works in a DRM'd format at any point didn't sufficiently express their disapproval of DRM.

As of last week, we received a new and more or less final draft of the CCPL 3.0, which will not have a parallel distribution proviso in it. There's now an open question of whether works made available under the license, once it was released, would still be acceptable for inclusion in Debian.

Meanwhile, back at the Debian ranch, our project voted to allow works licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (FDL) that don't exercise the invariant clauses into Debian.

The problems with the FDL that elicited this proposal in the first place were similar to the problems listed for the CCPL. In particular, the anti-DRM clause of the FDL is very similar to the one in the CCPL 3.0. The FDL says:

        You may not use technical measures to obstruct or control the
        reading or further copying of the copies you make or distribute.

The CCPL 3.0 draft says:

        You may not impose any technological measures on the Work that
        restrict the ability of a recipient of the Work from You to
        exercise the rights granted to them under the License.

The CCPL 3.0 draft is actually more specific on the measures that are and are not acceptable. GR 2006-01 specifically says that the clearly-worded anti-DRM clause in the FDL isn't enough to make it incompatible with the DFSG. Whether this is an exception, or applicable to all licenses, is a subject to some debate for Debian members.

What next?

At this point, the process is going to become much more public. "Soon" (I'm not sure when) Creative Commons will release the 3.0 license draft, with all the Workgroup's recommendations minus the parallel distribution proviso, for public review. Mia Garlick has let us know that adding parallel distribution back in to the license before this release is very improbable, and it will take a serious public outcry for them to reverse the decision of their iCommons Summit on the license.

Since there's not much public awareness of parallel distribution, it's unlikely that that will happen, either.

After the license is finalized, it's back in Debian's court whether or not to allow CCPL 3.0-licensed works into main. My personal opinion is that the results of the FDL GR show pretty clearly that a parallel distribution proviso isn't required for works to be included in Debian; there are other schools of thought.

At the extreme, we may need to have another GR to determine if this is the case; I'd prefer that we didn't have to go to that much trouble.

I think myself and the other Workgroup members will continue to be active in these discussions, and there may be some further Creative Commons interfacing issues, but I don't think the Workgroup as an entity is going to be doing too much work from here on out.


So, to summarize: good news, bad news. The good news is that a lot of work was done and there will be possibly DFSG-compatible Creative Commons licenses; the bad news is that there's still some murkiness and it's not a slam dunk.